I recently finished reading “The Millionaire Next Door”, which was a mega-bestseller about a decade ago (yeah, I’m pretty late to the party). This book was the most recent in my list of personal finance books I’m reading this year. The first half of the book is pretty much what you would expect: this is how millionaires made their money, this is how they keep their money, this is the type of person they are, etc. Then the book suddenly veers off course and starts talking about why you shouldn’t spoil your kids with your money if you are a millionaire. The book is fairly preachy throughout, but it becomes especially so in the second half. One reviewer on amazon.com summed up the book this way “You can be a millionaire if you never spend any money.” And yes, that’s the gist of the book.
However, when the authors talk about how money spoils the 2nd and 3rd generation, they paint themselves into a corner. They make a pretty good case for not throwing money at your kids, which basically just demotivates them and sets them up for hedonism and failure. However, I kept waiting for the explanation about a “good way” to give your money away, but it never really came. Basically, they sort of punted, saying that you can give your kids money once they are older (40+) and are incredibly frugal, like yourself (at which point they will never spend the money anyway). All the way throught the book, the authors are praising people who accumulate money and never spend any, even to the point of not enjoying the finer things that money can buy. The only moral good in the book is accumulation, which the authors never seem to understand is only a means, not an end. I guess I wouldn’t be spending so many words on this point if the book weren’t so preachy – I guess I’m trying to refute the dead-end message of the book.
It’s actually a pretty interesting book, which is probably why it sold so many copies. I guess the reason for this post is to pose a question – if you were one of these frugal millionaires who isn’t going to spoil his/her kids by leaving them all the money, what would you do with it? I like some of the things that the Gates (Bill Gates) Foundation is doing, like trying to wipe out malaria, buying AIDS drugs for people who can’t afford them, etc – those ideas seem like good ways to spend money which help a lot of people. I also like the “microcredit” movement, where you can lend money in small amounts to 3rd world small businesses and help “bootstrap” them. What would you do with your million(s)?