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Ron Lieber's Three Money Jars: Financial Goals for College & Beyond

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Ron Lieber's Three Money Jars: Financial Goals for College & Beyond

Imagine three jars sitting on your kitchen counter – spend, save and give. That’s how your teenager should be thinking about money before leaving for college.

The advice comes from Ron Lieber, “Your Money” columnist for The New York Times and author of “The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money.”

The jars are straightforward: One is for disposable income, one is for savings for a future expense and the third, for helping others. The three jars might start out as tangible containers or accounts, but eventually they translate into values for teens to carry with them when they leave home.

What would Lieber like his daughter to know before she leaves the nest (still several years away)? In an interview with TeenLife, he translated the three jars into ethical goals:


“I want my daughter to be careful, but I want her to spend lavishly without going into debt on the things that make her the happiest.” And how do kids find out what makes them happiest? Experimentation. So, yes, sometimes teens are going to spend hard-earned or birthday cash on something that doesn’t work out. Let them. “They’re not trying hard enough and you’re not trying hard enough if they’re not making mistakes,” says Lieber.


“She needs to learn to be patient … to delay gratification.” Waiting is becoming a lost skill, he says, in this era of instant entertainment. “We want our daughter to have the opportunity to yearn for something, to mark it down as a goal, then to save money for it and go get it and have that satisfaction. The goals will only get harder and require more patience.”


“We want her to be generous and gracious. … That involves giving if you’re lucky enough to have anything left over at all.” How to instill generosity? Lieber says in his household it’s about storytelling. “We want to remind her that someplace along the way your family got help, too.” For example, Lieber got financial aid in school – a familiar story these days. “People gave money so kids like me didn’t have to quit.”

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Susan Moeller-profile-picture

Susan Moeller is a former newspaper editor and reporter who has directed education coverage as well as written about schools and children. She lives on Cape Cod, has three children and is a veteran of the boarding school and college search process.