19 Aug 2021 Parenting Rich Kids, and Other Confessions
I was not a rich kid, but my kids are rich kids, and that’s kind of a weird place to be. My two boys went to the beach for a week twice this summer (and I did too…). To me, that’s rich kid status. Amy and I both try to give ourselves grace on the upside of this reality (vacations! a lack of anxiety about meeting needs!) while also watching out for the potential downsides, entitlement being the primary one. We want our kids to learn empathy, gratitude, and generosity, to live in economically diverse neighborhoods, and ultimately to find none of their identity wrapped in their economic status. I also want them to help me out with the yard work, so I’m not farming that out until I can farm it out to them for free…
I don’t like new stuff. Actually that’s not true. I should say, I love new (and especially nice new) stuff too much, to the point that I have a hard time actually enjoying the use of it. Cars, shoes, clothes, electronic devices, etc. The first scratch, or spot, or nick and all I can do is lament both the scratch, spot, or nick and the money I spent to earn the right to be first. Let’s just say I love eBay. However, though this is definitely something I’m working on—to be able to let go of my neurotic hangup about “new”–there is something to be said for the fact that things of high quality last for a longer time and can be had at a discount if willing to buy used…(see I’m good at self-justifying!).
My favorite things to spend money on are shoes and experiences. Regarding the first, again, I love eBay, and also I blame my father for my obsession with shoes. They’re just the best though. Regarding the second, being able to say “yes” to lots of meals at restaurants with Amy, to golf course outings with friends, to beach trips with family, and to be able to say all these “yes”es without anxiety or stress—that’s really important to me.
I have an aversion to financial strategies that are “too cute.” Alternative investments, private placements, tactical strategies, IPOs, complicated swaps and exchanges—I just don’t like them. Even debt (something that’s easiest to obtain for those who need it least, for obvious banking-related reasons) can be a useful tool for building wealth and I even use it myself for that reason, but I still don’t like it.
I think there is one simple key to personal finance. The unfortunate thing is that it’s also the hardest. What is it? To be able to live a lifestyle well below your income, and to stick with that lifestyle even if your income goes up. The person who can be content putting an arbitrary lifestyle stake in the ground and remain content even as their income goes up is someone who has unlocked a super-power. It doesn’t mean their lifestyle can never increase, it simply means that the choice of contentment remains theirs to make. They are not owned by the stuff they own.
Amy frequently jokes about my epitaph, that it should read “It’s not hot.” This is not a joke about the afterlife, which I just now realized it could be taken for, but rather my annoying penchant for correcting her whenever it’s 82 degrees in early May and her Pittsburgh-based blood mutters the first “Ugh, it’s hot” of the year. I glory in the sultry North Carolina summers so I feel compelled to set her straight.
But underneath “It’s not hot,” I guess what I’m shooting for when I think about my vocation and its preoccupation with money is an epitaph that could truly read: “He was not owned by what he owned.”