Many cultures have a saying to describe a common phenomenon where wealth earned in one generation seldom lasts through the grandchild’s generation.
English: “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”
Chinese: “Wealth does not survive three generations”
Japanese: “The third generation ruins the house”
Why does this happen? In this article I explain the mechanisms of this process - and how you can be the happy exception and make generational wealth last.
The classic story works like this: A man is born into middle class or poverty but has ambition, talent, and more than a little brains. Over his lifetime he advances socially and economically. He builds a business, or perhaps invests in real estate, or works diligently for a company and saves and invests over the long term. He makes mistakes and learns from them. And as he becomes more and more wealthy, he begins to understand money - how to make it, what it can (and can’t) do, and how to use it to enhance his life and the lives of his family.
He gets married and has children. And, due to his status and prosperity, his children do not lack for anything. He himself went without during his childhood, and that discomfort helped drive him to improve his lot. But his children don’t lack for anything. They have the toys and clothes, the activities and the cars. Later on he pays for their education. Perhaps he helps with a down payment on a house.
And his children grow up watching their father build his business and wealth, so they see the work and effort that went into building the fortune. They remember being less wealthy when they were younger and becoming more prosperous as their family wealth increased over time. They see his example of how to make money and how to use it. They see his discipline, his work ethic, and his integrity. But they never lacked for anything so they never have to reach deep inside themselves to solve problems the way he did. And so they never develop the same hunger, the drive to improve.
And his children grow up, get married and have their own children. And these grandchildren experience a life of comfort and ease. Toys, clothes, and exclusive activities abound. Hired help like housecleaners and handymen do the unpleasant work. The grandchildren never see grandpa’s diligence, discipline, and persistence. They might innocently wonder “why is grandpa is so cheap, he has tons of money!” They grow accustomed to the lifestyle of wealth but have no visibility into what created it, what sustains it - and what ends it.
So the grandchildren end up producing little in the way of wealth. They consume more than they produce, while still trying to maintain the lifestyle they grew up with. And over time they run through their inheritance. Because they knew how to live the lifestyle, but they didn’t know how to create the lifestyle.
What can a person do to break that cycle and make wealth last long into the future?
1. Start as early as you can
The earlier your children and grandchildren start learning about money, wealth, and productivity, the easier it will be for them to lead productive lives and avoid a life of dissolute consumption.
2. Be the example
Even if you do nothing else, showing your children and grandchildren your example will leave an impression and have a lasting effect.
3. Show them how you build wealth
Show them how you built your wealth, whether it’s investment, entrepreneurship, sales, management, or something else. Teach them your processes. They might or might not have your talents or interests, but it will help them connect the dots to understand where wealth comes from.
4. Show them how to spend
People aren’t born knowing how to use money to bring happiness and satisfaction. And on top of that, advertisements, culture, and hedonic adaptation all seek to turn them into mindless spenders. You have to teach them how to use money to bring opportunity, time, and problem solving, so they can experience the satisfaction of a balanced life. If you don’t, they will likely end up using it to scratch itches and eliminate boredom, and will feel forever unsatisfied. Many young wealthy people end up mired in addictions for this very reason.
5. Don’t let them know how rich you are until they are adults
Of course, they will figure it out to some degree, based on the house you live in, the activities they can do, the schools they can go to, the trips you take. But those who successfully break the three generation curse consistently tell researchers “I had no idea how rich we were until I was an adult!”
You can do this by avoiding conspicuous consumption. Warren Buffet still lives in a 5 bedroom house he bought in the 60s. Many multimillionaires drive “normal” cars - and many drive beat up pickup trucks! Following their example can pay big dividends for your children and grandchildren.
6. Focus on giving them internal resources
One good use of wealth is to give your children and grandchildren advantages in life. You have plenty of external resources like money, connections, and tutors. But the more valuable advantages are internal resources - education, healthy habits, social skills, values, and other advantages that can’t be taken away because they become a part of your children and grandchildren and will serve them their whole lives.
7. Hire a professional to help
As a coach, I have worked with people from many walks of life, from CEOs and professional major league athletes to stay at home moms and store managers just starting out. And one common theme stands out: everyone wants prosperity and happiness for their children. I studied wealth creation and preservation for decades and reached financial independence for my family at age 46.
There are many financial coaches out there. They can give all the right information to your children and grandchildren, but in too many cases it turns into a case of leading the horse to water and watching helplessly as they refuse to drink. Is there any worse feeling than watching your children and grandchildren have everything they need but still do things that screw up their lives?
But there is hope. What makes me different are my skills and experience as a hypnosis-based coach. I have the tools to be able to both shift someone’s mindset and instill the beliefs, values, and behaviors you know they need. I’ll not only help your children and grandchildren only understand what to do, I’ll use my unique skillset to have those mindsets and behaviors become a natural part of who they are. So your children and grandchildren will do what they need to do to make their lives and the lives of their own descendants more prosperous and fulfilling.
And isn’t a sense of peace about our children’s future what we all want, deep down?
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