Category Archives: Kids and Money

We all want our kids to be “The Opposite of Spoiled”

I reviewed an eye-opening and useful book by New York Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber this week that I’m recommending to all my fellow parents. The Opposite of Spoiled argues that if we don’t get real with our kids when it comes to money, we’re setting them up for financial confusion down the road.

opposite of spoiled cover on

What I liked most about the book is it’s not wonkish at all– it’s filled with lots of helpful advice and concrete suggestions for guiding kids to manage money responsibly. Lieber has been using his column, guests stints on the NYT‘s  Motherlode column, and his Facebook page to find real stories from families all over the country trying to keep kids grounded in our materialistic culture.

Lieber’s research led to this clinical definition of a spoiled child: He/she has few chores or responsibilities, few enforced behavior and schedule rules, and is lavished with time, assistance and material possessions by parents.

Sound a bit familiar? Yikes!

We’re all a little guilty of spoiling our kids and Lieber goes into all the reasons we do it– from childhood wounds to a need for acceptance from kids and peers. But we’re doing them a disservice by keeping them in the dark about finances and not requiring them to take on more regular responsibilities.

Shutterfly dry erase chore chart on

Here’s an excerpt:

Some of the book’s unconventional recommendations may surprise parents, like answering salary questions honestly and not tying household chores to allowance. Parents who fear that talking with kids about money leads to spoiled children may be denying them a map to navigate important decisions later on.

 Lieber says it’s “lunacy” to expect a teenager who’s probably never bought anything more expensive than a bike to make one of the biggest financial decisions of his life when choosing a college, if financial aid is involved. The book’s goal is to lay a framework for kids to start dealing with the dough when they’re younger so they develop good habits before finances get more complex with student loans, retirement plans and insurance policies in their 20s and beyond.

 When explaining money decisions, Lieber suggests distinguishing “wants” and “needs.” If kids understand the difference, it becomes easier and more rewarding to save for coveted things. Guiding kids to separate money into spend, save and give away piles isn’t new, but Lieber delves deeper into how to help kids appreciate those choices, which often require patience and restraint and build character.

It’s rare to find a book about finance with so much heart, but Lieber’s bottom line is to invest in our kids’ futures by being honest and aware of our relationship with money: “There’s no shame in having more or less, as long as you’re grateful for what you have, share it generously with others, and spend it wisely on the things that make you happiest.”

You can read the rest here.

Would you be willing to discuss your household income with your kids? Tell me in the comments.

I hate gift cards, and other holiday complaints

On the subject of gift giving, I’ve been as ornery as the Abominable Snowman this month. As you may have guessed from my last three posts—holiday gift guides for men, women, and kids—I love shopping for presents. I like thinking about the person’s passions and choosing a gift that not only says, “I appreciate you,” but also “ I get you.”

It’s not always easy to do, especially when you have a lot of people on your list. But when I think of holidays, I remember– from toddler to teen years– my parents making the holidays chock full of special surprises. As I wrote last year, I celebrated both Christmas and Hannukah growing up.

Our tradition—which started when we were young and believed in Santa—was to wake up Christmas morning with most of our gifts displayed, unwrapped around that delicious-smelling, glittering Spruce tree.

Christmas 1977 on

That year I got a Shaun Cassidy album and poster, a dollhouse, and a Snoopy bank.

We’d squeal in delight as we rushed from one gift to another as our exhausted parents (up all night putting together toys and drinking eggnog) smiled with satisfaction.

I’ll never forget the dollhouse my parents decorated and rehabbed (as if it was for sale)– with individually glued parquet floors, accessories (including lamps with shades made of toothpaste covers,) and electricity.

Christmas 1977 on

Christmas 1977


As we got older, the wonder didn’t stop. One year, after begging for my own phone line for months, my parents told me unequivocally no…and then wrapped up a box filled with business cards that read “Brooke E. Schon/Kid” with a phone number. When I dialed the number, I heard a phone ringing behind the couch and ran to it like it was a long-lost lover.

That was the gift precedent sent in my house: imaginative, personal, and full of surprise.

Modern holidays for my kids are a far cry from those days of yore. We’re raising our kids Jewish so we celebrate Hannukah, which creates pressure to spread the wonder out over eight nights.

Ninety percent of the items on my kids’ wish lists were gift cards—for, local restaurants, and sports stores—which are about as thrilling as reindeer poop.

I usually ignore most of the lists and try to come up with things I think they’ll like. I keep notes in my phone every time they say they want something during the year, and I dig around on the internet for original ideas that will appeal.

But the lists are the word of God, as far as the grandparents are concerned.

They are all lovely, caring, generous people, don’t get me wrong. But when it comes to buying gifts, they seem singularly obsessed with getting the kids EXACTLY what they want.

I’m not sure what the fear is here. Are they worried what will happen if the kids are disappointed? Perhaps it’s fear they’ll be dropped from the boys’ texting favorites list or shut out completely?!

As a result, they email and call me mercilessly until they nail down a gift they KNOW the kids will like. When I offer off-list suggestions, (or write a gift guide for kids!) they can’t quite commit.

This year, after I didn’t answer my mother’s inquiries quickly enough, she starting texting Jacob directly about what size NFL jersey she should get for each boy. He actually asked his brothers for details and sizes, so he blew the surprise for them too.

When I called her on it, she felt badly but I’m not positive she won’t do it again!

“Remember the time I got them that air hockey table you suggested that was stuck in the basement corner and they only played with it a few times?” she asked accusingly. (a. not true, they played with it plenty b. where else would it go but a corner in the basement?! c. at least it was a fun idea they were not expecting!)

Where’s the whimsy? Where’s the mystery and joy of the holiday?

Hannukah present on

Our front hall bench houses all the presents during Hannukah week. The boys shake the boxes and manhandle the gift bags, wondering aloud if this is the video game Uncle Jon said he was getting, or the jersey Nan promised to buy. It’s not whether they’ll get these things, but which box they are in.


Many of the relatives settled on gift cards. Gift cards are not fun to wrap or open, and most get spent and forgotten instantly. They turn the delight of giving into a business transaction.

I refuse to grant Jacob the gift cards on his list at the bagel and Chinese places in town. Two Taylor ham and egg sandwiches and sesame chicken just don’t scream stocking stuffer to me.

I know it’s difficult to come up with fresh ideas as the kids get older but there are other options. What about experiences? Time in the batting cages, tickets to a basketball game, or go-cart racing? Google “gifts for kids who like animals,” and get a bunch of options.

It’s a risk to guess at what the kids might like, I get that. But when the risk pays off, it’s sweet.


eli pillow

I found a plush battery-powered pillow for Eli on Amazon that lights up and changes colors. It was random and inexpensive, but soft and fun in the dark when he has trouble falling asleep. He loved it.

I’ll get down from my soap box now, and hope I don’t sound ungrateful for relatives who want to spend money to make my kids happy at this time of year.

I’d just love my kids to look back on their childhood holidays with nostalgia– as I do–  and look forward to every year, knowing it will be filled with unexpected bounty.

Are your holidays full of surprises? Tell me in the comments!









My teenaged son is obsessed with sneakers

As the mom of three boys (ages 8, 10, and 14) I consider myself lucky that I don’t have to spend gobs of money and time on nurturing their wardrobes.

I have friends with daughters whose mood often depends on whether they have the right outfit on any given day. In my testosterone-fueled world, a pair of sweats, and a sports-logo t-shirt is the standard uniform.

boys wearing sports logo tshirts on

But recently, my boys have become fixated on having the right sneakers for every activity. There are everyday school sneakers, basketball high tops, and “dressy” kicks to only be worn on special occasions.

My oldest son, Jacob, began having unrealistic shoe-buying expectations last year, so to avoid arguing over whether spending upwards of $150 for a pair of kids sneakers was reasonable, I told him to ask for Nike gift cards for birthdays and holidays. Once my wallet was off the table, I could sit back and marvel at the absurdity of this footwear frenzy.

For weeks, the family computer had multiple windows up on Nike’s customizing page. Soon Jacob had pulled his brothers into the shoe vortex, and all three were constantly checking for new colors and designs, and readjusting their dream shoes on the Nike website. It was essential that they represent their style on the basketball court with the latest LeBrons, Jordans, or KD’s.

boys Nike sneakers on carpool
KD’s– a line of multi-colored leather Nikes inspired by NBA star Kevin Durant– run anywhere from $100 to$200 a pair. That’s a lot of saved allowance.

Jacob swears there are kids at school who spend $300 to $400 for these status symbols. Custom Nikes have become the Hermes Birkin bags of the teen boy set: outrageously expensive, rare, and coveted.

The pinnacle of our shoe adventures was Jacob’s unrelenting quest for a pair of Nike KD VI Aunt Pearl’s. Another Nike ploy is to hype up a new pair of shoes and then warn customers there will only be a finite number of pairs sold, so demand is off the charts.

Kevin Durant was inseparable with his late Aunt Pearl who passed away from lung cancer in 2000, the Nike website says. The floral motif on the shoe is similar to the pattern on a robe that Aunt Pearl often wore. For the life of me, I’ll never understand why a boy would think these shoes are cool.

Nike KD VI Aunt Pearl shoes on

Nike is always releasing new collectible shoes –often via social media– and jokers like my otherwise intelligent son jump through basketball hoops to get them.

The Aunt Pearls were going on sale on a Thursday at 6pm and Jacob had a basketball playoff game at the same time. Instead of giving up, he somehow enlisted one of his minions (that’s me) to jockey for him.

He wrote down a list of detailed instructions. He set a timer so I would be on the computer at least 10 minutes before 6pm. He opened his Nike account and entered all the payment and shipping information so none of that would slow me down. He was so worked up, I actually got nervous about whether I could pull off buying this spectacular pair of shoes.

At 5:55pm I was at the computer, trolling Nike’s Twitter feed, waiting for the announcement with the link to buy the shoes. I did everything I was supposed to do and then I waited…..and waited….and waited.

buying Nike sneakers on carpool

Anxiously staring at the screen reminded me of the old days when I’d wait on hold forever, trying to get concert tickets by phone. Although a pink swoosh stamped on leather sneakers did not seem nearly as motivating as a magical night hearing Bruce belt out “Jungleland.”

But something about the experience was amusing, and I was kind of proud of Jacob’s tenacity. But alas, after about 20 minutes of staring, we got this screen….

buying Nike sneakers on carpool

And just like that, the dream of Aunt Pearl was gone.

Now Jacob is regularly cruising eBay, negotiating shoe trades for unusual designs. He swears the shoes he’s buying have never been worn, but he’s sold some of his old shoes to fools looking for discontinued styles.

It’s good you can only see merchandise online. If prospective buyers could smell his used shoes, he wouldn’t make a dime.

Do your kids have a crazy retail obsession? Commiserate in the comments.

Teaching empathy to kids is no easy task

If you asked me to name the qualities I most want to instill in my children, empathy would be in the top three.

In my youth, like most kids,  I cared mostly about myself and how everything affected me. But as I got older and saw more of the world, I began to understand how lucky I was to grow up safe, loved, and wanting for very little. When I had three healthy children who opened my heart, I learned new depths of gratitude.

When looking for a place to live, Wilson and I chose a town where our kids would meet all kinds of people with different backgrounds and experiences. We donate to charity and volunteer for several organizations, sometimes with the kids. At holiday time, we give gifts to a family who can’t afford them.

I watch the news with my boys (ages 13, 10, and 7)  most nights and try to talk to them about other places in the world where kids don’t have access to food, clean water, and an education. They wonder how those kids live without an Xbox.

I hope it’s sinking in, but you just never know.

empathy graphic

I’d like my children to occasionally do things out of the goodness of their hearts, not because they feel forced. I’d like them to think about the feelings of others when making decisions.

Their empathy will increase as they mature and their brains are less wired to self-absorption.  But sometimes it feels like a personal failure when my boys are mean to another kid,  ignore cruelty by others, or act unsympathetic towards a stranger.

This week, 7-year-old Eli accompanied me to Trader Joe’s. He LOVES to use those mini shopping carts and help me check out. As I was bagging my groceries, an elderly woman stood behind Eli, watching him furiously unloading our cart onto the checkout counter.  Smiling ear to ear, she started chatting with him and marveling at his eagerness to help. We exchanged some cute banter about how fortunate I am to have my own professional, handsome checkout boy.

As I was paying, the woman moved to another aisle to check out. I whispered to Eli that he should go help her unload her cart. At first he looked confused, wondering why he would help a stranger. I explained to him that she was older and needed assistance, and would get a kick out of his gesture. He shrugged his shoulders and went over to help her.

I was busy checking out and loading my bags, but when I looked over to walk out, Eli had put all her groceries on the counter and the woman was beaming. As we exited the store I got a warm feeling inside. Eli grinned as he strutted to the car.  I told him how pleased I was that he helped the woman:

Didn’t it feel good to be nice and help someone? She’ll probably go back home and tell all her friends about the adorable little boy who unloaded her groceries. I’m so proud of you for helping!” I cried.

He kept smiling as he pulled a crisp dollar bill from his pocket.  “She gave me this!!!” he shouted with glee.

My heart sank.

That little stinker was giddy because his selfless deed was rewarded with cash!

kids money empathy on

Was the empathy message lost in the excitement of spending plans for his new fortune?

I hope not.

I’d like to think Eli would have been just as happy leaving the store, knowing he helped someone, even if his pocket was empty.

eli with dollar2

But I’m not so sure.

Top 7 netiquette rules: are you minding your digital manners?

I recently came across my copy of the latest edition of “Emily Post’s Etiquette.” I interviewed Emily’s great-great grandson a while ago for an article about the book, which had a new section on communication and technology. Just for laughs I thumbed through it to see how I’m doing.

Turns out, I’m an inconsiderate boor…. and you probably are too.

Emily Post Manners for New World  book

The book suggests manners are for everyone, not just old ladies at dinner parties. Though most of the advice is common sense, it’s astonishing how often we violate basic etiquette rules. The Post guidelines–  based on principles of respect, consideration and honesty—have remained the same since 1922 and still ring true.

Technology has drastically changed the way we communicate, but shouldn’t alter the way we treat each other. Here are 7 basic tenets of modern netiquette. See how many you’ve breached today:

 Always respond within a day or two to personal emails, and within 24 hours for business mails.  And check with friends and family before forwarding spam.

Never interrupt a conversation to answer a call, email or text. And don’t use a smart phone in a place of worship, theater, or restaurant, or during a meeting or presentation. (If you’re expecting an urgent call, set your device to vibrate and check it later, or move to a private space and speak quietly.)

cell phone ban graphic

— If a call gets disconnected, the person who initiated the call should redial the other person and apologize, even if it’s the phone carrier’s fault.

Don’t type, eat, shuffle papers or do anything that tells the caller your attention is elsewhere. And never, ever “call from the stall”; nothing ends a conversation quicker than a toilet flush.

Don’t overtext. Ask yourself if you would call someone on the phone as often as you’re sending text messages.

Anything you email, text or post online is considered a public document, so make sure it would be fit for a community bulletin board before you send it.

You’re not required to respond to every person who contacts you on Facebook, and it’s perfectly acceptable to unfriend someone, untag yourself from photos, or delete a friend’s comment from your page. But always ask permission before posting a friend’s good news or event photos.

The Posts believe human contact still matters, and people should talk in person whenever possible. Remember talking to people?

I tried to live by Post rules after my article came out and I was amazed at how often people disregarded common decency and respect. But more than a year later, I’m just as rude as the next keyboard-punching, loud-talking, interrupting clod.

It’s hard to correct others who ditch decorum, but you can at least try to set a good example. I’m on my best behavior now….are you?

New book “Secrets of Happy Families” is worth your time

How many times have you discussed child rearing with a friend who recommended a book to help navigate a problem? If you’re anything like me, you’re a parent with wonderful intentions, and a stack of unread parenting books on the night table.

I have books on everything from sleeping to discipline to making boys into men– all collecting dust.  But recently I reviewed a book for the Associated Press that I promise is worth your time.

secrets of happy families review

The Secrets of Happy Families” is easy to read and offers clear, useful suggestions for eliminating some of the stress of modern parenting. Best-selling author, Bruce Feiler  (he wrote “Walking the Bible” and “Council of Dads”) is known for researching complicated topics and making them understandable and relatable.

He’s also a husband and father of two, so he has a vested interest in creating a successful playbook for happy families.

Feiler read hundreds of books by so-called “experts,” only to realize that their advice was outdated and not applicable to families in the real world. So instead, he goes to people at the top of their game in business, technology, sports, and the military who offer innovative ideas that succeed at work and at home.

In the chapter on managing money, Feiler speaks to one of Warren Buffet’s finance guys about how much allowance is appropriate for kids. He visits ESPN to talk about the best way to parent kid athletes, and he chats with the techies at Zynga– the huge gaming company that brought you Farmville and Mafia Wars– about the  best ways to amuse kids in an airport or long car trip. In the section on  fighting smarter, he consults Harvard negotiation gurus who broker mideast peace talks and applies it to a recurring argument with his wife.

He also sits down with several families that have tested strategies to control the chaos. Imagine getting through your morning routine or dinner/activities crunch without feeling like you’ve survived a war!

Bruce Feiler is the author.

Bruce Feiler is the author.

What I liked most about the book is Feiler’s voice. He writes candidly about the realities of family life, even when it’s not pretty. He shares stories about his own wife and children as they play guinea pig for the methods in the book. Never talking down to the reader, he writes with humor and honesty that resonates.

Feiler doesn’t pretend to solve every problem in his pursuit of happiness. He offers concrete suggestions for streamlining family life and reminds parents that– like anything worth having– a happy family takes work.

I’m glad this book wasn’t left to wither away on my shelf like so many others.  I’m making Wilson read it next so we can work as a team to implement some of the suggestions. Now we have new tools to work towards serenity in the home.

Just yelling less in the morning would be nice.

You can read the full review of “Secrets of Happy Families” here.

Tooth Fairy Fiasco

My kids tend to lose their teeth late so my six-year-old, Eli, was uber-excited when he lost his first two this month. When the illustrious tooth fairy brought him $5 for his first lost tooth, he was giddy. After his older brother, Jacob, knocked out Eli’s second loose tooth with an elbow to the mouth in basketball, through gushing blood, Eli didn’t even cry. All he was thinking about was his next tryst with the tooth fairy.

We warned him that his brothers had only received a dollar for each tooth they lost after the first one. Eli was not discouraged.  He wrote a note to the tooth fairy to politely ask for $20 for this special second tooth. He placed the note under his pillow with the tooth in a Ziploc bag and fell asleep, undoubtedly dreaming of all the ways to spend his bicuspid bucks…. (mounds of candy? Star Wars Legos? Justin Bieber tickets?)

At 1:18am Wilson and I heard Eli screaming and sobbing as he made his way into our room. He was so hysterical, we thought surely he had been stabbed or saw a ghost in his room. We tried to calm him as we patted him down for injuries and repeatedly asked what was wrong. He apparently had woken up in the night and breathlessly searched his pillow and bed for his dental dowry. The note and tooth were gone, a dollar bill in their place.

Giant tears splashed down Eli’s face and his body shuddered as he described the horror of the missing note and the wrongness of the measly dollar. He was certain the note had been lost or destroyed before the tooth fairy ever saw it. Since she never saw the note, she was not aware of his deep desire for that 20 spot.

As he continued to bawl and pound the pillow with his fists (he has a flair for drama) I wondered –in my tired stupor– whether we had failed to teach him the value of money. When he couldn’t be consoled with reason, I asked him why the money was so important and what he planned to do with it. He could not give a satisfactory answer, except to express his profound disappointment in the tooth fairy legend.

After 45 minutes of cajoling and backrubs, he finally fell asleep. When he woke in the morning, he came bounding into our room, fired up to show us a second dollar he said he must have missed the first time. With $2 in hand, he skipped downstairs for breakfast as if the tooth fairy fiasco had never happened. I asked Wilson if he had snuck in to remedy the situation, but he had not. I certainly didn’t pad the pillow.

We still aren’t sure how Eli came up with the second dollar. Maybe he pinched it from his own piggy bank. It would be just like him to take control of the happy ever after to his own fairy tale.

If not, I’ll have to start believing in that sneaky tooth fairy again….

Kids Wasting Money

I must have been some kind of war survivor in a past life because I hate waste. Most people, in theory, don’t like to squander, but I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it.

You would know that from a gander in my fridge, where there are several condiment bottles standing upside down with an inch left inside, and a dozen Tupperware containers filled with leftovers.

This does not translate to penny-pinching or miserly ways, mind you. I’ll still overpay for a handbag or a hot pair of shoes, but I’ll wear them until they disintegrate or find a new home.  I am a regular on the Vets used clothing/house items pick-up circuit, I recently hosted a successful clothing swap, and I am a chronic re-gifter.

I’m giving you some context so you understand my anger and frustration when my children waste.  It took me a while to be ok with my babies throwing unwanted food on the floor. By nature, toddlers are wasteful because they aren’t aware of the world around them. But by the time kids hit 7 or 8, can’t I expect some sense of responsibility and prudence?

Last week, 12-year-old Jacob got new sneakers because his were too small and he had worn through the toes. He picked a snazzy pair of Nikes with neon green details and laces.  All seemed well until the third day after purchase, when the new shoes were left clogging my hallway and the holey ones were back on his feet, with no discussion.

When pressed, he admitted he didn’t like the costly shoes he had chosen after trips to three stores. Who knows if someone at school made fun of the color or he just decided they were no longer cool, but those shoes are dead to him now.

My 8-year-old, Aden, is in a bad activity-quitting phase.  For years, he was my easy-going one who signed up for anything, regardless of whether friends were involved or he was familiar with the place or teacher. In the last few months, he has begged me to sign him up only to quit guitar and basketball.

Last weekend, I had RSVP-ed yes to a football fundraising party that all his friends were attending, yet he decided that morning he would rather pout than punt.  I told him he had made a commitment, I had paid for his ticket, and his brother was going so he was going. Despite my pleadings, the coach’s cajoling, and his friends’ inquiring, he dug his heels in and refused to play the whole time. I was annoyed but knew there was nothing I could say to make him play so I ignored his stunt and let it go.

What is a parent to do when a kid makes a decision and then changes his/her mind, and that choice costs money and effort? On the one hand, growing up is about learning to make good choices and we should give them room for mistakes.

But shouldn’t there be consequences to bad choices that cost money and time? I still have to buy Jacob shoes, so do I take the money out of his piggy bank? Do I punish Aden for not wanting to play football with his friends?

Both those penalties seem too harsh, and yet I’m still bitter about the waste. Please weigh in on this topic in the comments. Would love to hear what you think before I earn my title as meanest mommy ever, yet again.