More Than Money
Issue #39
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Money and Children

Table of Contents

“Letter to My Son”

By Bob Kenny

My sister died recently and very quickly from an aggressive form of cancer. She was only 52, just 18 months older than I. Her death made it clear to me in a new way that none of us knows when we will run out of time. Since then, I've asked myself, if I were given the opportunity, what would I want to say to my son about values and money? Here is what I came up with.

Dear Son,

Some of the most difficult decisions that you have to make in life will be concerning your values and your money. It is surprising to me how often the two can conflict. The apostle Paul said that all wrongdoing can be traced to an excessive attachment to material wealth, which people sometimes shorten (not quite accurately) to "Money is the root of all evil." Henry David Thoreau said the majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation. I think there may be a lot of truth in both statements and I think they are related.

The most important thing I can tell you is to get clear about your personal values. Know at all times what is really important to you. Don't make it a onetime event; make it ongoing. You will need to check in with yourself on a regular basis. Find people in your life whom you respect who can talk about what is really important to them and who will allow you to do the same.

When you know what is really important to you, follow that with all of the passion and enthusiasm you can muster. Don't let anyone tell you that you have to put it off until you have enough-enough time, enough money, enough whatever. It is that simple.

But you need to be careful out there. Be careful of people who use "shoulds" when they are giving you advice about money. There are very few shoulds when it comes to money.

Be careful when people try to tell you that your discontent or unhappiness will be relieved by more money or more stuff. It rarely works that way. Be wary of people who want you to believe that they are happier than you because they have more stuff. (If they are happier than you, it isn't because of their stuff.) Money can help you do lots of good things. That is its purpose: to help you do what you value. If money is not helping you to do what you really value, then stop and figure out why. Money is a means to an end; it is not an end. Try never to forget that, but be aware that it is incredibly easy to forget. If you forget, then money will end up hurting you rather than helping you. I've seen people use money to ruin their health, ignore people they love, fight with people who love them, and do all kinds of appalling things-leading lives of desperation because they didn't think they had enough.

Money can take the life out of life or it can help you get closer to what you really value. It can help you forget what you think is important or it can help you remember how fortunate you are. Money can make you a stranger to yourself or allow you to know yourself and realize your dreams. You are a terrific person. Get to know yourself. Follow your dreams.


Robert Kenny, Ed.D., is the executive director of More Than Money. He is known for his work training young people to develop political and citizenship skills. A co-founder of the New England Conference for Democratic Schools, Dr. Kenny's publications include the book Preparing for Citizenship: Teaching Youth to Live Democratically (Praeger, 1994).

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