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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