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I can’t claim to be an expert on raising children. In fact, this is one of many, many topics about which I am not an expert. I do not have children of my own, and my observations of my friends and their children are limited. My experience comes from my memory as a child being raised by my parents.

To be honest, I have no idea how my parents managed my development into a somewhat capable adult or what they were thinking at the time, even though I do have a younger brother and had the chance to do a little more observation.

Ron Lieber’s new book, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money (Harper, on sale February 3, 2015) will serve as the perfect how-to guide for when I do have children of my own. I will want my offspring to have a well-developed sense of self, including financial issues, long before I did. Maybe I can prevent repetition of some of the mistakes that I lived through, all though sometimes mistakes offer the best opportunities for learning.

Lieber uses his book as an opportunity to encourage parents to start discussions with their children and to guide them in those discussions. In many cases, there are no absolute answers or rules that work for every parent, every child, in every situation. That would be an impossible task, as the financial realities of families wildly, as do children’s developmental processes.

This variety is skillfully woven throughout the book to give readers enough examples and counterexamples to spur reflection and consideration among parents who may not have given money discussions with children much thought. Many of the examples come from Ron Lieber’s community of readers through his column and blog in The New York Times and on Facebook. The author spent a year meeting with many of the families who contacted him to share their experiences, challenges, and decisions.

One anecdote that stuck with me came in a section in which Lieber shared discussions about children who work. I had jobs when I was a teenager, including one retail, but mostly office jobs. These jobs helped me earn a little bit of money, but didn’t really instill much about responsibility. My jobs came during school breaks for the most part, as I believed, as I think my parents did, that education was my priority, and that my “job” was to do well in school.

The author shared a story about a family of nine in Lewiston, Utah, raising 1,800 cows on the family farm. Unlike my life growing up, the children in this family have no time for extracurricular activities.

There is a presumption that [youngest family member Zeb] will work, that his family members will teach him how, and that he will be good at it, quickly. And while none of the boys is a great scholar or a star athlete, their parents operate under the assumption that the ability to perform basic labor is something within every child’s grasp. They know that every boy will grow up to work in the family business, but they’re confident that none of them will be afraid of the effort it takes to succeed someplace else.

The idea of this hard work leads to a discussion elsewhere in the book about the quality of “grit.” Measurements of grit, or how well someone persists, particularly through obstacles, correlates more tightly with direct measures of success than other types of aptitude, like IQ. Allowing children to develop grit through work gives them the ability to handle much more of life as an adult.

An important section of The Opposite of Spoiled focuses on instilling gratitude. Spoiled children show no gratitude for the advantages they have. Lieber offers specific suggestions for dealing with the observations kids have even at an unexpectedly young age. How do you explain socio-economic status to kids who are aware of being rich or being poor through their own observations?

The author points to this research:

[A researcher...] showed 3-year-olds a series of photographs and distinguished between the haves and have-nots. Only half of her subjects thought that the rich and poor people would be friends with each other. Other research has shown that 6-year-olds keep score of which kids have what sorts of possessions and begin to make judgments accordingly. By 11 or so, they’re beginning to assume that social class is related to ambition. Around age 14, they begin to wonder if there is a larger economic system at work that may constrain movement between classes.

It’s safe to say we all know some adults whose attitudes may be stuck at the development level between the ages of 11 and 14. But the book offers great suggestions for addressing issues of class without instilling pity or jealousy.

Lieber also addresses some of the more controversial aspects of child development pertaining to money, allowance and charitable giving.

I don’t read many personal finance books. After a decade of reading some of the best and some of the most laughable, I’ve been kind of burned out by the genre. For the last year, I’ve been selecting my reading carefully. I was initially excited about the opportunity to read Lieber’s latest because I am a fan of his columns in The New York Times, and his articles have often served as inspiration for the topics I’ve covered on Consumerism Commentary.

I’m glad that The Opposite of Spoiled didn’t disappoint. While many readers of Consumerism Commentary have shared their own stories over the years, the concise collection of advice found within The Opposite of Spoiled has offered me new perspectives for raising my future children to be empathetic, understanding, generous, and smart.

Pre-order The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber now, in hardcover or Kindle edition.


This interview should be required listening for women — and men — who are in a relationship, particularly a marriage, in which the woman earns more than the man. This is precisely the situation in which author Farnoosh Torabi has found herself, and as a popular financial columnists, she discovered she wasn’t alone.

Based on her own experiences, questions from her readers, she began researching relationships for her latest book, When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women. The book features stories from and advice for the growing number of couples who are seeing this non-traditional income dynamic.

The book will be released May 1, but Farnoosh is offering several special deals for anyone who orders the book before its release. You could win care baskets from the author’s favorite brands and services, including TaskRabbit, Evernote and Stella & Dot. You might also win lunch with the author and a backstage pass to the NBC Today Show. After you pre-order your copy of When She Makes More, visit this page to enter to win one of the freebies.

In today’s episode of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, Farnoosh Torbai discusses this phenomenon and offers tips and suggestions for adapting to a different financial balance. Continue this article to listen to the podcast. You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

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Most financial experts agree that if you need a car, buying is almost always a better financial decision than leasing. Even if you have to borrow money for the purchase, traditional financing is a better option than making payments for a couple of years and having nothing to show for it unless you’re willing to pay even more. The same attitude leaves home renters with the feeling that they’re throwing money away when compared to homeowners, but the analogy isn’t completely accurate.

Subscription payments — recurring monthly or annual payments — have a place. Consumers pay for certain services on a subscription basis. Newspapers, magazines, and television are all traditional media-based services that operate their businesses using subscriptions. In return for a monthly fee, consumers receive new media content, on-demand or on a regular schedule. Media companies are increasingly using subscription programs as a replacement for selling individual items, and it’s great for them. Rather than one-time income, companies are setting up systems that generate a stable income stream. In theory, these companies can then put the guaranteed revenue into the development of more content.

But for more and more companies, the subscription model is just a big cash cow. Organizations claim that their customers prefer the model over one-time purchases of content, and that might be true. People like when the things they consume cost less money up-front, despite a long-term draining of financial resources. Companies are coming up with clever ways to turn products into services, services consumers will pay for on a recurring basis instead of products consumers will own.

When I would find a musical artist I like, I used to buy his or her albums. The music would then be mine, to listen to whenever I like, without advertising interference, forever. I could do whatever I like with recording, including sharing it with friends, as long as I didn’t cross a legal line in terms of copyright infringement. This arrangement worked well for me and millions of other consumers.

Maybe due to the development of digital media and increased unauthorized duplication and distribution, the music industry needed to find a way to change its model. They tried digital rights management, and that was a complete failure. The music industry has its solution: subscription service. With a subscription to a streaming music service, consumers never own the music they buy (though that option is still available).

Music streaming and movie streaming doesn’t seem to be a bad value compared to what you might spend on buying media you’d like to enjoy on a repeat basis, but you leave control in the hands of the media supplier. If they want to remove your access or increase your monthly subscription fee, you lose everything you “bought.” If I start relying on Netflix streaming rather than buying personal copies of films I enjoy, if I decide to cancel my Netflix subscription, I end up with nothing to show for my hundreds or thousands of dollars spent on the subscription except memories of sitting in front of a television screen.

Leaving control of personal media in the hands of the companies that provide it has already caused problems. Customers of the Kindle book-reader have seen Amazon change or erase purchased digital copies of books. You don’t own anything when you buy books with a Kindle account or a similar service. The financial model is a little different for consumers, and in this case you do pay a price for each piece of media which is then supposed to be “yours,” but you’re severely limited in your own control of that piece of media.

A few months ago, Adobe Software, the maker of PhotoShop and other important software for media professionals, decided to stop its long-time process of selling software updates each year. The company now offers its most popular software in a subscription model only. “Software as a service” is the now industry-standard model of requiring users to pay an ongoing fee — effectively renting software rather than buying it. It’s quite profitable, primarily because most consumers of software are actually businesses, and it’s much easier for businesses to justify an expense than it is for hobbyists or people who do not make money from their use of the software.

The end result of this is that consumers decreasingly own what they consume. There is no asset received in return for spending. With a subscription service for music, I’m no longer building a collection of CDs that I could at some point in the future sell (at a great loss) if I were desperate for cash. Maybe decreasing clutter, eliminating “stuff,” is a good thing, but even in this subscription culture my clutter doesn’t actually seem to be decreasing. (Maybe that’s because I still prefer to own my own media.)

You can see the changes. Quicken may be the financial software of a previous generation, but it’s still what I use. At one point, I could buy one version of Quicken for $20 and I could theoretically use it forever. Then Intuit introduced features that expire after a few years, and perhaps rightly so, stopped supporting versions older than a few years. When Mint.com was introduced, it followed the software as a service model. Today it’s free, and it doesn’t offer nearly the same feature set as Quicken, but it sets the company up to eventually replace the buy-and-upgrade Quicken model with a subscribe-indefinitely model. The company is on that path with QuickBooks, accounting software for businesses, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Quicken followed that model within a few years.

In the case of software as a service, the cost for me as a consumer, and probably you, will increase greatly. It won’t feel bad because each payment is lower than the traditional one-time payment. And as any late-night infomercial marketer knows, it’s that advertised initial price point that drives sales, not contemplation of the total cost.

Are you fine with the gradual transition to subscriptions for everything you use? Is this just an inevitable progression of business economy? Is there enough dissatisfaction with this type of payment plan for the market to generate alternatives or will consumers just smile as they pay out more money for less substance over time?


The Consumerism Commentary Podcast is no longer on a regular schedule, but I plan to produce new episodes throughout the year as the opportunities arise.

Today’s guest on the podcast is Helaine Olen, author of Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry. Helaine is a New York-based journalist, contributing to Forbes, and notably wrote and edited the “Money Makeover” feature for the Los Angeles Times.

You can find Pound Foolish, available in book form as well as for the Kindle, where ever books are sold. The book takes a critical eye at the media-driven personal finance industry, from self-help gurus like Suze Orman, Robert Kiyosaki, David Bach, and Dave Ramsey, to commission-based salespeople and lesser-known money coaches who host free-lunch seminars with the intent of selling low-quality products.

In addition to the state of personal finance today, in the podcast, we talk about how personal finance journalism has changed since its emergence during the Great Depression.

[00:00] Introduction from Luke Landes
[00:30] Interview with Helaine Olen
[00:42] Roots of personal finance journalism, Sylvia Porter
[04:00] Changes in personal finance since the Great Depression
[05:50] Complexity of personal finance products
[06:52] Marketing driving personal financial advice, Suze Orman
[11:28] Robert Kiyosaki, wealth guru
[14:33] Corporate sponsorship of financial literacy programs
[15:50] Does financial literacy even work?
[17:50] Modeling financial behavior for children
[19:30] Solutions other than financial literacy
[21:25] Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and regulators
[22:07] What can individuals do to eliminate “gotcha products?”
[25:59] End

Here are all episodes of the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. You can also subscribe using iTunes or RSS.

Episode 169 credits:
Produced and hosted by Luke Landes
Guest: Helaine Olen
Edited and mixed by Jay Frosting
Music by Mindcube


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