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Kids & Money Lesson 1: Defining Rich as “Breathing Room”

If you asked your children to define the word rich, what do you think they would say? What’s surprising is that their answer, at its core, would be largely the same at any age including most adults, “Rich is the accumulation of stuff.” The child may say, “lots of toys” or “mounds of candy” or “a giant house with a swimming pool.” The adult may say, “a million dollar income” or “the ability to eat out every night” or “a giant house with a swimming pool.” It is all the same – more and more stuff.

There are two problems inherent with this definition. A definition, by the way, that is repeatedly sounded by every magazine, movie or TV show we come across. The first problem with the ‘accumulation of stuff’ definition is the appetite mentality it promotes. An appetite is never fully and finally satisfied. Therefore, this definition has a constantly moving and unattainable target. For example, will you ever expect to hear your child say, “No more toys, mom. I’m good. I think I have all that I need from here on out.” Think about this, if someone told you as a teenager that someday you would have what your current household income is today, your teenager-self would be excited about the prospect of so much money. Yet you do not feel that way today. This phenomenon is the appetite mentality. No matter what you have, you always want more.

The second problem with the current definition is the ceiling it can subconsciously manifest. Most kids will think you need to be a doctor, lawyer or business owner to have the income needed to be rich in the first place. Why would we want to allow our children to carry a definition that they may see as an impediment for them to attain or fulfill without a specific title?

Time for a new definition that doesn’t suggest that only certain stratospheres of income can reach it. Let’s define rich in such a way that allows our kids to achieve the mark AND feel emotional benefit. To that end, here is your new definition of rich:

Rich is having breathing room in your finances. Rich is spending less than your income.

Let’s look at it from a different perspective…

Imagine you are at the Grand Canyon. You’re standing on the edge of a cliff with your toes hanging over and a strong tailwind behind you. Where is your focus? All of your being is concentrating on not falling. You can’t relate to anything going on around you and you certainly can’t relax. But what if you were 30 feet away from the edge? You’re enjoying the majesty of the site before you, aware of your surroundings and relaxed. Why? Because you have margin, room between you and the chasm. Our new definition of rich centers on the quality of life and the emotional benefits of having distance between income and spending.

Rich = Breathing Room

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