Monday, September 2, 2019

Trust Fund Baby AF?

There's a certain amount of pride that I feel, being the son of an immigrant. I like that part of my personal history; after the divorce, I was raised by a Filipino woman. She taught me lessons borne out of her life of poverty, in another country, in a culture very different to that in the US.

Before spending a dollar, she'd tell me, ask yourself three times whether you really need to spend it. 

No matter how much or how little you make, Brian, always set aside something for savings: pay yourself first. 

The world is not always fair. To even the odds, you need to work harder than others: they may be bigger or richer or smarter than you, but never let them outwork you.

I, a random kid in the Pittsburgh suburbs, benefited from the wisdom of someone raised in absolute poverty in the Philippines, and who took those hard earned lessons with her to the United States. My mom struggled growing up in a way that's hard for me to imagine, but I got to benefit from those bad times without actually having to endure them myself. She shared the wisdom, but spared me the struggle that bore it.

I get the feeling things are going to be different for Baby AF. There are no stories of want for me to draw upon and if there's wisdom rattling around in this brain of mine, I sure do seem to be having a hard time imparting it.

And that's just my upbringing we're talking about. Baby AF's childhood will be draped in the sort of privilege that my mother could never have conceived of growing up: having enough money that the parents do not even have to work for it if they don't want to. We'll be enjoying a life in which, as Tanja Hester's excellent book proclaims, work truly is optional.

We can teach him a different kind of wisdom, of course. We can teach him about frugality and the value of keeping spending in check. We can teach him how investments can make money just like a job can make you money, too: just differently. And we can of course teach him about the kind of work that we did to get to this point: how we made financial independence and an early retirement happen. And who knows? Maybe we'll just decide we like some sort of optional work.

But the lessons we teach him will be different than the ones my mom could teach me. I can't manufacture a past that has her drive and pass it along. Our story will be a different thing.

What sort of lessons might Baby AF draw from seeing his parents not work all day? 

I wonder what he'll tell his friends his parents do for a living...or what we'll want him to tell them. I wonder if we'd continue to work a bit, just to tell our son, and maybe those around us, a sort of fiction: that we, just like everyone, are working for fulfillment and a challenge and all the good that work can entail, but also for the paycheck. Because we need the paycheck.

Suffice it to say that I didn't plan all this out when we first started working towards financial independence in 2012. I was thirty two and wasn't sure that we'd want kids at all. I certainly didn't give much thought to the possibility that FIRE might change the way we raise some hypothetical progeny.

Today, on this national holiday, we celebrate labor. Being a member of a union for much of my life has been one of the prouder moments of my working career, though I hardly realized it at the time. Even in the private sector, I enjoyed the fact that, along with being very lucky, I worked for the things I have.

It's weird to think that work, our labor, might be optional going forward. And that for Baby AF, we're going to have to deal with the challenge of explaining work in a nontraditional sense. Basically, where we have all the money we need, but we might work...for fun.

The thing I get stuck on is the fact that we're going to be raising our children in wealth. We have kind of guaranteed that Baby AF will be a rich kid. This idea, this vague idea of a spoiled rich kid, is something I disdained for much of my life. The little kid who had so much just handed to him, and who never wanted for anything. How could you respect that?

I know that many of us frugal rich probably view this situation differently. That because we're frugal, and if you just look at our material goods, in a way we look like we're middle class. We have just one car and it's a 2006 Toyota. Almost all of our stuff is from goodwill or craigslist. Not a lot of our stuff is particularly fancy.

But that ignores the reality of, you know, how much money we actually have. Thrift store clothes or not, there's no denying that we're rich now. 

This isn't a post trying to get sympathy for the wealth we have. I know all this money is a blessing that many others could only dream of; we should probably just be happy that we have it.

But it does feel a little odd knowing that we'll be raising a kid in a privileged class, and one I never identified with growing up. I'm also kind of clueless on how to navigate the issues. I have no idea how to ensure that Baby AF won't grow up spoiled. I don't know how to instill a work ethic in a kid who sees me not working.

As always, I have more questions than answers. Maybe that was fine back when it was just Mrs. Done by Forty and me. But it sure seems like I ought to know more than I do about parenting since, you know, Baby AF is here and trying to learn from me.

It seems I still have a lot of work to do. And considering what day it is, it's time I got to it.

*Photo is from JeepersMedia at Flickr Creative Commons.
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  1. I have the same dilemma. My parent grew up in poverty and it gave them a lot of perseverance to get through life. I experienced poverty for a just a few years when I was young, but it was enough for me to know it.
    My son is very privileged, just like your. He lives a very comfortable lifestyle. Fortunately, he is very frugal by nature. I'm also teaching him to hustle and make some money on the side. It's okay so far. Hopefully, it'll work out well in the long run. He needs a lot more grits to get through life.

    1. I was thinking about you when writing this one, Joe. You're one of the few FIRE writers I've seen try to tackle this issue: the notion that financial independence might have some detrimental effects on children who see their parents stay at home and not work.

      That's great to hear that he's also frugal by nature and that you're teaching him to hustle. It's quite possible my fears are unfounded, and that the kids will turn out all right.

  2. There are so many good scenarios to raise a kid well in, and just by penning this struggle makes me think you’ll do all right ;)

    1. Hi there, Angela.

      I can see that perspective, too. There are a lot of good ways to raise a child in. And thanks for the encouragement. I at least am thinking about this stuff, which is probably a decent first step.

      Have fun at FinCon, friend.

  3. I definitely think this is something FI folks need to consider, though I have absolutely no doubt Baby AF is going to grow up to be a kind, generous, empathic person.

    No matter how much money one has, there are definitely challenges associated with (a) teaching kids about money and (b) raising kids to have a positive money mindset. I worry with my own kid that he'll look back on these years and think, "My parents didn't have much money and they worried about money..." and then what behaviors will sprout up around that line of thinking? I mean, I hope he's also getting some good lessons out of this, too, and I hope he doesn't feel deprived (because... he's not. lol). But yeah.

    1. Sorry for the delay in replying, friend. Things have been busy planning for our trip.

      I appreciate the kind words about Baby AF's future. I'd like to think he'll grow into those things and that's certainly our goal. I still have some worries.

      I hear what you're saying about there always being challenges teaching kids about money. For what it's worth, I have no worries that your kid will get positive lessons out of these experiences.

  4. "The thing I get stuck on is the fact that we're going to be raising our children in wealth. We have kind of guaranteed that Baby AF will be a rich kid."

    You know I've thought about this a lot.

    And I still don't know the answer but I do work on reinforcing how very well off we are and how much we have, and that not everyone has this. Though not where you are, we have money for food and shelter and only mortgage debt, that's more than most of my family could say when I was young. I just don't think it's going to sink in because ze hasn't seen or experienced any touch of poverty even secondhand. I'm working on it and will share as much as I can in hopes that some of us get some of this right.

    I had the same disdain for rich kids that I think you had. But when I think about it, that was a class-informed disdain more than a true sense of who people turn out to be. Of course there are terrible rich people, just as there are terrible poor people. The rich are just more visible and can arguably do more harm when they're terrible.

    So I am starting to think that we have to teach two parallel lessons instead of "how do I teach my rich kid what it's like to be poor" which feeds an unhealthy poverty mindset. Instead maybe the lessons are: how to be a considerate, thinking, and good person, period. Then also how to handle money in a responsible and respectful kind of way. Then MAYBE when you put them together, you get a kid who grew up steeped in privilege who doesn't let money control them and can care about the world around them. Maybe?

    1. "So I am starting to think that we have to teach two parallel lessons instead of "how do I teach my rich kid what it's like to be poor" which feeds an unhealthy poverty mindset. Instead maybe the lessons are: how to be a considerate, thinking, and good person, period."

      That's a much healthier approach, Revanche. (And again, sorry for the very late reply.)

      I unfortunately am a bit of a class warrior so I think I fall into the trap of having disdain for the rich, even as I have become one of them over time.

      I certainly hope we achieve that balanced view you mentioned but I do have a LOT of fear that Baby AF might not flourish in all this privilege the way he would in a more typical household. I guess we just have to do our best, see what's happening, and adjust as needed.

      All the best with young ze. If either of us comes up with something that works, maybe we can share it with the other.