I wrote a whole chapter in All the Money in the World on the topic of what lessons to impart to one’s offspring about money, and while I wish I could say that cleared it all up for me, it did not. The problem is that my feelings are nuanced. My children are growing up in different circumstances than my husband and I grew up in. We both have rather viscerally negative reactions to the idea of spoiled, rich children. On the other hand, I can see that my own frugality (perhaps stinginess is a better word) can lead me to make poor choices. There is no point buying the brand of yogurt no one likes because it’s on sale. I could definitely have built my career faster if I’d been willing to pay for help earlier than I wound up doing so. We could have avoided a number of family tensions by paying for more childcare.
I don’t want my kids to feel entitled. On the other hand, I want them to know that money is a tool, and once your needs (including saving for the future) are taken care of, money is there to be used. And sometimes, using money as a tool means splurging on things because you know it will make other people happy.
Which leads us to stories of the giant panda and the Magic Tree House books.
My husband took our two oldest kids to Costco a week ago. He returned home with a gigantic plush panda (pictured). I was a bit surprised. If anything, in our last discussion on money, my husband had hammered home the desire not to raise entitled children harder than I had. When I think about spoiled rich children, gigantic plush stuffed animals figure prominently in the image that springs to mind.
He said it was on sale (it had a ripped seam; I stitched it closed). He said it was for our middle kid’s birthday (more than a month away). I suspect what happened is that the boys saw it, thought it would be really cool, and my husband realized that the sale price was the same as what we were about to pay for giant packs of steak and scallops. The cost was small in the economics of our household. The kids wanted it, so why not get it?
I went through a struggle with this same question later that week. My 6-year-old is obsessed with the Magic Tree House book series, and while he gets many of them at the library, he hasn’t been able to find the most recent two (#49 and #50). He asked if we could buy them. I hesitated — I don’t like just buying whatever the kids want, and I know he plows through these books in a few hours — but I said we might be able to. Then I went to Amazon right after our discussion and ordered them. It cost less than $20. That is a small fraction of what I’ve spent on shoes and clothes the past few days because I felt like I needed a back-to-school wardrobe, as if I’m going back to school anywhere. And while one of the packages I ordered is still sitting on my office floor unopened, the look on my son’s face when he opened his package was absolutely priceless.
I really have no idea how this will all shake out. My 6-year-old has been asking for an allowance (phrased as money for doing chores — its own can of worms), and is figuring out the concept of money and paying for things. That means we’ll need to settle on some things soon. Then again, there are only so many Magic Tree House books, and we probably won’t wind up with too many pandas, if for no other reason than that we’ll run out of space. As you can see from the photo, this thing is gigantic.
Do you buy things for your kids outside birthdays and holidays? What decision process do you use on whether to say yes or no? Do you give them an allowance? If so, is it for chores or not, and at what age did you start?
In other news: I had a column in USA Today yesterday called Work on vacation — so what? Yep, Americans work on vacation. It’s not the end of the world (and yes, I know that the world won’t end if we don’t work on vacation either). My being willing to work on vacation is one reason I’ve been able to take several weeks away this year.
I’m seeking sources for a story on how to use your assistant well. I’m especially looking for examples of how good assistants have made people enormously more productive. Shoot me an email if you’ve got a story: lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.