For Example — Stories of Giving

Overcoming Fears of ‘Affluenza’

A couple finds a way to have an important conversation with their kids about money

SUSAN: We recently became empty-nesters. As of last year, both of our children are out of the house—one in college, and one living in New York City, working at her first job. Despite the distance, we’ve remained close. We’ve always been able to talk about practically anything… school, work and even their love lives. The only thing I’ve never been comfortable discussing with them is money.

CHRIS: That was fine when the kids were young and we were still building our business. It became a bigger challenge after we sold the company and found ourselves with a big pot of money.

SUSAN: The longer we avoided talking about our money, the harder it got. We were even afraid to buy a new car in case the kids asked how we could afford it. That’s how uncomfortable we were. We worried about what would happen if they knew about the money. Maybe they’d start fighting with each other, or with us. Maybe they wouldn’t think they needed to work for a living or that they were entitled to some of the money immediately. I treasured our closeness so much, and I didn’t want to do anything that could possibly impact it.

We didn’t know how to talk about our wealth, so we just… didn’t.

CHRIS: You hear about ‘affluenza’—how access to wealth can make children spoiled or lazy. I trust our kids, and I wanted to let them know that we had these resources, but I didn’t want the conversation to be all about how much money they’d get. That felt wrong. But we didn’t know how else to talk about our wealth, so we just… didn’t.

SUSAN: Then our tax attorney gave us an ultimatum. We’d be looking at a huge tax bill if we didn’t figure out how to handle the money. He suggested we set up a Donor Advised Fund or Foundation and we would mitigate our tax obligations immediately. We knew we wanted to give to charity, and we wanted to have our kids’ input. It was now or never.

CHRIS: So we got professional advice, through a philanthropic advisory firm we’d heard about. They suggested a wealth psychologist—I didn’t even know that such a person existed! The four of us—Susan, me, the philanthropic advisor and the wealth psychologist—got together and mapped out a strategy that used the family foundation we were forming as the starting point for a conversation with the kids.

By talking about giving back first, we could share values and passions with each other.

SUSAN: They suggested that by talking about giving back first, we could share values and passions with each other. How the Foundation got funded would be a natural lead-in to looking at the money as a way to put those values into action. I’ll admit we were a little nervous about talking to the kids, but, we ended up having a really fun, exciting family brainstorming session.

CHRIS: As it turned out we all were interested in the same thing; protecting our natural resources. Susan and I have fond memories of summers with the kids, hiking and sailing in upstate New York. It seems the kids also treasured those trips.

SUSAN: We all agreed we wanted to support clean water initiatives, not just in the Adirondacks but across the country. My daughter also asked if we could set aside funds for human rights advocacy, particularly around LGBTQ issues. It was important to her, so it was important for us to honor her request. After all, both kids were on the board of the foundation, so they had a vote.

CHRIS: We asked the Advisor to help us focus on where we could have meaningful impact with our money and decided that In addition to making charitable gifts, we would set up an impact fund to invest in social enterprises that focus on businesses that contributed to clean water and better use of land, which dovetailed with our other interest. I was particularly excited about this because I’m an entrepreneur, and building successful companies is what I do.

SUSAN: Both kids have been very involved in the impact fund; they help review business plans, and together we consider which investments will produce the best social and financial returns. We agreed. According to the philanthropic advisor, this is something called a double bottom line return We are all learning a lot in this process.

Our kids have impressed us by how engaged they are in the philanthropic process—and they’ve developed some business smarts, too.

CHRIS: Along the way, the kids have gotten a hands-on education in investing. That was never our goal, but it’s a nice bonus.

SUSAN: I look back at how anxious we were about talking to our kids about the money, talk about blowing something out of proportion! Our kids continue to impress us by how engaged they are in the philanthropic process—and how business savvy they’ve become.