Investing: The parents-kids money divide: Young think differently about earning, spending, saving, investing


We recount our past as if it is a beacon to life. An annoying mistake all parents make. Even if they resolve not to. When I went to school, I walked those miles in rain and shine; when I was in college, I did not have so much money to spend; when I began to earn, I handed it to my elders; and so on. You get the drift. As Khalil Gibran reminds us, we cannot even in our dreams visit the tomorrow in which our children’s souls live. But we parents are relentless.

We must reconcile in our minds, the stark differences in our world and theirs. It is not just the advances in technology, information and education that have made their lives different from ours. Their frame of reference is different. Our frames may be frightfully irrelevant. For every generation, that would be true. The narrative that fitted our world would be obsolete in their world.

A friend lamented that his son and daughter in law do not cook their meals. He thinks of himself as a modernist who does not subscribe to the patriarchal role-playing in a household. He is genuinely proud that his daughter in law is an equal professional like his son. But cooking is a life skill, he protests. He is fine with either one of them cooking fresh meals at home.

The son had his version to tell. My dad never entered the kitchen, he said. So he does not know what it takes to put fresh meals on the table. The cooking itself might take a few minutes; but there is immense work involved in planning, buying the grocery, storing it right, preparing, cleaning up after, and managing the leftovers. There are enough people with the time to do all of this, and do it well for others. So outsourcing works best for us, he says. As for health, we know more science than dad does, was his refrain.

The perspective is different. But that is not reason enough to find fault with it. So is it with money and decisions around money. The young think differently about earning, spending, saving and investing. It might help if parents took the trouble to understand how. Trading is risky and amounts to speculation, scowled this mother of a 32-yearold, who loved the adrenaline rush of online trading. He will lose everything and come to the streets; it is addictive and will subsume his life, the mother worried.

The son had a much calmer explanation. He wanted to travel as much as he could with his wife. They sought adventure tourism and wanted to travel so they could experience different things around the world. Allocating money from their salaries seemed risky to them. They, therefore, decided to punt with a small sum and use their gains to take holidays. If they made money, they travelled; and they kept it to a small sum so it did not hurt. They were upset that the mother painted them both black.

They also felt that the parent did not understand indulgences with moderation and control. It is possible to implement tactics if one is not nervous and anxious about the outcome, something the parent had not experienced in their lives. They imagined every decision to have high stakes. Another parent was upset that their daughter had quit her job after having a baby. We did not educate her at a

management institute to see this day, they rued. How could she throw away a job and a substantial annual income to bring up a child? We offered to chip in and help, unconditionally. But she seems unrelenting. They don’t value their career or money, the parents lamented.

The daughter argued that she had meticulously planned for a career break after her baby. She wanted to bring up her child full time, until her son was ready to go to school. A 5-year break would be just fine. She had built a corpus to fall back on; she had invested it wisely; and she could build it all back when she returned to work.

Recalling how her mother balanced work and home, the daughter feels that was too harsh. My mother worked very hard and burnt both ends of the candle. She could not afford to not earn a regular income; nor could she feel confident about finding another job easily. All she did was to use her income to hire some services for housekeeping and babysitting, both unsatisfactory by her own standards. How can that compromise be better than my well thought out career break, she asks.

Parents believe they come with experience and perspective that must guide the decisions of their children. But children understand that the experience might not always be relevant, and that the perspective may be limited by hubris of the past. Parents somehow want to protect their children from the horrible consequences of what they see as wrong action. But children like to be in charge of their actions and its consequences.

We are dangerously generalising, as we miss many nuances and the variety and diversity that exists in the parent-child relationship. But the gist is that we may not be able to decide for them. Even if we believe we have their best interests in our mind. Or even if we are convinced we know better. They will have to make their decisions and find their way. It is cruel to find the parent grinning with an I-told-you-so smile, at the end of every struggle the child goes through. It is their story; we cannot make it ours.

The worse sin is thus one that takes them back to our context; the one that tells them our story to establish that we know. Our experience may not be relevant to their situation. I recall this anecdote: A father tells his 20-year old son, Abe Lincoln self taught himself to become a lawyer at that age; look at you. The son replies, Obama was the President of the United States before he turned 50; look at you! We can all seek inspiration and become who we want to be. But that is a personal quest. Being a parent alone does not equip us with the ability to be an abiding inspiration in our children’s lives. We are just one of the many things that inspire them to become who they want to be. Life or money, it is all the same.

(The Author is CHAIRPERSON, CENTRE FOR INVESTMENT EDUCATION AND LEARNING.)



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