Updated: Jun 21, 2019
If I had just one wish for my kids, it would undoubtedly be for good health. Beyond that, I have several other wishes that are difficult to say which is more important than the others.
But in the top five wishes I have for my kids, there is one wish that may seem odd. In fact, it almost seems cruel. Sometimes I feel bad for even wishing it, but I also know the power of this wish. I know what it can teach them. And it’s more than any book could ever explain; more helpful than any wisdom I could ever impart.
I wish for my kids to be poor for a period of time in their lives.
Poor is a subjective word – and probably too strong in this case – so let me explain. Without question, I want their basic needs fulfilled. I want them to be able to eat a healthy meal three times a day. I want them to have adequate shelter and clothing. I want them to have love. But I hope for a period of time they don’t have so much that they can afford life’s luxuries.
I hope they know what it is like to go without things they really would like to have – whether it be the newest gadget or latest fashion trend. I hope they have to buy used vehicles. I hope they have to decline a beach vacation with friends because they don’t have enough cash in the bank.
In short, I hope they feel the pinch of money being scarce.
Because when money is scarce, we learn to appreciate how fortunate we are when it’s not. That appreciation is a feeling that can’t be taught. It must be felt.
But it can’t be felt for just one paycheck or two. To be truly effective, it must be a state of mind for some length of time. How long? I have no idea. I suspect there is no exact duration. What I know, though, is the feeling of appreciation for having money grows in tandem with the time spent wishing you had more of it.
The problem with never feeling the scarcity of money is that it devalues the things money can buy. If you can always purchase everything you desire, you are never forced to make the distinction between wants and needs. And that distinction is valuable.
One of my favorite financial writers, Morgan Housel, touched on this topic in a recent missive. He said, “Learning to be frugal without it hurting is an essential life skill that will come in handy during life’s inevitable ups and downs.”
We could all benefit from periodic reminders of what it feels like to want for things. As time passes and we distance ourselves from when money was scarce, some of the gratitude we probably should have is lost. Some, but certainly not all.
Deep-seated appreciation for money is likely the reason family fortunes are lost over time. It’s a well-worn saying that the first generation makes the money, the second generation begins to spend it, and the third generation blows it.
Each successive generation is further distanced from benefits of the scarcity of money.
The first generation may feel the pinch of scarcity for a long period of time. The second generation at least typically experiences that pinch during their formative years growing up. By the third generation, however, at no time in life have they felt the pinch of living without money.
At family gatherings and other occasions, earlier generations may tell tales to younger generations of what it was like to build the family fortune and how much they sacrificed along the way. They hope, no doubt, to instill that sense of appreciation for money.
But unfortunately, it cannot be taught. It can only be felt. There are things in life you can learn vicariously. Deep-seated appreciation for money is not one of them.
That is why I wish for my kids to be poor, to feel the pinch. For a time.
And then I hope they make enough to buy everything they want in life. Indeed, by that time, they will truly value the things it can buy. Even more, they will understand money can buy a lot of things, but it cannot buy the most important things.
If we could all be so lucky to learn that lesson – and be reminded of it from time to time.