Kids and money is something I have been thinking a lot about recently, what with two youngsters (do people still use that word?) at home. Here is an account of my daughter’s first money decision.
Any parent will tell you that watching your child stumble and fall and make mistakes is one of the most difficult parts of being a parent. As a caregiver and protector, you feel it’s your job to step in and, well, give care, and protect. It was with the knowledge that her momentary exuberance might lead my young daughter to make decisions she may come to later regret that we set out for some local garage sales this past Saturday.
Perhaps some background is in order. My daughter, our oldest child, is just about to finish Grade 1. She doesn’t have an allowance, but she has managed to squirrel away almost fifty dollars from birthday, Christmas, and Chinese New Year presents. We’ve talked about the values of the different coins, and how to figure out how much something costs, and she has the concept of exchanging money for goods and services figured out, but Saturday was to be the first time that she was going to be in charge of her own money when we went garage saleing. My wife and I decided before we left that we would let our daughter spend her money however she saw fit, even if we didn’t think she was being wise with it.
Before we left, my daughter and I sat down and laid out all of her money. Most of her money is in Loonies (which I love, BTW) and Toonies, so it was fairly easy to see visually how much of her money she was taking with her. She decided to take eight dollars.
It’s funny how kids can both surprise you, and be exactly true to form.
First, the true to form bit: At the first garage sale, within about 3 seconds, she laid eyes on an item she had never seen before, but yet could absolutely no longer live without: A makeup mirror kit with vanity lighting. She immediately clutched onto it, and announced that that was what she wanted to buy. I asked her if she was sure (not the “parent” version of the question, but simply asking her if she was sure) and she said it was. She got out her purse, and paid her dollar.
When we got home, she ran into the house and opened the box to find that some of the parts were missing, and that the lights no longer worked.
Now for the surprising bits: First, instead of getting upset, she accepted the kit’s shortcomings with genuine good humour and played happily with it for some time. (Upon further reflection, shopping for used goods may have raised the degree of difficulty on this first independent shopping experience a bit high, but she seems to have handled the situation well.)
Secondly – and this was the bit that I really wasn’t expecting – that makeup mirror kit was the only thing she bought that day, despite the fact that we visited at least 10 other garage sales before returning home. I had fully expected her to come home with an empty purse, but other than that single dollar spent at the first garage sale, she didn’t feel the need to spend any of her money. I may be reading too much into this, but I took it as a sign that she truly gets that she can only spend money once; that it’s a finite resource, and that not all wants and needs have to be met immediately. (Although I freely admit she probably wouldn’t explain it that way.)
Overall, it was a pretty good day for learning about money in our house, and, I feel, a good sign that my daughter has a healthy relationship with money, given her tender age.
BTW, Dad (she’s only six, but she hasn’t called me Daddy for six months) bought a stack of books for her at the last garage sale. I guess I felt I still needed to do a little “caregiving”. Old habits die hard.