A dollar or two here. A dollar or two there. Kids tend to accumlate small amounts of cash from many sources: allowances, gifts on special occasions, grandparents, small jobs done outside the purview of chores, and more. My kid tends to have me put a lot of the money he is given or earns into his high yield certificate of deposit that will mature when he’s 13 (and then get rolled into another certificate of deposit that will mature when he’s 18) at the credit union where he’s had an account since he was very young; however, he does want to spend some of his own money, too.
Last spring my son participated in a couple of research studies involving MRIs at the Waisman Center through which he earned what is a significant amount of money for a then 7-year-old. Most of that money went straight to savings as a kid under 10 years old doesn’t need that much. However, he asked if he could spend some of it.
I said yes. He knew where he wanted to go to start looking for what he wanted to buy. He wanted to buy another marble track (marbles and marble tracks rule playtime at our house). We went to the store he specified. We looked. He wrote down the price and then he asked for my help looking up similar items on Amazon and eBay and other online sites. He ended up comparison shopping and making the best choice for him and used his own money to buy something that he contiues to play with. The best choice for him turned out to be a purchase from eBay that included both the set he looked at locally and another set for a lower price than one set at the store we visited. They were used and in great condition, but they were new to my son and he plays with them still.
Most of what my kid wants to spend his money on is not, however, completely planned, researched, and useful. He might go into a store and come out with a bag of rocks or a special single rock (heart rock from Virginia City, NV, I’m looking at you!). A bag of marbles was his purchase on a recent outing. These weren’t just any marbles. He made sets of marbles of the same color for racing teams! He spied the marbles on the way INTO the museum we were at. Needless to say the marbles consumed his thoughts ALL day as marbles often do for my child. And candy! My how he loves to purchase candy.
There are times when the weekly allowance–a whole $1–that he gets totally burns a hole in his pocket and he will spend it on the first vending machine he passes that takes quarters and will give him a bouncy ball or a ring or some other piece of plastic in the shape of who knows what or a temporary tatoo or candy.
Through all of this he is learning about money. Early on (preschool, 4K, and Kindergarden) it helped him learned to count and to understand the mathmatical value of each coin. Now he is learning to think about how he chooses to spend his money. I don’t often tell him he cannot spend his own money, but I do sometimes ask him questions about his purchases before he makes them:
Do you need it and why?
What will you do with it/will you actually play with it? (Seriously, random vending machine trinkets I’m looking at you!)
Why do you like it?
Do you already have enough of the item (or category of item) at home?
What do you think about the price vs the item you are getting?
Do you just want to buy something to buy something or is this truly something you are interested in?
Do you want to own this book or is it something you’d be happy to check out from the library?
Sometimes these questions result in reevaluating the purchase. Sometimes the questions don’t result in rethinking the purchase, and since it is not my money, I do have to be ok with these purchases even if I’d rather not see them in my house. The decisions are truly his to make.
I know that I remember times as a small girl during which I had a few dollars to spend. In the tiny town of 418 people in which I grew up there weren’t always many opportunities to spend money. I do remember that the bait & tackle shop also had a section in which they sold a few pretty shiny things to attract the small kid crowd. I distinctly remember purchasing more than one ring with a pretty plastic stone in it from that section. I remember the auto body shop having a small candy section from which I liked to pick out my favorite sucker that cost 5 cents. These purchases stick with me now. The candy was probably worth it. I think I remember the ring leaving green marks on my finger as it was very low quality. Maybe my son will have some of the same memories when he’s older that influence his purchasing habits?
In the long run, allowing my kid to make some heavily evaluated and some NOT so heavily evaluated purchase decisions now will hopefully help him think about how he spends his money when he is much older than he is now. What about when he’s a teen and asked to go with friends to a store that sells video games? Will he feel he has to purchase something there because his friends are or will he ask himself (consciously or unconsciously) about the need for a new game? When he’s in high school and wants the latest clothes or latest technology? What will his thought process be then? When he’s spending his own money (and really if he’s asking me to spend my money on him), I want to him to think first.
Hopefully I am helping him to learn that now.
I also know that I am writing from a position of privilege. Some familes don’t have resources to allow their kids to have even a small amount of spending money. So, since my family does have this privilege, I want my son to think before he spends.
I also know this post hasn’t addressed the third facet of money: sharing it with charity/others. We do that in our house, too. Maybe I’ll write about that in a different post.
PS My son went to overnight camp recently. The overnight camp has a canteen for afternoon snacks (sugar, chips, and trinkets). Last year, I simply put money on his account as it was his first year. He ate junk all week and came home with a smiley face mood ring. This year I asked him what he thought was reasonable and how much he wanted to contribute. He picked a reasonable amount–less than last year– and decided to contribute more than half of it himself. I think the fact that he was more than willing to contribute and use his own money meant that he’s thinking at least a bit!