Americans like to think of themselves as generous people. Often, the numbers back that up, such as Giving USA’s recent report that revealed Americans gave a record $373.3 billion to charity in 2015.
But as impressive as that sum seems, most people still struggle with the stingier side of human nature, putting their own material wants first and considering charitable giving only as an afterthought. That’s the “me generation.” And kids are growing up seeing that as the norm.
“Most parents are well-intentioned. But in our quest to be good parents, we give our kids more and more and more,” said Greg Baumer.
The good news, say Greg Baumer and John Cortines, co-authors of the new book, “God and Money: How We Discovered True Riches at Harvard Business School,” is that while greed is a widespread human characteristic, so is generosity. The co-authors met in a men’s Bible study group at Harvard, where they were confronted with a topic that would change the rest of their lives: As young Christians with sky-high earnings potential, what should they plan to do with their money?
Banner and Cortines took a hard look at Bible passages and became convinced that their own hearts were full of greed — and that they needed to change and challenge the views of mainstream America, and even of many Christian commentators.
But is possible to encourage our kids to become more generous and to escape the “me generation”?
LifeZette spoke with Baumer — who thinks it is.
Question: Why do people only seem to think of themselves when it comes to money today?
Answer: The fact that our society is so rich makes behaving faithfully when it comes to money very difficult. The Apostle Paul says the love of money is the root of all evil. To me, that implies our hearts are naturally very susceptible to the corrosive influence of money. Not that money itself is bad — it is not — but our hearts have a hard time handling it well.
Q: Should we be concerned that the mindset of adults is affecting our kids?
A: Absolutely. I think most parents are well-intentioned. But in our quest to be good parents, we give our kids more — and more — and more. Most children do not receive a strong education on the appropriate attitude toward wealth and generosity.
Q: Are kids growing up to only think of themselves, too?
A: I actually think the millennial generation and their young kids are potentially less selfish than prior generations. The problem I see with young people today is not that they think only of themselves, but rather that “acceptance at any cost” has become their Number 1 value or moral guide point, rather than biblical teaching. To me, that is a very serious, but different, problem.
Q: What can parents do to stop this mindset?
“Understanding God’s teaching on the subject is a critical first step to a life spent in joyful generosity rather than unsatisfying greed. The second category is basic financial management.”
A: It all starts with a strong, foundational education in the values of Jesus Christ. With respect to money in particular, I’m a big advocate of consistently taking kids outside their local context to serve those in need. This helps them understand how fortunate they truly are, and builds their “servanthood muscles.”
Q: Should you talk about your finances with your kids?
A: Yes. Parents do not need to share their annual income or net worth, but I do think it is important for kids to see their parents being generous. So talk about your giving, and give in a way they can see. I also think it is good to talk about some of the trade-offs you’re making in order to give more.
Q: What kind of perspective can your kids gain when talking about money?
A: Kids can gain wisdom in two primary categories from talking about family finances. First, and most important, is a strong education on what the Bible says about money. Understanding God’s teaching on the subject is a critical first step to a life spent in joyful generosity rather than unsatisfying greed. The second category is basic financial management. We must teach our children how to save, spend, and give wisely from a young age.
Q: How can parents set a good example when it comes to greed?
A: First, affirm that true happiness does not come from material possessions. Most parents say this to their children — but then they themselves constantly think about the next house renovation or new car. So live in a way that clearly displays contentment, and derive your joy from family and faith, rather than stuff. Second, display constant gratitude to God for the blessings your family does have. Saying out loud that everything we have comes from Christ, and is more than enough to meet our needs, can be very powerful. Finally, regularly find opportunities for your children to understand how fortunate they truly are.
Q: What are some simple steps parents can take to encourage their kids to be more generous and giving?
A: I’ve always liked Randy Alcorn’s strategy the best. He gave his daughters three jars — one for spending, one for savings, and one for giving. Any time they received money — from allowance, the tooth fairy, birthdays, etc. — they put 10 percent in the giving jar, 10 percent in the savings jar, and the other 80 percent could be allocated however they saw fit. The key was that the girls could move money from “spending” to “saving” or “giving” and from “saving” to “giving” — but never the other way around. So they learned that giving and saving always come first, and that giving and saving are more important than spending.