for release Friday February 20, 2004
by Melodie Davis
Choking on Wealth
We are not accustomed to thinking of wealth as a problem. Poverty, yes, sure, it is a problem. But money solves problems, right?
The answer of course is “not necessarily.” A new book titled Choking on the Silver Spoon by Gary W. Buffone (Simplon Press) reminds us that it is good for our children if they don’t have too much wealth handed to them.
This is a column of honest sharing about a subject most of us prefer to remain private about. By not talking about money, we miss out on mutual accountability as well as practical ideas and insights from others. Mutual accountability is a fancy way of saying “helping each other stay on a positive track.”
Actually, I have severe misgivings myself about writing too openly about money: I don’t want to offend anyone, don’t want to appear judgmental of others, and I’m apprehensive about revealing private money decisions. But oftentimes it is only through gut level sharing that we make progress in dealing with potential problems.
The other thing that gives me pause is that the things North Americans think of as a necessity, others in the world view as an enormous luxury.
The day I first read about the “Choking” book, I was hit by several close-at-hand examples. My youngest (senior in high school) daughter’s jaw dropped after she received two e-mails from two different girls she had met at Girl’s State, (a mock-government type conference, an experience paid for by a local civics club, perhaps I should add).
One girl was telling her what she got for Christmas: a brand new Mercedes.
Then the second girl e-mailed that she had received a brand new convertible BMW.
A quick search of the web reveals prices on those vehicles to be something around $30-50,000. That seems like a good example of “spoiling” your child in a world where so many need so much. The next day my daughter told me, “You know, I think I would be embarrassed to drive either of those cars to school.”
Then I thought about my oldest daughter who had told us one time about a friend whose parents got her a newer, more stylish car because her very serviceable Neon didn’t “look good” in their driveway. This was when my daughter was having severe “car envy” herself because she had no car to drive. My college-aged daughters especially were hit by the affluence of their classmates who seemed to have unlimited spending accounts financed by their folks.
Early this year, we got a car for my second daughter as an early college graduation present even though she doesn’t graduate until next year, because now is when she really “needs” it living in an off campus apartment. But she says she’s almost embarrassed to tell her friends what she got. (The car, by the way, is a used Dodge Stratus in the $3,000 range, but I realize that even that modest price is way beyond the reach of many families. Perhaps others also think this is spoiling our child.)
While we believe in making our children work hard for what they get, including paying 75 percent of their own college expenses, and initially we thought we would just “loan” them money for a car when they got out of college, we then decided rewarding them for successful completion of four years of college with a $3,000 car was probably not too extravagant in this day. (If the college junior doesn’t complete college, she will need to repay part of the cost of the car!)
Again, I share these private family expenses and decisions not to judge others, not to brag or anything else, but in the interest of saying, let’s be more open about our finances. Let’s tell each other how we deal with money and financial decisions so that we don’t get caught on the runaway affluence train where it looks like we’re depriving our kids if we don’t do things other parents are “supposedly” doing.
The author of Choking on the Silver Spoon says we shouldn’t give our kids more material comfort that they absolutely need. They will be more ambitious if they have to work for some of what they get. We can learn to say “no”—to set limits on what we give. Buffone says kids need to learn the law of reciprocity – that there are results when we put forth effort. He also challenges parents to practice what we preach because kids learn most of all from our example.
Money itself, of course, is not the problem. Like the Good Book puts it, “The love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). The recent film trilogy based on Lord of the Rings also portrays this masterfully. The “ring” can be symbolic for many kinds of power, but as a symbol of the grip that money exerts on us, the image of Frodo striving to escape its powerful lure is a useful picture to keep in front of us as we teach our kids that it is not good for everything to be handed to them.
What do you think? For information on a video about this subject, Beyond the News: Money, go to www.thirdway.com/resources/ and look under “videos.” Or write to me at: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 883 words; end material = 105 words
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