My End of Year Gift to Readers:
Family Resources for an Unpredictable New Year

by Joline Godfrey

To say this year brought us surprises is an obvious understatement. And anyone who thinks they can make predictions or accurately call trends for the new year is a lot more daring (foolhardy?) than I am!

But looking ahead pro-actively is what thoughtful families do – just reacting to change is what makes us vulnerable. So my gift to all this season is a set of resources for resilience: tools intended to provide an edge in the quest to help families thrive, no matter what the winds of change deliver.

Some of the resources I offer here are evergreen; they’ve been available for some time. Others are new and worth a review. This is not an exhaustive list. Rather it’s a list I hope will help you start the new year with a sense of optimism and possibility. As always, I’d love to get feedback about anything on the list, or suggestions for things I’ve overlooked.

  • The Table Where Rich People Sit, by Byrd Baylor. First published in 1998, this is a delicious book for introducing children to multiple forms of capital (thank you Ron Lieber for bringing it to my attention!). It’s critically important to teach children about financial capital – I’m passionate about that. But teaching them about alternative forms of capital ­– such as intellect, talent, values, legacy, beauty – is one way we help children understand that being ‘rich’ is not just about the money… it’s about living a good life. This book demonstrates that idea. Though aimed at kids ages 7-12, I think it’s useful for all ages.
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. This book also addresses multiple forms of capital, for old souls and the young at heart. If you have not yet encountered this book, I suggest you share it with all family members as a means of exploring what truly matters.
  • Pigs will be Pigs. This fun book introduces a silly story, but is artful in planting the how and why of planning and money management to young children. Take the book a step farther and hide coins for children to find – just as they do in the book – and the point is brought home to kids in a way they love and remember.
  • Alexander Who Used To Be Rich Last Sunday, by Judith Viorst. One of my favorite books ever, this is for the child whose coins actually do seem to burn a hole in their pocket. ‘Judging’ financial behavior is a tricky parental strategy, setting up the potential for shaming kids who have a hard time with impulse control. By offering them proxies – characters whom they can judge for themselves – is a more effective way to explore good financial habits. Alexander is an endearing proxy, well worth bringing into the family.
  • Millions, the movie. Available on Netflix, this Danny Boyle film asks, what would you do if you found a million dollars? Two young brothers find a bag of money that falls from a train. How they each react to the event gives families a provocative vehicle for exploring the ethics of behavior, choices and money. Created four years before his more famous movie, Slumdog Millionaire, this film is a great one to screen as a family over the holiday break.
  • The Big Short. I can’t imagine that you missed one of the most entertaining movies of the year but if your kids did you can rent it from Netflix and watch it again – this time with them. It’s one of the most inventive ways available to explain “Wall Street speak.”
  • The Opposite of Spoiled, by Ron Lieber. Written for pro-active parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, this well researched and thoughtful book offers practical, easy to implement strategies for raising kids with skills to navigate a world of conflicting messages, fake news and spurious values. Lieber, a dad who writes a financial column for The New York Times interviewed a wide range of families, and had the mettle to test his ideas on his own children… surely a recommendation of its own!
  • The Power of Resilience, a TED talk by Dr. Sam Goldstein. Goldstein covers a topic I believe is imperative: the importance of helping children build on their strengths, not just focus on what needs to be ‘improved’ or fixed. (This is not the same as giving trophies for everything!) And if you like what he has to say, you can learn more by reading his book Raising Resilient Children. Because I think nurturing resilience is at the heart of a thriving family, I also want to introduce you to Andrew Zolli, author of Resilience. Though the book is aimed at a corporate audience, it has profound relevance to families, as you will see if you click on one of his TED talks.
  • Wealth and Families: Lessons from My Life Journey, by Howard Stevenson. This is Stevenson’s candid and moving story of his own life: how he was raised; how he and his wife Freddie raised their own kids; what worked, what didn’t. The book is a great blueprint for some of the big decisions and choices families will face in the next few years, especially if we see the re-emergence of dynasty trusts as a family strategy. Howard is the first to say his ways worked for him and he doesn’t pretend to have the answer for everyone. But thoughtful families will gain a lot by exploring his journey. (Another of Howard’s books I like is Just Enough. Written with Laura Nash, it’s particularly relevant to college students and millennials.)
  • The Grandparent Solution: Building a Family Team for Practical, Emotional, and Financial Success, by Arthur Kornhaber. It’s not an accident that family resilience and financial success is often accompanied by a thriving extended family; valuable social capital that provides intangible but vital support and material aid that can come in many currencies: time, cash, social introductions, knowledge, traditions, stability, assets often unaccounted for in the family portfolio but instrumental to family well being. Kornhaber, a clinical psychiatrist and grandfather, has thought deeply and worked with dozens of families who inspired this very useful family sourcebook.

I’d be remiss to end this blog without including Paul Merriman’s musings on this website as a source of learning and resilience for families. If your teen or college student resists listening to the wisdom of their dear ‘old parents,’ turning them on to Paul’s blog is a way to say, “I recognize you are old enough to learn, discuss and question financial topics.” Opening this door for them could shift the nature of the economic dialogue in your house!

Best wishes and good luck in the New Year! It promises to be a wild ride for all of us. I wish you kindness, health and wealth… in all its best forms.