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How To Talk To Children About Money When You Have Too Much

By helaineo |

Childrearing amongst the bourgeoisie! It’s just so darn difficult these days, what with all the summer homes, expensive vacations and high salaries you need to explain. What’s an upper crust parent to do?

Luckily, there’s the New York Times. This past weekend, the paper of record took on the troubling question of what to do when your family income is so high, revealing it to your children might cause their classmates emotional distress.

In ‘Daddy, Are We Rich?’ and Other Tough Questions, the New York Times also discussed the difficulties of not owning a summer house (tell your four-year-child that if you did own a weekend cottage, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival or a beach vacation), and what to do if you can no longer afford a return trip to lovely but tres pricey Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York.

But the salary question was at the heart of the article. Not surprisingly, the New York Times suggested that one should not share the family income with the kiddies. After all, they are likely to blab the embarrassingly high number to their classmates and “rub it in.”

Instead, the Times recommended breaking down the household expenses with your child so they “get a sense of how much income someone needs” to support your lifestyle. The financial planner who came up with this amazing contribution did not, alas, offer up a tip on how a motor-mouth child could make one’s fellow students feel better after they discover another’s mommy and daddy can pay a several thousand dollar monthly mortgage, while their own is either on the verge of foreclosure or, even worse, has always been a renter.

That’s not to say the problems of the downwardly mobile were neglected by “Daddy Are We Rich.” No siree! Buried in the last quarter of the article, the Times addressed the challenges of those who “must make do with less.” The solution: Assure the kiddies that you can still afford groceries and, let older children assist in planning a getaway “that costs half of last year’s.”

Luckily the New York Times knows there’s more work to be done in the arena of children and money and on their Bucks blog, they ask readers to nominate the toughest question they’ve been asked on this subject by their child. In the spirit of lending a helping hand, I’m going to suggest a few:

For the families where one parent is one of estimated 3.5 million whose unemployment benefits will be cut off by the end of July due to Congressional inaction: “Mommy, why are you crying when you pick up the checkbook?”

For the one in two children under the age of 20 whose families will rely on food stamps to feed them at some point during their childhood: “Mommy, what’s a food bank and does it mean we are poor if we are using one?”

And, finally, just so you don’t think I’m unsympathetic to the problems of the privileged: “Mommy, what’s a great vampire squid and why do the neighbors think you work for one?”

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About helaineo



Helaine Olen's writing has been published by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal,, and, where she is an associate editor. Her first book, Office Mate: The Guide to Finding True Love on the Job will be published this fall. She lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

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0 thoughts on “How To Talk To Children About Money When You Have Too Much

  1. LolaLane says:

    More importantly: How to talk to children about money when you have too little.
    My boys already know the “We don’t have the money for X toy right now, we have to buy groceries” drill. It breaks my heart every time they offer to use their piggy bank money for whatever it is they want – and it’s never enough in that piggy bank (they’re 4 and 5). Oh to have the worries of the rich…

  2. Daphne says:

    Any word in there about expressing gratitude on a regular basis for food, roof, health?

  3. Nina says:

    funny, but not really an accurate summary of the Times article. Yes, it was targeted to a distinctly NYC-area middle/upper middle class (or richer) audience– but that is the primary readership of the Times. Not the exclusive readership, but the primary. And not withstanding the odd example in the article of the man who, at his daughter’s request, sold his house and bought a smaller one, the target audience of this article were those of us who have more than some (those on food stamps or getting unemployment or in serious financial hardship), but less than others (those with weekend homes or 6500 sq ft houses or paying NYC private school tuition), all struggling to make it in the crazy world of NYC.
    I thought the article was valuable, particularly the idea of making a bar graph of the relative cost of items, to help young children start to understand the vast range in value of things, from legos to an expensive vacation at Mohonk Mountain Lodge (one that my family could not afford, either). You’d have to be living in either a very homogeneous neighborhood for your child not to realize, at some point, that certain people have more money and certain people have less than his or her family.

  4. JZ says:

    I couldnt help but laugh at this…I wish I had that problem.
    But it is important for kids to learn that things cost money (and we dont have any LOL).

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