Should You Teach Your Children How To Become Millionaires?

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Every so often, a new blogger enters the scene who you just KNOW is going to be a success.  My friend “Cubert” over at Abandoned Cubicle is one such blogger.  Since I was hanging out at a campground all week with no internet (wow, I LOVE retirement!), Cubert’s jumping in with a guest post this week.

Cubert’s better suited than “Empty-Nester Me” to discuss teaching your children about personal finance, and I’m excited to share his thoughts on money habits we should teach our kids.

Hint:  Resilience > Happiness.

Take it away, Cubert!

Should You Teach Your Children How to be Millionaires?

An article on Yahoo! Finance caught my eye this past week: 4 millionaire money habits to teach your kids, by Jeanie Ahn. I thought the advice was pretty good. Boiled down, you simply coach your kids to:

  1. Save,
  2. Understand compounding,
  3. Avoid frivolous spending, and
  4. Be charitable.

We can get behind that, right? Take these four pillars of smart personal finance and find ways to engrain them into those little impressionable minds. My question is whether it’s wise to impose a “millionaire mindset” on children.

The answer to the question is “Yes”, but with a strong caveat

Teaching good money habits at a young age is a super smart thing to do. We frankly don’t do enough of that as a society, as evidenced by spendthrifts dominating the landscape, while indebtedness surges and swells to newer heights.

But before we program our young ones to “crush it”, we should first teach them resilience. Why resilience? Well, my perspective is that resilience makes life a meaningful pursuit, whether you’ve got a million, or zero dollars.

There was a time I might’ve pushed “happiness” on you. Not anymore. Happiness is simply too far-fetched a concept to corner. We are by nature, beings of survival and struggle.

Happiness is often fleeting. But a long-standing sense of contentment through purposeful living, girded by resilience is fully achievable.

Who cut that boy’s hair?!

Some childhood money lessons

Growing up, I had a typical kid’s perspective on money. Back then, I figured more money was a good thing, because it meant more “stuff”, whether it was more toys, more baseball cards, or more video games.

I was also quick to recognize that for my parents, more money meant less stress. Growing up lower-middle class opens your eyes to these things.

As a kid I often heard, “We don’t have the money for that.” I overheard my fair share of squabbles between my folks about money issues. It stresses you out as a kid.

I’d love to have worried more about the Detroit Tigers making the playoffs, than whether my dad would come through with his child support payment. Money was often a point of contention in our home. And I suspect this became a driver for some of my current money habits.

I’ll never forget a “traumatic” experience at age 12. I’d somehow managed to drop $50 out of my pocket while on a long bike ride. I’d never had that much cash on me before. It could’ve been birthday money?

At any rate, I was panic-stricken. I even called a friend of my mom’s to see if she’d want to buy some old video games. I simply couldn’t process losing that much cash so carelessly, so I had to find a way to get it back.

In a sense, I suppose you could analyze that as a healthy relationship with money. If I’d lost the cash and just blown it off as if it were nothing, I can only imagine how that’d translate into poor money habits as an adult.

On the flipside, I was sure a far cry from resilient. I don’t think I ever shared with my parents or anyone else except my mom’s friend about losing my birthday money that day. Maybe a resilient version of Cubert could weather the loss better. He doesn’t seem to mind flushing fifty plus at the blackjack tables on occasion. D’oh.

A happier day, with empty pockets, and not a care in the world!

What I hope to teach my kids

Along with the four pillars I mentioned at the outset, I hope to impart to my kids a little wisdom on “resilience.” If nothing else, I want my kids to emerge as healthy, purpose-driven, and kind adults. Note again, I did not write “happy.”

Happiness will come and go, but again, if our loveable minions can latch on to a meaningful struggle or cause (i.e., “purpose”), they will have found their pot of gold. Will they be millionaires? I don’t really care. I hope they don’t either.

Will they be tough enough to withstand all that life might throw their way? If I can help it, they will be.

You can easily connect the dots between what many of us teach our kids during toddlerhood and how these early lessons benefit kids as adults. You impose a little structure, with a set bedtime, meal times, table manners, and so on, and let them create their own spaces within set guardrails.

I’m pretty sure structure has benefited me in adulthood so far. The 5 AM wake-up call is just one example.

That and other good habits formed out of discipline and structure might’ve been useful for how I manage money these days. So in a way, structure helps build resilience. When things go amiss, we have structure and routine to fall back on.

Are there more than four pillars we can teach our kids about money?

Enough about resilience. We need to crawl out of that rabbit hole FAST. Let’s ask the next question: “As a personal finance and early retirement self-proclaimed guru, what else would I add to Mrs. Ahn’s list of four?”

For starters, I’d add:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up for bad decisions in your past. Many get discouraged when looking back on 15 working years, with little to show for it. I know I did.

But I made a choice to reverse course. It took time, but I’ve come to a place financially where I have options. Learn from your mistakes. They will happen.

  1. Work hard. Work with persistence. Work with resilience. You could easily break that out into three separate platitudes. In my view, a good all-around work ethic encompasses these facets by default.

A key observation I’ve made over 4+ decades of life is that people who work hard tend to have their shit together better than most. A great work ethic isn’t a cure-all, but it gives you a leg up for accelerating wealth generation. If you’re working hard, you’re also going to learn more as you produce and “DO.”

It was her idea. Seriously! (Note the “Children At Play” sign)

Millionaire kids don’t need silver spoons

I’ll leave you with this notion. You don’t need to roll out the “red carpet of privilege” to your kids in the hopes they’ll become wealthy magnates when they grow up.

Avoid the Jones’s well-meaning but ill-informed push to put Sally and Junior through elite private schools. Unless your only desire is to create superior intellectual beings with issues, maybe stick to solid public schools…

Millionaires are sometimes also geniuses, but what sets the millionaire apart isn’t intellect. Rather, it’s discipline and a focus on wealth generation. And oh yes, hard work and resilience play key roles.

Allow your kids to hold part-time jobs to learn the value of a paycheck. Anymore, it seems teenagers avoid part-time work like the plague.

Teens should use their pluck to help them pay for college. Don’t leave it all up to mom and dad. They’re going to help, but our fine students need to have some skin in the game.

It’s not the end of the world to start a career with some student loan debt. And I’m speaking from experience ($20K for myself, and over $100K for Mrs. Cubert.)  

What can we conclude?

Teaching kids about good money habits is wise, but teaching them how to operate in a challenging world is wiser. Avoid putting emphasis on the former over the latter. And by all means, avoid coddling.

If it isn’t clear, I subscribe pretty heavily to the stoic approach to life. But I’m a soft stoic at best. No one has to suffer, but we can agree that kids who grow up to be kind, caring, healthy and content is all we could ask for. The millionaire part is trivial.



  1. Great post, Fritz. What really hit home for me was this quote: “Teens should use their pluck to help them pay for college. Don’t leave it all up to mom and dad. They’re going to help, but our fine students need to have some skin in the game.

    I feel as if this was my father’s mantra all throughout my childhood. If you wanted to be apart of something, you need to pitch in. He never had the money to completely pay for college, but he challenged my brothers and I to bring him good grades. In return, they were worth money that would go towards paying down our student loans if, and only if, we graduated. Any little bit helped.

    Coming full circle to the point of your post, my father started us out disadvantaged (in all aspects of life) so that we had to learn how to gain the advantage.

    Sometimes I think this was just his Army mentality of true grit, but it all makes sense now.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Church – I’m glad to hear that your dad’s strategy worked out for you and your siblings. I think my tendency will be to toughen them up for what can be a pretty harsh world. I really wonder how kids survive anymore growing up without a care in the world: no money stress, relationship stress, or even survival stress in general. Just make sure to challenge your kids so they don’t feel owed anything when they’re on their own.

    1. The strategy, in terms of college, only worked out for my older brother and I. As for my little brother, it just wasn’t enough. He wound up finding his own path through the military, but that goes to your point about kids feeling no stress. My little brother was at least aware enough to feel stressed about his decision that he had to manage his way out.

      Now, I am not saying my father got a A+ for parenting. Lord knows there were a few C’s and D’s in there. I think you’ve got the right mindset to be hard, but fair, along the way.

      Well done, Sir. I enjoyed being here.

  3. Nicely stated, Cubert…..

    I’d add one thing….”even if you’ve done a good job of teaching….when they become adults they still make their own choices”.

    When you see your adult children “doing stupid”, it’s really hard to let them make their own mistakes. They often look at you, and say “well, it’s easy for you….you have money….”, not realizing that the reason you *do* have money is that you did the scrimp/save/invest paradigm.

    Still far better to have tried to educate….and hope that some of the lessons stuck.

    (Fritz, hope you are enjoying retirement!)

    1. Why thank you, Plane Doc!
      Good addition. My parenting struggle will be to let them be themselves. Not try to project onto them.
      “Doing stupid” is a good learning tool so long as the stakes aren’t severe.

  4. Great post AC! I think this one ties nicely to Millennial Revolution’s post yesterday about wanting “quick fix” in order to retire. Teaching your kids early about money is huge, but its more important that they learn resilience. Life won’t always go their way, but if they can dig themselves out of a hole and still be ok, that’s all you can ask for.

    1. Thank you, Mrs. Wow! You know you indirectly got Fritz into trouble with me the other day? His blog sign up welcome email says we’ll never hear about what he ate for lunch in his Twitter feed. Well, all I get anymore from Fritz is a healthy does of WAFFLE TWEETS. Makes me hungry, every. time.

        1. You should appreciate that someone actually read your “fine print”! LOL.
          Although I borrowed heavily from your setup, I refrained from ever claiming anything of value originating from MY twitter feed. 😉

          1. Haha maybe Fritz needs to change his twitter disclaimer. “I don’t always eat waffles (on Wednesday), but when I do, I post about it”

  5. Great article Fritz!

    Like your 6th pillar, I think Grit is an incredibly important trait. I am reading the same titled book by Angela Duckworth right now and my eyes have been opened, especially as a parent of 4 young children.

    I feel like I have a better idea of what to impress upon and teach my children now for future success.

    1. Thanks, Cooper! Grit with a capital G!
      I’ll have to check out Ms. Duckworth’s book. Four young children? Man… I thought two was plenty! 🙂

  6. This is fantastic Cubert!

    I love the idea of avoiding coddling. I want to give my kids advantages in the world but handing them everything they want on a silver platter may not be the best way to prepare them for the world.

    I’d love for my boys to become millionaires one day. If I’m being honest, I probably expect them to. Consider $1M won’t be worth very much in 50 years or so it may be the minimum for them to eventually retire. Even so, I’d much rather them learn to live with purpose than to just have money.

    1. Thanks, Jason!
      I’m probably in your camp with respect to my expectations for my kids. Becoming millionaires should be achievable, if they can take advantage of the many opportunities available to them HERE.

  7. I love it. We’re trying to teach our kid to be rich too. It is a slow start right now because he’s young. We’re teaching him that money means work. It doesn’t just come out of the ATM. You need to work for it. We’re also encouraging him to save. It’ll be a long process and we’ll keep working with him. Kids need to learn about personal finance before they leave home.

    1. Hi Joe!
      I love following your posts on raising your little guy. I can relate to like 99% of that stuff!
      I think our best weapon right now is to avoid taking them shopping too much. They’ll come along for groceries, but that’s about it. We don’t shop much as frugal sorts, and a lot is done online anymore. I remember growing up, spending a lot of time at the shopping mall. I figured it the “place to be” — and man was I wrong about THAT.

      1. The only time we go shopping is for his clothes. Man, the kid goes through pants, socks, and shoes like candy. He’s super active. 🙂

        1. We enjoy generous grandparents and a neighbor who loves to donate clothes. Otherwise our clothing budget would be crazy big!

  8. i went to one of those private snobby liberal arts colleges in the northeast and a lot of my peers came from privilege and those high end private schools like choate and phillips. a lot of them were coddled bedwetters. it’s a fine line with tough love. you don’t want your kids to grow up not liking you, eh?

    1. Figures… 😛

      Good point, in truth you don’t want your kids to despise you. But I figure that’ll happen when dating life emerges and curfews and car keys are center stage. There’s always military style boot camps, worse comes to worse! 😉

  9. Cubert, just a note to add in the comments: MUCH THANKS for your excellent Guest Post today. The topic of what we should teach our children is proving to be a popular one, and I thank you for sharing your wisdom with my readers today! Good luck with your blogging, keep focusing on producing great content and I’ve no doubt that your future as a blogger will be bright! Happy to share you with a new audience today!

    1. You’re certainly welcome, Fritz! I’m learning as I go, but happy to share my opinions at any rate.
      Appreciate your kind words of encouragement. I’m already taking a page out of your mailchimp/sumo book to gin up a massive email list of my own.
      Thanks again for letting me share on a 2017 Golden Nameplate WINNER! 🙂

  10. If I had kids, I think my overarching goal would be to teach them honor. Is that the same as resilience? If so, I’m happy to claim that my pedestrian brain has soared just high enough to be near your brain’s rarefied altitude. #sometimesigetitright. Cheers, my friend.

    1. I don’t think it’s the same, but I like it!
      Honor. I dig that. I always default back to being kind, working hard, and being resilient. Having honor is probably closer to “being kind” – honoring elders, honoring your craft, honoring friendships and agreements. I dunno. But I LIKE IT.
      Rarefied altitude? Dude. You’re also a 2017 Golden Nameplate winner. And not for articles on how to make homemade peanut butter and what you learn about finances from your cat. Though you’d make the latter worth reading. 🙂

  11. I say teach anyone who can ask for a $1 dollar to buy a lollipop about money. It’s easy to spend someone else’s money, but harder to pat with your own. Once people learn this, they appreciate and value money more. That’s just my two cents.

    1. Greenbacks Magnet! Now THERE’S a moniker! Love it!!!
      Good fundamental lesson indeed. Though I think later in life it gets harder, if you have a conscious about it. I remember feeling not so great about having to ask family for personal loans to get through college. Maybe I’d learned enough in my k-12 years by then?

      1. I know how you feel. I made sure to have a rainy day fund of at least 2-6 months just to be seld-reliant as I got older. It took time but it was worth it. I encourage everyone to have one even a small fund just in case.

  12. My kids are grown millennials and are all doing ok. One, a doc, will be a multi-millionaire a few years out of residency because he is in one of the highest paid specialties in the country. My other two are also pretty good with money but are not in high earning professions although they are pension eligible. All of them know their parents net worth and know that they will become instant millionaires when they inherit our estate. Because we are healthy they realize they will probably be in their sixties before that happens so I do not believe it matters to them now other than knowing they’ll have plenty of cushion for retirement even if social security fails. I do not worry about them at all, they are a pretty frugal bunch overall, like their folks. We made them all get jobs as teenagers and earn their own spending money as well as we did not pay any of their advanced college degree costs after their first four year degrees. They actually did not know we were millionaires until they were college age because we lived frugally. They were astounded when we showed them the books, it was pretty funny! One of them said, “Dad, we were raised poorer than any of our friends.” Made Dad feel pretty good. It is easy to learn how to spend money but it is pretty hard to unlearn it.

  13. Hey Steve! You really did a fine job with your kids! Especially with the struggles millennials have faced coming out of the financial crisis.
    Even better that they have a good head on their shoulders with respect to their eventual inheritance. Bravo!!!
    I hope I can share a similar story when our kids are older. Shock them with the news that hey, we actually have money! They’ll probably give me grief about our small house and having to share a room until age 12. We’ll see…
    Btw – thanks for letting me give you crap about your choice of vehicles. 🙂

  14. I agree that happiness is not the most important thing, in fact it is an inappropriate emotion for times like the death of a grandparent, for example. Building resilience is a great idea. I love that picture of your little girl shoveling snow. You slave driver, you! Seriously, a lot of us talk about doing things out of our comfort zone, especially Fritz, and I truly believe that we do have to push into discomfort for positive futures. Nice post.

    1. LOL. She really, truly wanted to help, and did quite a bit of that “moving ice around” until she got bored. Quite a trooper!
      Thanks for your kind words, Susan.

  15. If learning is not fun, it will be more difficult for the children to pay attention and they will soon forget what you just said to them about saving up their pennies instead of spending them.

    Also, I can’t say enough about the value of teaching them to be more confident. I remember talking to my daughter and was surprised to know that she know’s quite a few High School classmates of hers are already on anti-depressant medication.

    1. Confidence is so important, but I think a healthy amount of our new issues come from cyber-bullying and the proliferation of smart phones + kids. Used to be a parent just called the school office to get a hold of a kid. Anymore, I think social media and smart phones lead to some real problems for at risk kids. Just my own hack hypothesis…

  16. “Teaching kids about good money habits is wise, but teaching them how to operate in a challenging world is wiser.”

    I could not agree more! Excellent perspective… as Mr. AR and I navigate how to raise a son (a scary prospect in and of itself!), money lessons and life lessons are suddenly coming to the forefront. He is almost 3 and is soaking up everything we do, so we are working to be a good example and let him learn (sometimes the hard way) 🙂

    And your picture of shoveling made me chuckle… our son loves to join us in chores right now and he shoveled with us all winter long!

    1. Wouldn’t it be great to move somewhere, where snow shovels, picks, and spades are no longer needed? Hawaii maybe? Look at me.. Already looking ahead to winter. Shameful!!!

  17. This is my favorite line:

    “We are by nature, beings of survival and struggle.”

    We like to earn, to achieve, to do it ourselves. This is the direct path to happiness (which is a by-product, not an end goal). The satisfaction is just so much greater that way. So teaching your children this up front will have enormous payoffs. Well done!

    1. Thank you, Marcia! It’s honestly easier said than done. I’m sure we’ll have a fair amount of teachable moments ahead of us. 🙂

  18. You engage in a bit of deceptive wordplay. Contentment and happiness are synonyms. According to Merriam Webster, the definition of happiness is “a state of well-being and contentment.”

    Of the four money habits Jeanie Ahn suggests, my parents drilled #1 to #3 into me from an early age. My parents grew up during the Great Depression so they did not believe in charity or at least charitable organizations. They firmly believed charity begins (and ends) at home. I achieved a million dollar net worth around age 40.

    However, I detect a lack of respect for wealth when you write “Will they [your children] be millionaires? I don’t really care. I hope they don’t either.” Despite the popular belief, almost everyone is better off if they don’t have to worry about money concerns. You don’t say “I hope they are poor” but you seem to imply that monetary concerns should be secondary in children’s lives.

    I would argue that if you have monetary concerns, it is more difficult to achieve contentment. Contentment is a higher order need to borrow from Maslov. If you look at Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs, note that the first two levels are largely satisfied with money and that is unlikely to achieve higher order needs without first satisfying lower order needs.

    Appreciate the value of hard work, be resilience, avoid coddling – I agree with all of that. I just think you need to put more emphasis on money. As a parent, you need to give your child the tools & opportunities to make a good salary and then invest/save the salary. It’s the realpolitik of life.

    Maybe a story from my life will encapsulate my thoughts. I got good grades in high school. As a college freshman, I wanted to major in English Lit but quickly realized a BA in Eng Lit wouldn’t get me a very well paying job upon graduation. I majored in Electrical Engineering instead. No one told me to major in EE or told me that Eng Lit wouldn’t get me a well paying job. I considered both to be equally-challenging, intellectual endeavors but I leaned towards the one that had more potential lifetime earnings. I did so probably because my parents had shared with me stories of themselves being poor and they instilled a respect for money (or perhaps a fear of lack of money). My sense is that if I were your child, you would be largely indifferent to my choice of majors.

  19. Yes – earning a lot is a big component of building wealth. Should be in the top four list.

    Charity may be a nice virtue but doesn’t really matter for becoming wealthy.

  20. Great post! I love the distinction between happiness and contentment/purpose in life. I’m so glad I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth – what a boring life I would have had! 😉 I think your kids are going to turn out just fine. We certainly need more well-adjusted humans in this world!

    1. Thanks, Valerie! I take some liberties with the meaning of happiness, as Dan comments above. But my main argument is that balance, above all, should be the focus.
      How our children approach money should be a reflection of how curious they are with how wealth is generated, but recognizing that wealth is a tool, not a goal in and of itself.
      Our society is geared to opportunities for some to amass serious coin, but there’s always the shadow of consumerism that looms over our heads. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have written that I don’t want my kids to become millionaires. I do, but I want them to achieve it as a byproduct of hard work and with a habit of giving back. This turned out to be a tougher post to write than I thought it would be.

  21. Well put. Money is a tool, not a lifeline. An important part of a ‘happy’ life, but obviously not everything. No matter your level of wealth, true Freedom is acquired by not allowing the tools you should use to live your life to end up using you. This perspective is probably best instilled at an early age, as the world around us will likely teach us otherwise by ‘Osmosis’ if an awareness of the BS is not gained early on.

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