Talk With Your Kids About Money, with Bruce Feiler

Money is one of the hardest things to talk about in a family. Bruce Feiler offers tips for how to facilitate financial conversation with your children.

Bruce Feiler: Money, one of the hardest things to talk about in families. Eighty percent of children, eight zero, get to college having never had a conversation with their parents about money. Where it comes from. How it’s earned. How it’s spent. What debt is. You can’t just give your kids – launch them into their lives without giving them the tools. So I went to what I thought would be the smartest people to talk to about this. Warren Buffett’s bankers. They advise the wealthiest families in the country and I thought they must know more, they can help my family.

Turns out that these wealthy families are making even more mistakes. And I walked away from this conversation with a number of takeaways. Takeaway number one, show them the money.

It’s incredibly important to talk to children about money at an age appropriate level but you need to talk. As Buffett’s bankers said to me, “I spoke to the richest woman in America and she said it’s a burden if I tell my children how much money they have.” And he said, “It’s much more of a burden to burden them with ignorance than to burden them with the truth.”

Number two, actually try to limit the influence of money. After doing all this research – in our home we have chores, we have allowance. We do not overlap the two.

Because if you do it turns out the kids will do the chores just for the money. You get an allowance as part of being a member of our family. But, sorry, someone’s gotta put the dishes in the dishwasher. Someone’s gotta make their bed. You’re part of the team, you have to take care of yourself. And the last thing is let them make mistakes.

Buffett’s banker chided me when I told him we were kind of forcing our kids to put their money into different pots – spend, save, give away, et cetera. He said, “Let them decide for themselves.” And I said, “But what if they make a mistake? What if they wanted to buy something and they’ve spent all their money on candy? What if they drive into a ditch?” And his answer was one of my favorite quotes in The Secrets of Happy Families. He said, “It’s much better to make a mistake with a six dollar allowance than a 60,000 dollar a year salary or a six million dollar inheritance.

The point is when the kids are young, when the stakes are lower, let them make their own mistakes. Then you’re there to pick them up. You don’t want to get that call when they’re 24 and suddenly they’re in debt and they’ve made bad decisions and they’re really in a hole. Let your kids take more responsibility from a younger age.

The most common pitfalls, I think, that parents make on the topic of money is thinking that they’re afraid to talk about it. That they don’t want to be honest. And they also think that they’re not passing along their values. Guess what? You are. If you’re worried and you have anxiety about money, you’re gonna pass that anxiety on to your children. If you show them, by contrast, that you do have worries but this is how you’re working it out. That you’re sitting down with your spouse, maybe with other family members, on a regular basis to talk about money. That’s the lesson you want to convey.

Because if you’re showing those values then your kids will pick up those values also. Because if you’re showing those values the kids will pick them up also. To me it’s part of the larger takeaway I emerged from with this project. I occasionally lose my temper. I occasionally yell at my children. And I always thought I’m just a bad dad when that happens. I’m just an awful parent because I’m showing them that I’m not always in control. What I’ve learned is losing control is actually natural and something kids need to see. But show them that when you do lose control that you also regain it and solve the problem in real time. Solve the problem in front of them – that’s the message you want to give them.

And the same applies to money. If you’re having a hard time, we’re gonna buy a car next year. And so already we’re not gonna buy this thing this year or we’re gonna go on a less expensive vacation so we can save money for a car. Be open with your kids about it. The actual reason? You’ll pass on good money values.

 

Money is one of the hardest things to talk about in a family. Bruce Feiler offers tips for how to facilitate financial conversation with your children. The key takeaway is that you want to enable your children to make their money mistakes while they're young. "It’s much better to make a mistake with a six dollar allowance than a 60,000 dollar a year salary or a six million dollar inheritance."

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.