Friday, December 01, 2017

Thanksgiving, and book review, The Opposite of Spoiled

Last week in the US was Thanksgiving. To me it is quite simply (a) a time to be grateful for all I have*, (b) a cook's holiday, therefore a time to bake and cook my little heart out and (c) a week-long break from school in which to entertain restless children.

This year we hosted a "friendsgiving" celebration at home with three families coming together for a feast - six adults and six kids ages 1 to 10. I didn't get around to taking pics of the meal but here's what we ate.

The afternoon started with drinks and a big appetizer spread. V's dabbling with mixing cocktails these days and he made a delicious Thanksgiving cocktail for the grownups with fresh apple cider and gin. I made faux samosas with puff pastry and veggie sticks with a herb-flecked dip, one friend brought over pimento cheese (the official appetizer of Southern gatherings) and another friend made brie wrapped in puff pastry.

After gorging on appetizers we all laced up our sneakers and trooped out for an hour long walk through the wooded areas of the neighborhood, then came back for the main meal as it was getting dark.

Lila very much wanted a turkey or something like it, so I bought two vegan turkey-less roasts from Trader Joe's and did not bother to make a main dish. To go with the mock turkey, I made mushroom gravy and orange cranberry sauce.

The sides were: mashed potatoes, mac and cheese (both made by my friends), green bean casserole (yes, the "traditional" kind with canned soup- My friend Bek sent me a link to this article about the woman who invented green bean casserole) and Thanksgiving slaw. My friend made a gorgeous challah (braided enriched bread) to go with the meal.

Dessert was a double crust apple pie (made by my friend- her first attempt at pie!) and chocolate pecan pie bars, with vanilla ice cream. It was a proper feast and a good time was had by all.

The rest of the weekend we spent taking the kids to the park to enjoy the sparkling sunny and crisp weather and I celebrated my annual "buy nothing" day on Black Friday.

*And "all I have" includes this little blog where I get to chat away and make friends. The medium might be virtual but the friendships are very real, so thank you. 

* * *
Here's a book I read recently that fits in quite well into this Thanksgiving post.

Image: Goodreads
The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money by Ron Lieber (2015)

As the title says, this is a parenting book exhorting parents not to make money a taboo but to teach kids all about money from a young age. I don't need any convincing here; I want my kids to know the basic of budgeting and personal finance before I send them out into the world.  It is a book written for relatively affluent families who are not struggling with money or living paycheck to paycheck, for the families where kids can grow up with a "money grows on trees" attitude if not taught otherwise. In parts, this book gets a little rambling and not everything resonated with me, but in general, it is full of engaging anecdotes and I took away many helpful tips that I have listed here by chapter.

1. Why we need to talk about money:  My favorite point in this chapter was this: "...every conversation about money is also about values". Allowance teaches patience, giving teaches generosity, work is about perseverance. Be grateful for what you have, share it generously with others and spend it wisely on things that make you happiest.

2. How to start the money conversations: The best response when asked a money question by a kid is "Why do you ask?" so you know where they are coming from (how that issue crossed their mind), and how to steer the conversation.

3. The allowance debates. Chores should be done without payment, simply as part of family life. The allowance should stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool. Start by first grade at the earliest. Around 0.5-1$ per year of age per week is appropriate. Make 3 containers- Save, Spend and Share to teach budgeting. Let children understand the difference between wants and needs. While not paying money for basic chores, do let children think in an entrepreneurial fashion and come up with ideas for doing tasks to solve problems and earn money for doing them. 

4. The smartest ways for kids to spend. Ask kids to estimate the hours of fun per dollar that something they want will provide. Teach thrift- coupons, thrift store shopping. 

5. Are we raising materialistic kids? 

6. How to talk about giving. Explain why and how we give. Let kids support local organizations in person. 

7. Why kids should work. Better chores, more of them and sooner. Facilitate paid work (help kids get jobs from an early age), and let kids contribute to their college funds. 

8. The luckiest. Foster a culture of family gratitude. Gain perspective by seeing the lives of others. 

9. How much is enough? Talk about trade-offs, because we can't have or do everything we want. Trade offs can be about not buying stuff in order to save for something bigger, or donating a toy for every new one that comes into the house. Try to have enough conversations about money and the values behind our spending choices.

I think I read this book at just the right time, because Lila is now 6 years old and able to understand a lot of these concepts. Our toddler's daycare does a "angel tree" event where they display wishlists from local children in need. The tags note the name, age and clothing/shoe sizes of the child and the wishlist has a few items that the child would like this holiday season- typically a toy or two, and often necessities like shoes, socks and underwear. This year, Lila and I went and picked out a tag for a 5 year old girl whose wishlist included a "princess toy"- Lila knew right away that she wanted to go shopping for this child. She was excited for days and we finally went one morning, hit 2 or 3 stores and bought a princess toy, crayons and art books, a party dress and shoes and socks and underwear for our friend, then packaged it and dropped it off at the school.

I had been brainstorming ways for Lila and I to volunteer together in the community on occasional weekends. Meanwhile, now that we have a daughter and a son and a dog, Lila has been pestering me that we should complete the family by adopting a cat. "I'm a girl and I have a baby brother, Dunkie is a boy dog and he should have a baby sister cat so we can be 3 boys and 3 girls", that's family planning, Lila style. I had an idea. We could go once or twice a month to the local animal shelter and help out with the cats there so she could get her kitty fix. Lila said she had an even better idea- let's just go to the shelter and spend a couple of hours picking out a cat that Dunkie will like and bring her home. But yesterday she told me she likes my idea and we are looking forward to volunteering at the cat shelter together. (Please pray for me that I don't fall in love with a kitten and bring it home.)

If you are in the US, how did you celebrate Thanksgiving? 

Do you talk about money with your kids? Do you volunteer with your kids and what are the experiences like? 


  1. Very nice post as always Nupur. Our friends visited us from Dallas for Thanksgiving. As tradition goes, hubby is the one who bakes and feeds friends that day. He had an awesome menu- roasted potatoes, samosas with spicy chutney, oven roasted mushrooms with garlic sauce, tikka masala pot pie, vegan french onion tart, and three desserts - slab apple pie with salted caramel drizzle, pecan pie and fruit tart. We had few pieces of samosas left; everything else was gone by end of he day. :-) 10 of us adults and kids from 3 families. We ate like pigs through out the week and had a great time.
    Now coming to the topic of money/finance/budgeting etc. I've never read a book so far but we have been doing our best teaching my son about money and its management; more so now as he's 14. I've never tied doing chores at home to getting paid. He has been doing chores since he was like 4 and continues to do them even now. Over summer, we paid him for cleaning the bathrooms every 2 weeks and that money will be used to buy his laptop and school essentials in future.And he does all chores if time permits - cooking, cleaning house, laundry, doing dishes, folding clothes etc. I take him grocery shopping and make him do self checkout so he understands how much day-day stuff cost. I think Allowance also teaches them reality during teens. Being able to understand how far $$ amount can go is eye opening at that age coz they feel $100/- will get them everything whereas in reality that is not true. Teaching them alternatives is also good; like he needed a khaki shorts just for a photo shoot. We recycled his old pant and cut to short length stitched it around and reused it as opposed to buying new ones. And giving we've incorporated by giving away all the pencils, crayons, erasers, markers etc. to friends kids who're younger as this year, his school transitioned to laptops. Also, starting to teach him about having his own bank account, saving and me matching the amount he saves to encourage him. :-)
    We all volunteer hours at a charity here that helps pack food and ships it to kids dying of hunger in third world countries. He has been doing that for 4-5 years now. Volunteers to assist his coach in teaching swim for little kids as he swims for the league now. Volunteers to teach math in a local place and such.I'm learning as I go, and definitely not prefect. Just trying to do my best and hoping for the best :-)

    Lila 's family planning had me laughing so hard..haha
    Love to all :-) big hugs to L and N :-)

    1. Meena- What a lovely Thanksgiving you enjoyed! I have to jot that menu down for next year- it sounds terrific. You are doing an amazing job setting up your lad to be independent and practical when it comes to college and living on his own. I'm taking notes on everything you're doing!

    2. Thanks for the kind words Nupur. Parenting is a tough job; I honestly consider it a blessing from God if I've been guided to do right things at the right time the right way.

  2. Hi Nupur, lovely post as always. We celebrate Thanksgiving with friends- great company and way too much food. We found volunteering opportunities that we could do with kids through

  3. loved your awesome spread at Thisgiving. You sure have enthu chef friends. I'd totally gatecrash if I was closeby albeit with a dish in hand to share:-)

    Loved your point wise book review and realized the allowance thingie I need to begin with my already 13 year old son like pronto. I grew up without getting one and perhaps as a result have always refrained from giving him one. But so many valuable lessons to be learnt if he earns one appropriately. He makes his own money thru an online gaming program he's developed but he reinvests that back into what he calls his "Company::-) so thats not exactly an allowance I guess. Perhaps like Meena above who seems to have raised a wonderful 14 year old son I should also pay him when he cleans our bathrooms which he does every week. I've always taught him that menial labour is equal to any other kind of labor including the kind that society usually respects more so he's never expected anything for household chores. He does all of them willingly although sometimes he will drag his feet loading the dishwasher.

    Our Thanksgiving was mellow this year. We went out for an indian buffet meal as I didn't plan ahead but I have resolved to make up with a sumptuous home cooked x'mas eve/holiday meal on 24th. V and I will bake our 'famous' shortbread cookies together and I'll make buttenrcake, his favorite with vanilla cream frosting apart from something chicken and something green. We're ruminating over whether we should put up our annual xmas tree or not because we have a rambunctious 7 mth old pup who would be more than happy to dress it down for us in minutes!

    I'm still LOLing over lil' Lila's(I love her name so much) family planning. Sounds perfecto. You know what my mum who passed away last year when she was here with us loved kittens too, the only one in our family who did. Her last one was called Gabbar and we had to give him away when she moved here 2 years ago which was heartbreaking for her although he's very happy in a home with 9 other kitty cats for company. Lila's request reminded me of him just now:-)


    1. Hi Deepa- Yes, I do have very enthu friends and you would be welcome anytime with or without a dish in hand :) I did not have an allowance growing up either. We did have a piggy bank but no structured money training as such. Frugality and not wasting things was definitely a part of our upbringing as in most middle class Indian families. But it is great to use allowance and/or other money tools because our kids go from sheltered homes to college and living on their own in a complicated world of education costs, health insurance costs and the rest of it. So I've come to believe that a financial education is at least as importance as swimming and piano lessons if you know what I mean. Your son sounds like he's doing great :)

      A buffet must have been relaxing and fun for Thanksgiving, taking a day off from the kitchen would certainly be reason for giving thanks ;) your Xmas menu sounds SO good. Congrats on the pup!

    2. hello Deepa,
      Thanks for the kind words; but you've done an amazing job raising an entrepreneur at such a young age :) All of this knowledge is "real" life experience and he'll be his own boss one day. Our upbringing was similar to Nupur's; middle class family, frugal lifestyle but no structured training on money management. But I've come to realize it's extremely important to learn it for ourselves and teach our kids so they are financially strong and independent and so are we.

  4. Thanks for sharing some of this book - sounds like great food for thought. I haven't volunteered with Sylvia but I have taken her to a community place I volunteered and it is nice for her feel a little part of this place. The issue of money and chores is a continuing challenge and I always find it interesting to talk to other parents about it. We have started some pocket money and a little chores for money separately. I was especially proud of her recently when we went Christmas shopping and didn't have enough cash for a present and went and worked out another present. Perhaps that was helped by some conversations about working how what she can buy based on how much money she has.

    1. Johanna- Shopping does seem to trigger most of our conversations about money- especially the difference between wants and needs. Boy is it fun to go into a store (even a grocery store) with thousands of items that your kid wants and have to patiently explain how she can't have anything but the few things on our list.

  5. My son is 4 years and we do try our best to raise him to not be materialistic. One way I do this is by denying or buying things for him based on the "value" they add to his life and not how much they cost. Example: He asks me for a toy car to add to his already big collection, I do not deny him by saying it is expensive, but by asking him if it will add value or if he will learn anything new by buying that toy. This approach makes more intuitive sense to me, because kids learn to buy only if it adds something of value and not because they (or parents) have money. Another thing as you pointed out is not rewarding for the chores he does at home.

    In his school for Diwali this year, the school had asked parents to send new or good condition used toys for donation. Instead of buying something new, we made him chose one of his own toy to give away. And he chose his second favorite car set to give away. ;) It is more difficult to give something that belongs to us than just having parents buy something form the shop.
    Happy Thanksgiving to your family.

    1. Hi Neha- That's a great concept- the "value" something adds to life. Works for kids and adults :)

      When we go to stores and Lila wants something, I've started adding it to a list- a page in my grocery-list notebook, anything and everything can go on the list. Then at birthdays and Christmas (the two times a year I buy her presents), she can review the list and pick 1 or 2 things that she still wants and that we are willing to buy. This has worked amazingly well for us, meaning she is quite content to see something new and shiny that she wants and just have it be written on the list. No whining to buy it on the spot.

      Yes, donating toys regularly is a great idea. We also buy gently used toys at yard sales and consignment sales (local sales where parents sell items to each other for a buck or two) so it goes both ways- she gets "new to her but not really new" items too. I never want her to feel that she always gets new toys and clothes and poorer kids always get used donated ones.

  6. Oh, sounds so fun! Love the pecan pie bar idea--I'm a wimp when it comes to pie crust. Please do a post to help inept pie-makers!
    We did Thanksgiving at a friend's where they'd made tofurkey with jerk seasoning, and baked it with assorted veggies and mango. It was amazing!

    1. Niranjana- I'm no pie crust expert, and trust me, the pie bars are excellent- you can skip making a traditional pie crust, get the full on flavor of the pie and have more servings- win, win, win, I think ;)

      Your jerk seasoning tofurkey sounds great!

  7. Hahaha...two stand out things for me from the post above:

    1. Lila's idea for what would constitute an equal family (how cute!) and how that seamlessly blended into your giving time at the local animal shelter.

    2. Your thanking us for being part of your blog community.

    This is a very pertinent post as we currently live as expats and my children go to an international school with students from extremely wealthy German families and footballers' kids. I have to battle constantly with what I can allow and afford and raising them with a grounded sense of reality. For instance, one of my sons' classmates wears shoes whose prices start from €700. And he has 14 such pairs (which is also how old he is)! What do you then tell your child whose demand for yet another €150 pair of shoes you turn down?

    That said, we don't pay for chores but last year when he volunteered a whole week at a local football camp, I paid him a small amount which would translate to sub-minimum wage which he then spent on shoes (of course!).

    Also, I remember a post from OHS years ago when you'd talked about gifting friends edible gifts. What a great antidote to buying and spending on stuff that mostly ends up in landfills! I have over the years shamelessly copied the idea and each year inflict a variety of such goodies - from masalas to chikkis to cookies, all recipes from OHS - on loved ones and this year's going to be no different.

    Also, one of the best things we did when we moved from the UK was to give all of our furniture (save one sofa) away on freecycle. It left my husband and I feeling light and the goodwill and the kindness from those who took the stuff energised us for our next adventure. I would highly recommend that we not buy more but instead pass on things we have plenty of.

    1. Hi Ammani- oh boy it sounds like the things kids want just get complicated as they grow up :) my kids beg me for candy, stickers and cheap plastic junky toys and that's hard enough to control. I have no idea what I will do when they start asking about designer clothing and shoes! I will come to you for advice ;) Incidentally, I think all the shoes I've bought in the last decade or two have all together cost me under 700 euros LOL so this scale of spending is beyond me.

      I still make so many edible gifts! And also small things that I knit or sew. I've also been hitting the local holiday markets to buy small, useful gifts like tea towels and handmade soap. Consumable gifts rock!

      In my neighborhood we have a listserve where people often sell or give away things free to each other. I gave away some baby stuff free and next thing you know someone gave me a free twin size bed. Life really should be about goodwill and sharing as you say, and what goes around comes around.

    2. Agree that the mind boggles at the 700 Euro shoes (mind, that's only the starting price!). And likewise, my entire wardrobe wouldn't cost that much. But they are a different level of wealthy. I am told that till recently, some of the old German families' kids had to be referred to as 'HRH' during roll call at school. Unglaublich!

      I believe giving something away is its own reward. But it does come back too. I have had the most unbelievable luck after I moved here (will post on blog soon) and it is no small measure due to all the kindness we garnered in our earlier stint.

  8. Lovely Thanksgiving - each year as I prep to cook for the Thanksgiving weekend - I recall your Live blogging Thanksgiving.

    I made a veggie potpie and mushroom gravy to go with a friend's turkey.

    Paid a local high school sophomore to do a family photo shoot for us and it was the best photo shoot experience ever. Plus I felt good that I encouraged a fledgling photographer and didn't spend money on the studio portrait.

    Our son has been at college for 18 months now and we are seeing the lessons of a frugal life being practised. He went with a certain bank balance - result of his summer jobs and internships. Over 18 months, we have only paid for trips home and tuition, room and board. All the other discretionary expenses he has paid for by working through college and maintained his balance at where it was. The early lessons in using money responsibly are paying off.

    Yours will too.

    Ammani - 700Euro for shoes? I agree I doubt my cumulative expenditure adds up to that!

    Hmm cats? I am not a pet fan but I love Lila's love of symmetry!

    1. Hi Vishakha! Your potpie and gravy sounds hearty and delicious. And what fun to have a photoshoot and encourage a budding photog along the way- very cool of you. It is great to hear how your personal finance lessons are helping your son as he starts into his independent life. You have given him a very important gift in teaching him this!

  9. Hi Nupur, great post as always. This could couldn't come at a better time. My son is now 12 and we recently had many debates about wants and needs. Thanks for writing about the book. I will definitely read it. Btw, the mad-sad-glad game that you wrote about in one of your posts is a big hit in our home. We play it almost daily at dinner time and many interesting conversations happen due to that. Have a wonderful holidays!

    1. I hope your holidays are wonderful too! So glad that the mad sad glad game is generating some great conversations in your home :)

  10. Hi Nupur

    I am a regular reader of your blog but very rarely leave comments. I won the blue and purple scarf in a giveaway, I love it and use it often. It's a lovely scarf and everyone admires it when I wear it. I enjoy the graphic novel genre and have read almost all the ones you recommend - lucy knisley, raina telgemeier, art spiegelman, marjane satrapi and more recently Roz Chast. Do you have a goodreads account I can follow, if that's ok? So that I don't have to rifle through all your posts looking for book recommendations ? :)

    1. Hi Jui! I do have a goodreads account- see if this link takes you there:

  11. Hi Nupur,

    Lovey post and comments as usual :)

    Our Thanksgiving was with our friends group of 15 families that has become a tradition for about 15 years now. Lots of food and fun. Even our college going kiddos look forward to this now as they get to meet their childhood friends. We stick with the traditional Indian menu though.

    We did not give our kids allowances or pay for chores. It was always understood that everyone had to fulfill their responsibilities. My kids did not have very many chores growing up either. I think I did not have the patience to train them as they were under two years apart and with me working full time, we were always a busy household. My motto was to have a happy and functioning household, as I knew my time with my kids was precious and it was the golden years of my life before they grew up and left for college.

    But as Vishaka said earlier, my kids too are very responsible with money. I think they learn that naturally from how we live our lives. We recently went on a trip and I was telling my college aged kids, that when they are all grown up they will probably look back at all the budget trips that we had taken them on and probably laugh - and this was their response: Yeah mommy we remember how we did this and that recollecting incidents from their childhood - and then said that is exactly how you should raise kids. Kids should not be given everything. They should want and dream and work hard to achieve it.

    As for volunteering, there will be lot of opportunities in middle school and high school. Also Girls Scouts and Boys Scouts are great organizations to get involved in.



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