Kids need to know they can achieve more

By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
August 7, 2005

As a kid, I wasn't particularly fascinated with economic or social status, but I did have a foolproof way to tell if someone was rich: if they had a trampoline. I wanted a trampoline - just like Robbie and Greg McCormack had. My parents explained, however, that the McCormacks had more money than we did and we just couldn't afford such a luxury.

Most folks who read the business section of a newspaper - even the second page of a local business section - those people are probably more affluent than most of their community. You may not feel like it, but chances are you're in a class of taxpayers that many politicians would classify as 'wealthy.' Whether you think you are wealthy or not, it is highly likely that you live a life that is more financially robust than your parents did. I certainly do. And like many people with trampolines (or three cars, or a big boat, or however you choose to define wealthy), my wife and I try very hard to show our kids that there are people who don't have as much as we do. It is important to be thankful and to give to those who, through no fault of their own, are needy.

Just as it is important that children realize if they are more financially blessed than others, it is important for them to realize they aren't the richest people in the world, either.

Everybody needs a rich uncle.

My uncle was the first person I knew who owned a vacation home. He went on trips to exotic places like Atlanta and Owensboro, Kentucky. He had a two-story house and paid a guy to mow his grass. He ate shrimp whenever he wanted to. As I grew older and matured, so did his financial status. He was the first person I knew to buy a million dollar house. He's the only person in my family to ever go on a cruise. He retired in his 50s.

Egotistically, it's easy to tell your kids to be thankful they have more than a lot of other people. But it is much harder to admit there are people in your life who have a lot more money than you do. Yet, if we don't admit that to our children, how will they ever know there is a level of financial achievement that is any greater than that reached by their parents?

Financial achievement certainly isn't the focal point of effective, moral child rearing. But few parents want their progeny to be less well off as adults than they are as kids. Yet many of us raise our children in such a way that they only see folks like themselves and the names on the Angel Tree at Christmas.

My uncle was the first person to show me that there was more. In both a literal and figurative sense, he showed me the ocean. My guess is that my parents were too busy trying to survive to worry about their economic ego or feel threatened by his financial status. While my sense of scale was still immature, I didn't have any misconceptions about living on the top of the financial totem pole or any expectations that I was destined to stay there.

But I had shrimp for dinner last Saturday night and there's a trampoline in my yard. I have my uncle to thank for both.

David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).

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