Teen Millionaire Inspires Me to Stop Giving My Kid Everything

Jeanne Sager

noTell me this doesn't break your heart, and I'll tell you you need to go sit in an oven to warm up that cold soul. Farrah Gray started kicking in financial support to his family when he was 6. But by 14, he was a millionaire. The lesson in there for today's parents? Most of your kids won't be Farrah Gray ... but his life could still change your kid's.

Granted, it's not your "usual" story. Most of us are lucky enough that even when the going gets tough, we can keep our 6-year-olds out of it. And most of us will never be lucky enough to parent a teenage millionaire.

But with the now "grown up" (he's 26) Gray out and about doing press for his latest book, Reallionaire: Nine Steps to Becoming Rich From the Inside Out, I've been delving into the story of a kid who used his mother's struggle to keep her head above water as inspiration to become a phenom. Between 12 and 16, Farrah launched his own food company, had a One Stop Mail Boxes & More franchise, was executive producer of a comedy show on the Las Vegas Strip, and hosted his own teen talk show.

I'll repeat it: he wasn't a regular kid. I don't expect my kid to do that much in so little time. But it's his story that makes wonder if one of the tenets I'm holding to as a parent couldn't be a little misguided. I have always felt like it's my job to give my kid better than I got, to make sure she doesn't feel it when her father and I are struggling. Where I wore Wal-Mart jeans and hated it, I don't want her to look at herself as different from the other kids.

It's HARD to say no to our kids. We think of that little 6-year-old pitching in to help his family's finances, and we say "uh uh, not my kid." We don't want our kids to have to think about such difficult issues.

But what's the one thing most of us complain about most with today's teens? A sense of privilege? A lack of responsibility? The average kid doesn't have it hard today, and I'm not just talking about kids who are growing up rich. Plenty of poor kids are clueless too, they want and want and want, and there's no real sense that their parents can't just "give" because parents put the kids and their "wants" first. We've learned to put barriers up that shield them so far from reality because we know how much we hated growing up knowing when our parents were pinching pennies.

Our hearts are too open to our kids.

Whatever happened to making them work for something? I remember begging to have my hair permed in high school (yes, I'm dating myself), and my parents told me I'd have to save for the expensive treatment. So I did. I put my babysitting money in a jar. And I siphoned off for CDs and movie tickets and everything else along the way. Eventually, I gave up on the perm, not because I couldn't save, but because I realized the value of my money -- I could use it for all these other things that I wanted MORE.

The lesson of how to live within my means didn't make me a teenage millionaire, but it made me a saver. It made it so I had my first house before I'd reached my 21st birthday. It made it so I'd come to live car loan free. So I would never carry a balance on my credit card. So I could think about whether I really NEEDED something pricey or if the money could be better spent elsewhere.

I don't expect to raise a teenage millionaire, but a financially-savvy teen who won't come running home to Mom every time she blows through her credit limit would be nice. I just have to stop giving her stuff.

Do you have a hard time with balancing this with your kids? Do you make them work for what they want?

Image via marc falardeau/Flickr

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