Poll the Parents 5: The Giving Spirit

Our fifth biweekly Poll the Parents survey may have revealed a blind spot.

Q: Which money virtue is most important to instill in your child?

  • A) Saving
  • B) Hard work
  • C) Giving
  • D) Smart spending

Talk about an impossible choice! (As one commenter wrote, “E) All of the above.”) Naturally, each of these virtues is critical to a kid’s financial education. Skimp on any one and you may lead a child to take on excessive debt, make self-destructive purchases, or fail to earn enough or save for the future. Not surprising, then, that you were almost evenly split among saving, hard work, and smart spending.

That only about one in 10 respondents prizes giving above all other financial virtues is telling, though.

First of all, don’t worry: It doesn’t mean you’re selfish. As parents, we are naturally concerned about our children’s well-being before anything else. You don’t have to just take our word for it: An actual scientific study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education reached similar conclusions. While most moms and dads said they wanted their kids to be caring, the same parents actually emphasized personal success and achievement.

However, if we fail to teach kids to be charitable, we deprive them of a perspective on money—its true value and what it might be like to have very little of it—that can’t be gained by making it and spending it on ourselves. And altruism has a pleasant feedback effect: Even small children become happier when they give to others, while teens who give their time to charity have been found to be more engaged in their communities and at school.

So, by all means, teach your kids to work hard, save for tomorrow, and spend wisely. But remember that the giving spirit is one of the best things you can give them.

Most chiseled-in-stone comment: “You have nothing to spend, save or give without first earning the means to do so.”

Most sociological comment: “Society will not teach them smart spending—our consumer environment discourages it. They’ll learn the other 3 in society.”