Over the course of the year, my son has managed to save some money – from Christmas and birthday gifts – which he keeps in his ‘savings safe’ (it’s only a toy one). Every now and then, he dips into it for £5 or £10 when he wants to go out with his friends. Every now and then, he tips the contents of his money-box out and counts how much is left – very old-fashioned, but he likes to do that.
Mum, where is my money gone?
About three weeks ago, my son had a bit of a shock when he realised that what he had, was quite a bit less than what he expected. He displayed all classic symptoms of selective memory – he remembered how much money he used to have, but did not recall most of the instances of taking some out…
He decided the way to go about replenishing his savings was to ask me to buy things for him instead. So he wanted me to buy him a new football – which I didn’t – and a FIFA 15 game – which I didn’t, either. I told him he had enough money to buy these things himself if he wanted to. I wasn’t going to ban him from spending his money, but I asked him to talk to me before he was going to make any decisions, so that he could make sure he was doing the right thing.
Things started to change – but very slowly
We had our first break-through a couple of weeks ago when buying new trainers for school. My son decided he was in a desperate need of a new football (to add to the existing collection of six or seven other footballs which are already preventing me from getting into the garage). I told him he could have one if he paid for it, so he picked up a ball he liked and we went to pay. There was no price tag on it and before we reached the tills, he said he would have to check how much the ball cost before he decided whether to buy it or not. A very sensible thing to do, I thought.
We got to the checkout counter, I handed over the box with trainers and said I was buying those, plus possibly the football, but that would depend on its price. It turned the ball was £12 (about $19 today) which was way more than I would want to pay. I decided to hold back from commenting and instead asked a very simple question: ‘Do you really want to spend £12 of your money on this football?’ He looked at me, at the check-out girl and the football, and delivered his verdict: ‘No, not really. It’s not worth it.’ and he went to put it away. I nearly jumped up! He was finally starting to understand the value of money.
A few days later, we went shopping for food and my son spotted some Halloween decorations he liked, so he put them in my trolley. I said I wasn’t going to pay for those. ‘Fine,’ he said, ‘it’s only two quid’. ‘As you wish,’ I answered, ‘but you will have to pay me back when we get home. Two pounds may not matter to you, but they matter to me.’ So we bought the Halloween things – clearly this particular amount was not big enough for my son to register as significant. One step forward, two steps back…
Earlier today, he asked if he could buy some FIFA coins for nearly £8. Whaaaaaat? FIFA coins? Did he really want to swap real, hard cash for some electronic images of footballers running around on the screen? It was time to have a little chat about what was sensible, and what was not, when it came to spending pocket money.
This is what we did:
1. We sat together at a table and I asked my son to take all his money out of his safe and count it.
2. I took a piece of paper and drew a little table for him. The table looked like the one below (but nowhere near as neat, as it was drawn by hand:
The first thing I drew my son’s attention to, was that in less than a week, he’d spent more than half of the money he had. He gulped.
I then pointed out that if he were to spend £8 on FIFA coins, the bottom number in the ‘Money left’ column would be below £60. He wasn’t impressed.
I went on to say that I wanted him to keep the piece of paper with his spending record in his money-box and amend it each time he took money out – that way there would be no confusion where the money went and how much was left. I concluded by telling him that if he really wanted to buy those (pointless in my view) FIFA coins, he would need to write it down in the table and he would see his total ‘wealth’ depleted by more than 10%.
By the time I finished talking, he decided the FIFA coins were not really worth it. Spending the money is one thing, having to write down with your own hand how much less the total has become, must be too much to take. He took the piece of paper with my little table, folded it neatly and put into his safe together with the money. I hope it should stop him from being hasty about how he spends it, at least for a while.
What have I learnt from this?
That sometimes it is best to explain things and then just let go. By handing over control of my son’s money to him and giving him a tool to do it – however simple – I made him change his thinking. He was given a choice what to do and realised that his actions had consequences. I didn’t ban him from buying the FIFA coins – he chose not to. It seems that empowerment works with children, too – give them responsibility and hopefully they will raise to the challenge.
Isn’t it surprising how sometimes great things can be achieved with the simplest of means and with minimum intervention?