The Opposite of Spoiled: A Better Way to Talk About Money

I’m often asked, “What’s the biggest money mistake people make?”

At the most fundamental level, it’s never learning how to talk about it.

If we don’t know how to talk about money, it’s all but impossible to plan.

Of course, it’s not hard to understand why we struggle with money discussions.


We’re told we shouldn’t talk about money, along with sex, politics, and religion.

This avoidance has spilled over into our relationships and families.

We don’t talk about money with each other … and we should.

One huge step in the right direction is Ron Lieber’s new book, The Opposite of Spoiled.

I’m so excited about this book! Ron is a mentor and friend and his thinking has had a huge impact on my work. Ron told me a story that he planned to include in his book. For six months, I’ve been biting my tongue because I wanted to share it with you.It’s about a guy named Scott Parker. He grew up like many of us. I’ll let Ron pick it up from there:

Money wasn’t something his family discussed.

He wanted his kids to have a different experience.

…one day [Scott] walked into a Wells Fargo branch near the family’s San Diego home and asked to withdraw his monthly paycheck of around $12,000, all in $1 bills. The bank didn’t have that many singles lying around, so it took a day or two for them to gather them and stack the money into $100 piles.

Parker, who worked in real estate, brought the stacks with him for the next family home evening and presented the money on the dining room table without much fanfare. “I definitely had their attention,” he recalled. “And then I just started peeling it away.”

He narrated as he went. First came the family’s 10 percent tithe. Income taxes were next, followed by the mortgage and insurance payments.

Then came the electric bill, car payments, gas, and groceries and other necessities. And that was just the needs—the baseline costs that were not optional. Next came the money for the weekly restaurant outing, followed by soccer and debate team trips and other activities. By the end of the presentation, there wasn’t much money left at all.

“The first thing I thought they might think was that I made a lot of money, because they were sitting there with their mouths open the whole time,” he explained. “But that was the last thing I was trying to teach. None of them, I was sure, had ever tried to add any of these things up. So I think it made a strong impression. I probably should have done it again later when the younger kids were older.”

Their oldest son, Daniel, remembers many details from that night and also recalls the lengths his father went to to explain to the kids that it was a family discussion. Nobody needed to tell their friends about it. “I was taking a risk,” Parker said. “But I can tell you that it never became an issue. I figured that whatever risk there was that they would talk about it was worth taking.”

I don’t know where the line is in your family or how much you talk about money with your kids or spouse

However, I’m beginning to think it’s better to err on the side of sharing too much instead of shielding them from what we assume will be difficult conversations.

Of course, we want to protect our loved ones.

We want to avoid scaring our kids or making our spouse worry.

But this protection comes at the price of some incredibly valuable lessons about money.

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In The Opposite of Spoiled, Ron highlights many of these lessons and all the good that can come from money conversations, like helping our kids learn what we value.

In particular, we can help our kids better understand the delicate balance between what we say is important to us versus how we spend our time and money.

No one has done a better job of treating this subject in such an enjoyable, but incredibly thoughtful way.

I hope you pick up a copy for yourself. It’s really that good!

Now, for those of you who give financial advice for a living — advisors, attorneys, CPAs — this is a great book to give to clients.

I know it seems like a big leap, but I can personally attest that you won’t feel bad about handing it out even before you read it yourself.


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Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner and a columnist for the New York Times, Morningstar magazine and Yahoo Finance. He is author of 2 books, The Behavior Gap & The One-Page Financial Plan. Carl lives with his family in Park City, Utah. You can find his work and sign up for his newsletter (which has an international audience) at

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