Delayed Gratification

I work daily to raise my kids to be more financially responsible than I have been.  One of the most difficult pieces has been to explain the benefits of delayed gratification to my children. It’s hard enough, as an adult, to take delayed gratification to heart.  For a child?   It seems to be almost impossible.

My son wants an XBox 360 Elite.   Good for him.  He wants to renegotiate the terms of his allowance to get it faster.  Currently, every other time he gets an allowance paid out, it goes into his bank account, to be mostly untouched.  The other times he can do as he pleases with his money.   We are enforcing a 50% long term savings plan. Now, with a medium-term goal in mind, he wants to keep all of his money, and only put gift money into the bank account.

Should we let him tap his bank account for a shiny new bauble?  It’s been building for a while, so it’s delayed, right?   I don’t think that would accomplish much. Like any other 10-year-old, his interests change often.

Should we let him change the terms of our agreement, speeding a medium-term goal at the expense of his long-term savings?  My wife and I haven’t had a chance to discuss this, but my initial reaction is not to allow it.   His savings has the potential to turn into a decent car in a few years, if he wants.  That would be a car he knows he earned.

Last week, when we were at the store, he asked if he could borrow some money to buy a game.   I don’t expect him to carry his money around everywhere, so I would have allowed it, if he would have had the money at home.   He didn’t.   His plan was to pay me what he did have as soon as we got home, then work his butt off for a few days to earn enough extra to pay it back.   I won’t be a credit agency for my kids, so I said no.  He was disappointed, but, by the time he had earned the money, he no longer wanted the game.   I consider that a win, but I don’t know that he learned any lesson other than “Dad’s a jerk.”

Someday, when his life launch is smooth due to a lack of debt-dependence, he’ll look back on these lessons and smile.

I hope.

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    1. I feel your pain. We struggle with the same decisions all the time. We haven’t forced savings on our kids, but now that 2 of them are about to turn 15, they are both feeling a cash crunch. This is gradually stirring them to seek employment, which is great.

      We have allowed them to make their share of frivolous purchases (within reason) but we also make sure that they feel the pain of having no savings left afterward. It takes them a long time to build it up again.

      For larger purchases like your son’s I would probably insist that they wait for the next gift occasion. If they want to kick in for some of the cost, great. But at least their savings account isn’t decimated. Good Luck!

    2. My parents gave in more often than not, but my sisters and I turned out frugal anyway…all the financial lessons were learned. We just wasted my parents’ money and banked our own.

      Sorry Mom and Dad (although they seem happy enough in early retirement anyway, so apparently we didn’t run them out of money). 🙂

      It has to be hard to have the responsibility of preparing a mini-person for the world. I think you and your wife are doing great. Good luck!

    3. Dad’s not a jerk. 🙁 He just cares. I hope you still have these blog entries around when he gets old enough to appreciate it – they will probably make him laugh.

      When I was younger (I’m not sure how old your son is) my parents would bribe me with whatever I wanted for grades. Once it was a DVD player – I went from a D+ to an A- in one of my classes. If he’s saved a little (not in the 50% savings account) of his own, maybe you agree to chip in the extra $X dollars for Y. That way he works for it first, and has the pride of it being something that he worked for.

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