Raising kids in the best of times is challenging. Add the modern world of distractions (social media, cable and network television, Netflix, email and cell phones) and it’s a wonder every parent isn’t a prime suspect in the mysterious disappearance of their children.
In a bygone era frugality was a virtue. Spending less than you earned was the norm. Money was borrowed in the rarest of circumstances for large items. Borrowed money was paid back as quickly as possible. This has been replaced by the litany of people writing me whenever I publish posts like this one reminding me they borrow money responsibly. By *responsibly* they mean they run the numbers to see how much they can afford to borrow if nothing ever goes wrong. Then they add a really small margin of safety, just in case. Of course, life intervenes. Their responsible handling of debt leaves them working 40 years and broke at the end. Thank God for Social Security.
Friends pressure friends to ‘live a little!’ Raising your children with the right financial attitudes isn’t enough. School, friends and even family members will constantly chip away at their truly responsible behavior with money.
There is a running joke in the accountant household. Whenever my daughters get smart I remind them they are the sole survivors of 34 children . . . so far. (I ask all kind readers to refrain from examining the pond too closely.)
Most families have a competitive atmosphere. It’s the way it should be. My girls were always pretty good, but dad periodically had to lay down the law. (Envision Sylvester Stallone here in Judge Dredd saying, “I am the law!”) Most of our time together was a learning experience. Things I share on this blog frequently start from a family conversation. The blog post is more orderly; the family discussion more detailed.
‘Laying down the law’ was more an exercise of leading by example. When I tell my kids not to smoke or do drugs they see mom and dad practice what they preach. When I suggest books are a good pastime and a way to see the world throughout time, my girls constantly see the big humans in the house buried deep in another meaningful book. When we read we also share the lessons from the book that strike us right even if the rest of the family isn’t interested in reading that particular book.
Many years ago I watched a lot more TV. True, I usually had TV as background noise or the sound was muted as I glanced up now and again to see how the Packers were doing. I was the last guy in Wisconsin to break down and allow cable in my house. CNBC was my breaking point. I was also the first to cut the cord. CNBC is a business channel, but still an incredible waste of time.
Back in those days I was addicted to football (American style, my friends from outside the U.S.). I would watch Badgers football (college) and the Packers (correctly spoken as da Packers). Every game remotely related to the home team was must watch football; they were all remotely related. Then you had Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football. It was insanity. On went the TV (the cable glowed it ran so often) for every game with the sound muted. I read a book while keeping an eye on the action.
This was an expensive habit! The cable bill kept climbing magnitudes of order faster than inflation and I watched only a few channels. (As memory serves, I either had football muted or the Discover or Learning Channel on.) Pen and paper made it clear I was spending a lot per hour of television viewing. I was wasting money and my life!
One day I had enough. The cable was coming out. (We live in the boondocks so we had DirecTV.) I was prepared for serious pushback so I announced to my family cable would be turned off for six months over football season as a test. Yawns. Really?
Two months later the kids conducted an intervention. “Dad,” they said, “just cancel DirecTV. We can watch our shows elsewhere without a problem.” Dad, it seems, made the only sacrifice in giving up football. That was over a decade ago and we never looked back.
Dictating can work for a while, but if you force every issue you’ll eventually have a mutiny on your hands. I was open about my concerns of withdrawal symptoms when I cut football cold turkey. Yes, I could have watched a load of games on free network TV, but when I decided to cut the cord, I cut the cord (to the electrical outlet).
The funny thing is I never missed football. It surprised the heck out of me. After a lifetime of following my beloved Packers, I can’t name a single player on the team or the coach. The only thing I know about the Packers is what I hear in the steam room at the gym. It’s always an awkward moment when I get asked about the Packers and I say, “I don’t watch TV.” After a few moments of stunned silence I am congratulated for my grand sacrifice. I haven’t the heart to tell them it’s no sacrifice at all and that a serious part of my wealth is due to checking out from constant media manipulation and limited television viewing.
I’m an open book. I’m willing to discuss more subjects than people around me. In private, family discussions can get weird. They have to! The world is an insane place. The crazy conversations are designed to educate my kids and build a stronger bridge of understanding between Mrs. Accountant and me.
Agreement is NOT required! In fact, I want disagreement. Let me be clear about this. I don’t mean argument and fighting. What I mean is that I expect every member of the family, regardless of age, to express their opinion backed with facts. Sometimes Pinky, our cat, even chimes in, but she doesn’t know what she is talking about. Always meow this and meow that; feed me.
Humor is frequently a part of the conversation. Never, and I mean NEVER, will anyone insult the intelligence of another family member. Political issues can be intense, but always appropriate. Respect for other’s opinions is an unspoken rule. (Remember, lead by example rather than from the dictator’s podium.)
Media is everywhere, vying for our attention. Opinion and commentary are often clothed as facts or news. (I’m talking to you, Fox News and CNN fans.) Media is a business. They are in business to make money. They need to entertain you; educate is only an option. The world at large will try to indoctrinate you and your family into the consumer unit mindset because that is where the profits are. Let me repeat, media is a business with a desperate need for profits! From you.
School, teachers, friends, family, social media and traditional media outlets all bombard your children with messages of varying degrees of value. Most of the people are broke. It’s hard to teach what you don’t know. Financial independence is rarely taught in schools because most teachers don’t understand money.
By reading this blog you are educating yourself on financial matters. It’s not that I’m preaching anything new. (Okay, maybe a few new things.) Finance blogs and books are a way of indoctrinating ourselves with the information we choose to internalize. The media will get through by the sheer volume of information overload. To offset the harm you need a steady stream reaffirming your frugal, investing ways.
The younger your children are when they learn the truth about finances the better. Early education followed with constant reaffirmation creates habit. Habit will take you through the stressful times when the majority fails financially. Remaining calm when the world around you panics is muscle memory. Start early and stay focused.
Most people underperform because they make dumb moves during economic crisis. We currently are approaching an uninterrupted decade of economic growth coupled with a rising stock market. For the better part of a decade the masses have dutifully invested a portion of their paycheck. All those gains can be squandered with one ill timed trade.
The media will freak out first and more intensely than anyone else. Glenn Beck isn’t going to make you rich; he’s too busy taking your money. The best thing to do when the periodic, and inevitable, crisis strikes is to tune out all media, even social media. Don’t let anyone dissuade from your goals! Selling a portion of your index funds should be based upon personal needs because you retired or have a medical bill. The economy or level of the Dow Jones Industrial Average is NOT a valid reason to trade.
5 Ways to Raise FI Children in a Media Insane World
Spending dedicated time with your children is vital. Your kids will believe you more than anyone else, including media sources. But you have to put in the time! Face-to-face time is more powerful than talking heads and the Facebook news feed.
Here are 5 things I did raising my girls to think with the FI mindset:
Talk Openly about Money. Many people talk about money the way they talk about sex. It explains a lot about our society. Money isn’t taboo! I frequently think aloud when deciding to make a purchase or investment. I want Mrs. Accountant and the girls to know why I’m doing what I’m doing. What appears to be an impulse purchase actually had plenty of forethought. My decision to dump cable is a prime example. I’m currently debating dropping Netflix and Amazon Prime, which I use for the office. The numbers are still being tallied and compared to the utility the family receives.
Talking openly about sex with my kids has had a positive influence. Neither of my girls had to deal with pregnancy issues as minors or the drama of dating relationships. Considering what I see in the world around me, this is an incredible accomplishment and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I just talked, including about the uncomfortable stuff. Talking really does solve about 85% of problems if the talking is done in advance.
Money is no different. I talk with the whole family, Mrs. Accountant included, because they need to know this stuff in case something happens to me. I can’t protect them! All I can do is arm them with the same knowledge I have. I learn a few things (a lot of things) along the way. My girls and Mrs. A know money and are comfortable talking about and dealing with money. Knowledge is power. A trust fund is lazy parenting and a thinly disguised babysitter for idiots.
Be Honest. Guys, I’m talking to you. We love to tell our battle stories while neglecting to share those moments when our head was handed to us. Failure WILL happen! Your kids need to understand mom and dad didn’t have the Midas touch. I never shit a golden egg, and to the best of my knowledge, Mrs. A never laid one either. (Though I did hear her cackle earlier this morning in the other room.)
Talking about money means honest discussion. Expressing regret after a purchase is understandable. It happens. The kids need to hear it so they learn to hesitate when they consider a must-have item or service.
Most important, be honest with yourself when it come to money; all matters now that I think about it. We all pay a stupid tax now and again. We live in such affluent times we can make stupid money decisions and still come out smelling roses. By talking openly with your children about times you paid a stupid tax, you educate your children. They may still pay a stupid tax themselves down the road. But sharing your story helps them limit the damage and frequency.
Dump the Idea of a Mad Money Account or FU Money. Some will find this counterintuitive. Plenty of personal finance bloggers espouse the idea of ‘mad money’ or ‘FU money’. I think dedicating a certain amount of funds to the stupid tax is like intentionally maneuvering your financial situation to pay just a bit more in tax to the IRS as a ‘FU choice’ or ‘mad tax’ decision.
I’ve served on the board of several non-profits over the years. As you can guess, I was usually the treasurer or at least involved in the financial decisions at some level. This is the reason why I don’t serve longer than I do. Non-profits love to budget. They budget revenue which never seems to quite materialize at the level dreamed during the budgeting process and budgeted expenses are an excuse to spend. (“We budgeted money for that!”) Budgeting expenses encourages unnecessary spending.
What I do instead is track income and expenses. My goal is to always beat the previous year. I want income a bit better than the year before and spending a bit lower. Inflation adds challenge to the spending part of the game. This is the most realistic budgeting process I can think of. Everything else is wishful thinking.
So what happens when I come upon a “mad money’ event? The same thing that happens with any spending event. If the family decides we want to go to Bay Beach (I hold veto power), we go to Bay Beach and blow $20 or so. I don’t check the FU account; there isn’t one.
I consider a car ‘mad money’ spending. The buying process isn’t as long an agonizing as you might think. The vehicle replaces a mode of transportation no longer reliable. (Them’s the rules.) I research, with family members watching, the options: bank repos, FSBO, dealerships (ick!) and alternatives like biking. The calculation is simple. Compare the cost of each, including upkeep, maintenance, reliability and depreciation. My oldest daughter found a car repaired after a collision. She (not dad) did the research to ascertain if the vehicle was safe and reliable after an accident. It took her a while to find an affordable set of wheels, but she applied what she learned from dad over the years and got a reasonable mode of transportation. (Notice I didn’t say she got a deal. Vehicles are never a deal! They’re a constant expense.)
Limit Media Influence. This is easier said than done. Eliminating is highly unlikely. Elimination demands could lead to dad’s mysterious death. Police are still investigating.
Once again we come back to family communication. I’ve found ‘telling’ my kids they couldn’t do something created resentment and limited compliance. Rather, I hear their choices and encourage reduction or elimination of certain choices. It takes time and consistency. When my girls heard I was pulling cable they were skeptical. When they heard my reasoning and personal sacrifice they pushed forward faster than your favorite accountant!
The worst offenders are social media. These time sinkholes should never be used for more than they were officially intended. Stay in touch with friends and family on Facebook. That should take all of 5 minutes per day. If you’re married to them, consider a face-to-face conversation. And Facebook isn’t a news source! So stop treating it as such. Twitter is a fine way to share thoughts and things you run across online. Again, 5 minutes a day should more than cover it.
Television used to be the ultimate culprit because there was no other box in the house with pretty oscillating lights to distract you. Now the computer has taken over. Still, limit television viewing. Don’t tell me about the ‘news’ either. Most of it is biased opinion and if I wanted their opinion I would have asked for it. I didn’t.
Focus your news and online reading to what you are most interested in. I like business news. Even that needs to be limited as most business news is slanted and worth less than nothing. (Check CNBC articles on where the market is headed: up and down every day at the same time. Like I said, most of it is worthless.) Some news is important. Weather comes to mind if you are planning an outing. There is no value in reading yet another article about social justice. It only increases your blood pressure (very unhealthy) and provides no value while increasing an entitlement mentality. There is no place for this in a FI household.
YouTube is my weakness. Traditional TV (networks and cable) force feeds viewers. I have a violent reaction to force feeding. Call is a ticklish gag reflex. YouTube appeals to me because I can focus on what I’m interested in. I recently had to fix a tractor tire and wanted to do it myself. Several YouTube videos helped. This said, you can waste a day (and most of an evening) glued to the new glass teat. YouTube is the ultimate Fox News, feeding viewers with an endless supply of what they want. If you enjoy conspiracy theories you just committed suicide. Your heart will eventually figure it out and stop beating; your brain dropped out of drive a long time ago.
Traditional media, social media and even YouTube are fine to use in moderation. Giving up all media is foolish. YouTube videos can educate and help with projects around the farm. Entertainment is not a four-letter word, either! Enjoying a movie or series is okay in limited portions as long as it doesn’t replace quality family and real-world social time.
If you want to raise FI children in a media insane world, teach them (lead by example) how to use media in a nourishing, productive way. Blogs and podcasts can teach money lessons. Even with my decades of financial and tax experience I’m still learning. The learning never ends. Media can help. Limiting media exposure to those things most valuable allows for good life balance.
Teach Your Kids to Read; Teach Your Kids to Think. Books are the most powerful media tool ever invented. Reading good books will determine the level of success you enjoy in life. Unlike other forms of media, books require you to engage, to think. Thinking is the lost art form of modern society. Many ills of modernity are a direct result of people refusing, or unable, to think clearly and communicating articulately.
My oldest daughter is starting to build an impressive personal library. When I asked her the other day if the she bought the book she was reading, she said, “Yes. I’m getting like you.” You can imagine how proud dad was. She, like dad, is willing to spend money on knowledge.
Reading and thinking make a difference. My oldest daughter is 23 and has traveled a nice portion of the world without mom and dad in tow. She did it on her own! Imagine the confidence builder! Reading is the culprit. Without her reading habit she would never have the level of wealth she has at her age.
My youngest daughter is 18 and prefers working in the dirt so she found a job in the family business landscaping. She is the least bookish of the family, but still reads plenty, just in a different way. Reading books from cover-to-cover isn’t something she aspires to (yet). She reads shorter work related to topics she is interested in. An internet article or short informational piece has more utility for her. At the end of the day she reads a lot more than you think, and speaking of ‘think’, she is learning to think more clearly each day and communicate her position and knowledge in an articulate manner. Might I add she has amassed a nice nest egg for someone approaching retirement when she is only months into the age of majority.
Raising intelligent children able to think on their own in the modern world has its challenges. I never said it was easy; it never was easy.
I expended over 3,000 words to communicate with you a simple message: If you want to raise FI kids in a media insane world you need to communicate louder than the media outlets. Since you are standing next to your kids all you have to do is talk and listen. In time it will all work out.
Now I need to learn brevity.
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