Book offers sage money advice for parents

This image released by Harper shows "The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart about Money," by Ron Lieber. (AP Photo/Harper)

THE OPPOSITE OF SPOILED: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money. By Ron Lieber. Harper. 256 pages. $26.99.

Money can be a touchy subject for people of all income levels, but a new book on the importance of teaching kids to handle their finances suggests parents stop avoiding the topic and start talking turkey.

“The Opposite of Spoiled” by Ron Lieber is flush with practical ways to incorporate money lessons into family life. Its goal is to start a dialogue with kids that focuses less on dollars and cents, and more on values.

Lieber, a personal finance columnist for The New York Times, researched his subject well and uses an effective combination of professional advice and anecdotes from families across the country. While he says the book is aimed at those making at least $75,000 a year with money to spend on kids, there’s guidance for people on every earning level.

Lieber defines socio-economic classes and addresses privilege throughout the book, reflecting an awareness and sensitivity to people with different backgrounds and views on how families manage money.

His style is conversational and frank, with a sense of humor. He often refers to his own parenting experiences, creating intimacy with readers and making him a trustworthy guide through some complicated issues.

Some of the book’s unconventional recommendations may surprise parents, like answering salary questions honestly and not tying household chores to allowance. Parents who fear that talking with kids about money leads to spoiled children may be denying them a map to navigate important decisions later on.

When explaining money decisions, Lieber suggests distinguishing “wants” and “needs.” If kids understand the difference, it becomes easier and more rewarding to save for coveted things. Guiding kids to separate money into spend, save and give away piles isn’t new, but Lieber delves deeper into how to help kids appreciate those choices.

The chapters on allowance and working are must-reads for parents. It’s important to give older kids responsibilities and chores so they learn to contribute to the family, build stamina and develop a positive work ethic.

Lieber wants to start a conversation about values, and provides useful answers for the inevitable question, “Are we rich or poor?” saying each family has to determine what rich means to them. It can be measured by good health, religious faith, a big family, great schools and even a safe place to play.

It’s rare to find a book about finance with so much heart, but Lieber’s bottom line is to invest in our kids’ futures by being honest and aware of our relationship with money.