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Will I raise my future kids as spoiled brats?

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Is it really fair that I have a special number I call to get impossible-to-get reservations and concert tickets?

Or that I get to cut in line at the airport and Vegas clubs?

Or look at this email I got from my bookkeeper:

Hi Ramit,

I am in the process of setting up an appt for you and XYZ at XXX BANK for Monday at 5pm. The bank does close at 5pm, but they will be happy to stay open for you to open this account. I will give them as much information as I can, so you won’t have to do too much when you get there.

I will give you more information as soon as I have it.

Apparently now banks stay open late for me.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

When I have kids one day, do I want them to get used to living a life of privilege? I joke around with my friends that I’m going to sit in the front of the plane and they can sit in the back (“Oh, you want to sit up here? LEARN HOW TO START A BLOG”). That’s right. Learn from daddy.

But seriously, how do you prevent your kids from being spoiled brats? And do we even want to live in a society where there’s so much stratification?

Think about it.

On one hand, this special treatment isn’t because I’m a better person. They’re just giving me elite service because I spend more with them. I do the same thing with my students! I recently brought a group of 20 elite students to New York and taught them advanced consulting strategies. I paid for their food, their drinks, even their night out. But they were more than worth it to me.

On the other hand, do we really want to go to amusements parks and watch people going in a special line they paid for…instead of standing with everyone else? Isn’t that part of life?

When I was a kid, I remember my parents stopping at a bank to get a money order. They came out laughing. I asked what happened, and they said, “The bank said we could get this money order free if we had $10,000 in our bank account.” Then they laughed. It was LAUGHABLE that they would ever have $10,000 in their account…ever.

And that idea made me HUNGRY as I grew up. I wanted to dominate in academics, business, and tons of other areas. The entire idea of my parents having 4 kids on one income made us make tough choices all the time. We hardly ever ate out. We nervously asked my dad for 2 quarters to play video games…but never more. “That’s too much,” we’d say to each other.

Yet if we ever had any educational expenses — trips, sports teams, SAT classes — somehow, my parents would find the money.

And now…everything is different. Not just for me individually, but even for society.

This isn’t as simple as complaining that things have gotten worse. Here’s a great article, “Roller Coasters for the Rich,” that illustrates the tension:

“…more people are living a fast pass Life. Getting a special queue with special service isn’t a rare treat, something to indulge in on your first vacation in three years. It’s a permanent condition. Jump the security queue at the airport because you’re a frequent flyer. Walk straight into your rental car because you’re a Hertz#1 Club Gold member. Don’t like the kids your children are hanging around with? Push them into an elite program, or buy a house in a more exclusive school district. Join a gated community so the wrong people can’t even walk near you.

The economic elite used to just buy more of the things we all enjoyed. Now they have access to a different set of experiences entirely. No, that’s not quite true — of course the rich used to be able to afford better vacations and nicer cars. But increasingly they’re enjoying an exclusive version of the things we all do — right there in front of us, where we can resent them for it.

The other problem with fast passes is that once you have tasted the delights of line-free roller-coaster riding, it’s hard to give them up. No one wants to throw their lot in with the entitled jerks of the world. But no one wants to spend hours in line, either.

I want to know what you think.

By the way, I’m looking for real debate, not bloviating nonsense. it’s too easy to accuse “rich jerks” of taking advantage of these perks. The truth is, if you could, you would, too!

If you could get these perks, would you use them?

What do you think of other people using them?

What kind of society do we want to live in?

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91 Comments

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  1. Yes, I would use them. Doesn’t it fall under the same category of seeing the game being played around you? Learning to play that game has been a focus of Ramit for awhile now.

    As to the spoiled kids, if they have the special privileges because of daddy, then that will probably spoil them. Of you teach them the game and its rules, you explain how to get it, then I think you can give them access. As they get older, make them work for it and they’ll appreciate it.

  2. I am confident that I will sufficient for my families needs. What this means though is that at times we will need to not spend money even though we have it so we have it later. I also figure sometimes we will skip lines. If we go to Disney World every year, we won’t skip lines every time, but if we think we will only go once, then indulge ourselves so we get the most from that trip. Enjoy the fact you are able to be privileged once in a while. If you do it every time though you create in yourself and your family an entitled mindset that can really screw your kids up. Skipping lines in the airport for business trips doesn’t count though. Your time is more important than lines in most these cases. When it is for leisure though, allow yourself to relax and wait in lines.

  3. My wife and I are both successful consultants. We have a family income that puts us in the top 5%. I got to an income of ~$200K per year around age 28. We’re expecting our first kid in December. This is a great topic, and I’m glad that you bring it up not just because it’s important, but because it also says something important about you, Ramit.

    What I mean by that is that one of the problems with our current society is pure, blinding ambition. The reason for all of these “shortcuts” for the well-to-do is because people with money lack the most key resource of all – time. That’s mostly due to choices they’ve made, over time, in pursuit of ambition, without considering any of the trade-offs.

    When you travel for work all the time you don’t get to see your family, so when you take them to Disney you want to compensate by maximizing the awesome. And when you work all the time you have to reclaim SOME of it however you can.

    The problem is that the stakes are constantly ratcheted up. At some point you (the generic “you”, not you, Ramit) stop pursuing the rat race for yourself (hopefully) and start doing it because you want more for your kids. But it balloons so quickly to try to out-compete the rest of TriBeCa in terms of private schools, tutors, international trips to stretch their language skills, whatever. Really the best thing your your kids – no matter what income level you may be at – is your time.

    But the wealthy voluntarily give up their time with their family in order to be able to provide more and more and more, just as the working poor have to give up their time to work three jobs just to pay the basic bills. In my opinion, it’s a different version of the same losing proposition. Your kids will pick up on the fact that you’re never around and that you throw money at the problem.

    My wife and I rented in Manhattan for years and when our place got wrecked by a hurricane we decided, since we had to move, to proactively think about these things. We opted to move to the Boston area, where the rat race is a bit less intense. We found a community that matches the values that we want our kids to absorb and a place with a real community of people who we would trust to watch our kids. It’s a horrible cliche but to a certain degree, it takes a village. And most people of means don’t have that, they just try to buy it with a small army of nannies, drivers, baby-sitters, etc. Don’t think that I am disparaging any of those people because there are plenty of awesome nannies who will instill solid values in children. But it’s also not the same.

    The richest have pursued the privatization of everything. Crap public schools? We’ll send them to the best private schools. Underfunded police force? Private security detail. Air travel sucks? How about a private jet share? If it were possible to build a private Disney, it would happen, but in the meantime we have fast passes.

    The big problem with privatizing everything is that it leaves you in a weirdly lonely bubble. That is the type of things that kids are sensitive to. Add that to the parental time crunch, and it’s a challenge.

    So, our solution was to use our market leverage to step things town a notch. Yes, we leave money on the table, but we also need less money. We found a “real” place to live and we really like it. The challenge is to face your ambitions straight in the face and admit the compromised that they force upon you.

    I think every young person should work full-throttle in their 20s to build the skills necessary to be successful and the market power to have some leverage. If you want to start a family, however, it’s time to start getting creative about the best ways to USE the leverage that you’ve got. The real challenge is that after 15 years or so of doubling down for more money it can be a difficult decision to prioritize other things, especially when you continue to compare yourself to peers who continue to follow their ambitions alone. It can be hard to ignore the Joneses. When we made our decision to move away from “the center of the world” people looked at us as if we were crazy!

    Overall, I don’t think fast-passes and Hertz Gold Member benefits are the problem. They are a symptom of a larger problem. Using some of them to your advantage is not an issue. As long as you don’t buy into the broader paradigm and have the courage to be your own person and raise your own kids, things will be fine.

    On a side note, I think that there is a certain Gresham’s dynamic going on with my generation in the business community (I’m 35). Those with great success tampered with some level of self-awareness are, to varying degrees, opting out more and more. This leaves the purest sociopaths to climb the rest of the way to the top. I think that this has been going on for a while but the cycle has been getting more refined and more pointed. As the ambitious ratchet up the expectations for everyone else, and the best of them enter the sr. executive levels themselves, it nudges people like me to self-select out earlier and earlier. It’s an interesting and scary dynamic to watch.

    • I agree with pretty much completely. As someone in their 20s, I am working my ass off now so that I will hopefully have enough money and ‘leverage’ to balance work and family later in life.

      Its all about priorities. I see wealth as a means to an end. Money itself is not the overall goal.

    • I just thought of a concise way of saying what I was trying to say above:

      Most self-aware people vaguely plan on getting “out” at some point. However, it’s often a matter of having a number set for “$%#& you money”. The problem is, as the years go by, that number gets higher and higher. The treadmill accelerates.

      The key is to have one eye on the exit the whole time and not to buy into the lifestyle, the material things, etc. While you’re young and have the money take amazing vacations. Have great experiences. Don’t buy the “step-up” house or apartment. Be comfortable living with less. Have a small, solid group of friends with whom you can share your perspective. For the most part, your peers will never even know the degree to which you are actively opting out of the “wealth game” as you go. Then, have plan and the guts to execute it when it is time to shift gears.

      Go client-side. Become an independent contractor. Start your own small business. Whatever gives you control and flexibility in your life, even if it means less money. Shift your nest-egg building to earlier in life, if you can, then take advantage of the time that buys you to raise your family.

      My hope is that, if I pull this off right, I won’t be worrying about retiring so much when the time comes because I have built a sustainably livable life by that time. I also won’t need to rent a handicapped person for a week to come with us to Disney!

    • I pretty much agree with you.

      It’s way way more important to spend time with your kids than than anything else. For example, public and private schools. I don’t think, given the right parents, a public school education is bad for kids (well, sort of, I have really complicated vies on this that are counter to most people’s views), no worse than a typical private school, anyway. BUT the problem lies when you have two parents working crappy jobs spending all of their time away from their kids. They can provide neither time nor money.

      I think it is extremely important to teach your children the value of work and that “nothing is free.” I see a lot of entitled kids not really realizing how much work goes into life and money maintenance. Personally, I grew up in a low income family and am still very low income myself. But seriously, I can’t think of much I would do with more money. In all honesty, I find it kind of preposterous when people who make over 100K complain and worry about money. What in the world do you even do with that much money?

      To me, having money is about being able to use it responsibly. I spend a lot of money on my food. I buy organic foods, do most of my shopping at the farmer’s market, animal products are naturally raised. The milk I buy is at least $10/gallon (and that is in states that the dairy is ultra cheap, where I live it’s $21). To me, that is money well spent because it is something that I believe in (sustainable agriculture and not destroying our precious resources as well as my own health and the health of ay future kids), but I wouldn’t ever buy a house bigger than my needs (which is currently a studio), I don’t buy stuff I don’t need.. What I waste! I will spend money on a well made product that is long lasting and hopefully ethically made.

      So for my life and my kids, I would first off be funneling any extra money that I made beyond my immediate needs to either innovative business that had similar values with enough to live a comfortable life in that I had a nice, but small home with the few quality products I needed and lots of delicious food to fill my kitchen. I would make sure that I had enough to help my kids pursue any dreams they had (if they wanted to start a business, play sports, play an instrument, learn news skills, etc.), which is something I never had as a kid, but I would teach them the value of hard work, that nothing is free, and hopefully having them working as early as possible and managing themselves and their lives.

      I should also mention that part of the reason I want to work for myself is due to being concerned about being there for my eventual kids, and not having to slave away at a terrible job that would take away my nice mommy energy.

    • Erik,

      Outstanding post. In regards to your last paragraph, I notice the same phenomenon occurring at my job. There is a huge amount of talent that seems to peak out around the 100-150K range and middle management range (myself included)…while we watch our more driven (sociopathic might be a good term as well) peers employ every trick in the book to get that extra promotion. Pretty disgusting.

    • Well said, the interesting thing about your solution is if the village you went looking for to raise your kids will really exist. We are trying a similar track and active in our church ministry and neighborhood because of it. What we are finding are several people in a similar boat looking for help and willing to help but in general not used to the time commitment.

    • When you die you will face God, like all of us. And you will face Him alone. He will know whether your name is in the Book of Life or not before you meet with Him. If you have spent your entire life chasing pieces of fiat paper and the seductive toys they bring, and have not thought about chasing God at all; what do you think will happen to you when you meet Him? According to Jesus, if we refuse to trust in Him in this life (and Jesus stated that He is God when asked directly by the Pharisees); and we refuse to seek the truth about Him and choose a life of career(s); money; fame; power; privilege; that is “…the cares, riches; and pleasures of this life” if, in fact, we neglect our eternal soul and fall for the lie that this life is all there is; and that our time must be consumed by buying things and enjoying life without any consideration for eternal things — then the outcome for our soul will be bad. Eternally so. I hope you are not so foolish as to currently be ignoring God, when He has been so good to you and yours.

  4. What a great article, Ramit! I see this happen all the time and the kids turn out to be rotten. I think it’s important to make sure they know the value of money. When you go on vacation, there’s no problem to use these perks to enjoy yourselves. But when you’re not on vacation, make sure they realize how much things actually cost. For example, If they want the newest electronic and don’t have the money for it, try not to give in and just buy it for them. Or if your child is the social butterfly and likes to go out with their friends, don’t give them your Amex and make them pay. As for concert tickets, use the perks to get the exclusive tickets, but only for special occasions and not just for any old Friday night.

  5. Yes, I would use these perks if I could get them. My goal isn’t to be treated as “elite” and jump through all of the lines, but I’m more than happy to take advantage of time savers when they’re available.

    I’m fine with other people using perks. If you are investing a lot into a service, you should get certain rewards. It’s good customer service.

    However, I don’t like the sense of entitlement that is so common in our culture. I don’t want to be handed the golden key and have access to all of the fast lanes in life. I want to learn to work more efficiently than everyone else and reap the rewards in the form of a successful lifestyle, which to me means healthy living and spending time where is enjoyable to me.

    I want to live in a society where instead of complaining how unfair it is that others have an “elite” lifestyle, we go out and put in the effort it takes to create it for ourselves, if that’s what we want. Taking action over daydreaming.

  6. I didn’t know it at the time, but after meeting and marrying my husband, I found out I grew up rich. We had maids clean our house once a week and we took annual vacations to Disney. We took limos to the airport and I flew first class as a little girl. At the time, I thought most people grew up like that. I think that experience definitely made me more spoiled than my husband, who grew up with much less.

    But I also think financial circumstances impact kids less than we think. Research shows genetics plays a far, far larger role in how kids turn out than you think; Ramit – you were probably born with a drive that would have found its way out regardless of your parent’s circumstances, though certainly they informed your goals and worldview.

    Maybe it’s because my family’s circumstances changed somewhat drastically as I got older, but I think just being a generous, considerate, thoughtful role model to your kids is what sticks no matter how many perks they are able to take advantage of growing up.

    If you use money and privilege as a way to express your love for your kids (and I’m not saying my parents didn’t do this, they liked to just spend money to try to solve my problems, but maybe we weren’t quite rich enough for it to have impact) instead of, you know, spending time with them, yelling at them when they screw up, and stuff like that then they are going to be spoiled jerks, but not because of the money per se.

  7. Ramit,

    I’m glad you brought this topic up, because it’s one that my friends and I struggle with. On the one hand, you work hard trying to build the wealth and lifestyle that you want for yourself and your family. But once you, “make it”, you fear that your children aren’t going to realize how lucky they are compared 99% of the world. How we teach them to have perspective and honor hard work is definitely a challenge.

    I have no issues with “rich” people taking advantage of the perks like shorter lines, etc. especially if they have been earned. The problem comes when they lose perspective and become entitled.

    The entitlement makes them overestimate their own value and underestimate that of others. This has led to what I feel is a big problem: a much bigger disparity between rich and poor in this country as the rich have found more and more ways to collect almost all the wealth at the expense of the middle class and poor.

    Check out this website which has real data: http://inequality.is. The most powerful graph (for me) is the one that shows wages and productivity and how they diverged around 1979.

    I don’t want to live in a world where the rich profit almost exclusively and everyone else is left behind. (I’m also not a socialist either!). I just think the pendulum has swung too far. Too many loopholes for the rich and not enough people paying it forward and having the perspective to realize how truly lucky they are to be “rich” in the first place.

    • “at the expense of the middle class and poor.”
      There you have the hidden script and the assumption. If someone does well providing affordable housing, is it at the expense of the poor.
      The thinking is that the size of the pie is set, so for someone to have more, someone else has less. Just not true.

  8. Great thoughts as always – and you won’t be the first to have your kids sit in the back of the plane. In October I was on the same commercial flight from Denver to Charlotte as Gary Busey – he was in first class, and his manager was sitting next to me in coach, and Busey’s son was a couple rows behind us. It was such a weird dynamic. But, you know, it was Gary Busey, so it all kind of made sense.

  9. I worry about this too. I spent my childhood working. I don’t want my children to work as much during their childhood as I did. At the same time, will they have the same work ethic I do?

  10. Adam Ultraberg Link to this comment

    Wealthy vs poor isn’t a binary, it’s a paradigm. The rich life is only valuable in that it compares to something else — whether it’s the poverty of never having 10k in the bank or eating rice and beans for 5 years after college.

    But like anything else (beauty, health, a good sex life), you only have it when it’s as contrast. If you want your kids not to be spoiled, make sure they give back to the community. Clean up the park with them. Visit an Audubon society, go out for a five buck pizza, have them rake and bag the leaves. Have a no-spend summer and take part in the civic life.

    If you’re worried about becoming more exclusive, it’s the perfect time to join back in.

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