And even though the children were given small allowances, they were always encouraged to donate a portion to charity (usually at church) and to account for every expense. The practice dates back to John. D. Rockefeller’s famed “ledger,” in which he tracked every penny that he earned and spent.
“Like a lot of other boys, I’d be buying baseball cards and bubble gum, things like that,” David Jr. tells CNBC.
Many of his classmates were spending far more lavishly.
“I had classmates that might not have had as much money in their family as we did but who were spending a whole lot more money,” he says. “I remember we were gasping at a friend, when I was 12, who took a girl out to dinner and spent $50. We were thinking, ‘Oh my god.'”
Like many “old money” dynasties, David Jr.’s parents and grandparents never explicitly discussed their wealth. When the subject did come up, the Rockefellers talked about the responsibilities of their good fortune, focusing more on philanthropy and constantly repeating the family mantra: “To whom much is given, much is expected.”
So when David Jr. was in school and classmates told him that was family was rich, he didn’t initially believe it.
“They seemed to know a lot more about the family wealth because actually, as in many family those days, sex and money were not subjects you talked about, so that was funny,” he says.
It taught David Jr. an invaluable lesson: No matter how much money a family may have, it’s important to emphasize responsibility over wealth, and charity over spending. Parents, he says, need to set the example for their kids by showing restraint and economy even if they can live like kings.