Yesterday I saw a funny letter reproduced online, purportedly written by a St. Louis guy who decided not to lend his 6-year-old son $20 to buy something.
He created a logo – Dad Savings and Loan: Because Apparently I Look Like I’m Made of Money – and explained why the loan had been declined. Among other things, the child had “insufficient funds and a history of not doing (his) chores.”
In addition, “over $80 has been spent on discretionary entertainment expenses since Christmas…an unsustainable amount of expenditure, and we cannot further compound the problem by financially assisting with (further) debt at this point.”
Classic! And it touched a particular nerve with me. Here’s why.
Earlier this week my great-nephew mentioned a couple of things he wanted to buy from Amazon. The gift card he got for Christmas would cover one but not both. “Do you have any work you need done?” he asked, referring to my habit of paying him and his brother to do certain chores.
“Not right now,” I said. “Besides, you still owe me $10 from the last thing you bought. I’m not inclined to advance you any more until you’ve paid that off.”
“It’s just $16,” he said.
That irritated me. “Just $16, huh? Do you have $16?”
“No,” he admitted.
“Neither do I, in my current budget. You’ll have to go earn it somehow. See if your mom or dad has any gnarly chores they want done but don’t want to do.”
He’s not a greedy kid per se. But like so many other children he tends to buy into (so to speak) the consumerism he sees all around him. Everywhere he looks are examples of what look like great stuff: advanced gaming systems, personal drones with cameras, that BB8 droid from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” smartphones that anticipate your every need.
And everywhere the message: Buying these things will make your life richer. But even if these things do enrich your life (for a while, anyway), they can deflate your budget.
I can understand why a 14-year-old isn’t thinking along those lines. What worries me is that plenty of adults can’t seem to make the jump to hyperspace: Is the stress of indebtedness worth the joy of the toy? Do the math (purchase price plus credit card interest) to determine how much you’ll really wind up paying for that new whatever-it-is.
And if you have enough cash in hand to buy anything your heart desires, whenever you want it? Congratulations. (I think.) But do consider the opportunity cost of that kind of spending. Those dollars could turn into something that’s more lasting than, say, a personal drone.
Full disclosure: I think that BB8 robot is freakin’ adorable. But I can’t justify buying it for myself or anyone else. Wouldn’t that $100 or so do more good split between my nephews’ college accounts?
I almost gave in, dammit
An even fuller disclosure: I was this close to telling my nephew, “Okay, let’s get that thing you want. You can pay me back this spring when DF re-does all the woodwork. He’ll need help with the sanding.”
But I don’t want to be a Disneyland auntie who teaches them that every dream should come true as soon as it’s dreamed. That’s why we get them to do paid chores. We want them to connect labor with purchasing. You want something? Work for it.
So I reminded him that he’s now 14 and can get a job this summer. “Once you start working, you can probably keep $20 or so per week and bank the rest. That means you’d have at least $80 a month to spend on things you want.”
He brightened a bit, and started doing the math: Two weeks’ worth of work would pay for [some other thing he wanted], and two months’ worth of work would pay for [some other really expensive thing he wanted].
My hope is that once employed he’ll start viewing purchases in terms of work-hours. That BB8 droid would cost me about 10 hours of my life. Ten hours’ worth of selling burgers and mopping floors and emptying the trash.
Would it still be worth it? Possibly. But I bet a lot of things won’t.
It’s not that I begrudge him or anyone else a little fun. I just wish people would pick their spots more carefully. There’s always going to be another Next Big Thing.