A recent episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee features Kevin Hart in what has become the series’ most viewed episode, “You Look Amazing in the Wind.” First of all, if you haven’t watched Seinfeld’s show yet, take a few minutes and watch. The money shot, as it were, happens about five minutes in when Kevin and Jerry discuss what happens when your kids realize who you are, what you do, and what you have:
Jerry: So I found it was like second grade when they came home and said “Dad, everyone knows who you are.”
Kevin: My daughter got right to the point. “Dad, are we rich?”
Kevin: “Are we rich? Yes or no?” And I said “Baby, we’re doing well,” but they need to understand why. I said when you work hard, and put your mind to something, anything can happen. My daughter’s so smart, she goes, “Just answer my question: are we rich?”
Jerry: You know what I said to that question? “I am. You’re not.”
Yuks aside, I paused the scene and immediately reflected. My son is in grade two and has taken to talking about how much money is in his piggy bank. He’s been asking how much money my wife and I make. He’s comparing what he has with what his friends have. The race is on.
So what do you do when your kid asks, “Are we rich?”
The short answer, which I do not say out loud, is: no. We are not rich. Especially next to Jerry Seinfeld we are most certainly not rich … but everything is relative. We certainly are not poor.
I’ve taken specific steps to try and teach my kids about charity, especially at this time of year. They used their own money from their piggies to buy toys for a firefighters’ charity.
This fall we set up bank accounts for them, and emptying said piggies and handing the money over to the teller was difficult for my son. “What happens if the bank gets robbed?” he asked, convinced that banks get robbed often and his specific pile of bills would be lost forever due to the narrative of his LEGO City characters. What followed was me trying to explain how banks borrow money, lend money, and keep track of everything digitally.
“But Dad, are we rich?”
New York Times’ financial columnist Ron Lieber answers that question in detail in a book coming out in February. In The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, he advises parents to ask open-ended questions. Find out why they are asking the question, and use that information to have conversations about what it means to be rich.
Tom Corley, author of Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life, says you need to measure your answer to the age of the child. If I were to tell my seven year old my exact salary, he’d have no understanding of it. At the dinner table last night we discussed “what would you sell if you opened a store?” He declared he would “sell bikes for a million dollars each.”
Older kids, says Corley, need to have the facts laid out for them. Explaining to your teens how much money is in the family budget will temper their wish lists and help them to better understand needs, wants, and how to save for a want beyond your needs.
Elaine Scoggins is a Seattle financial planner who says the “are we rich?” question boils down to telling your kids two simple ideas.
- “There will always be someone with more than you have (and someone who has less).
- No one can have everything, which means everybody needs to make some choices about what’s most important to them.”
Now that the boys have bank accounts and an understanding of how much money is truly “theirs,” the weekend perusing of the toy store flyers has taken a different tone. As they flip through and decide what they want from Santa and what they will buy for each other, they’re not just circling the biggest box of LEGOs, they’re looking at the price tag too.
“Zacharie, are we rich?” I asked him at breakfast this morning, turning the tables on the very question he had asked me days earlier.
“No. Because we don’t have a pink pancake maker and we don’t have a lot of TVs.”
I have no idea where that came from. I guess it’s still a work in progress.
How do you handle the question from your kids? Tell us in the comments.