Money Smart Kids

This past weekend 5 year-old Trystan bought his first major purchase: a Hot Wheels garage, 5 levels high, complete with a working elevator, a helicopter and three cars.  He has been saving for this toy for over two years.  It cost him $34.82 which he earned all by himself.

The joy of work

-two years ago-

I awake from my sleep to the sounds of a creaking door and the pitter patter of little feet entering our room.  The footsteps make their way from the door to my side of the bed.  Then a little hand extends from the edge of our bed to grab a handful of our comforter.  I feel Trystan slowly tugging my blanket off me as he tries to climb.  I reach over and grab him under the arm and lift him into bed between me and Shelly.  After a few minutes of cuddling, I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to get back to sleep so I whisper in Trystan’s ear, “Trystan, do you want to make breakfast?” “Breakfast?!” he replies in a loud whisper. “Yes, let’s go. Shhhh, don’t wake mommy.”

I open the fridge and grab some eggs, and milk.  Trystan gets his step stool and places it by the counter.  I take out a metal bowl, a whisk, and some salt placing them on the counter directly in front of the step stool.  Trystan cracks open the eggs “No eggshells!” he says as each one plops into the bowl.  I pour some milk into the bowl and put it back in the fridge, grab a pan, then turn on the stove. While Trystan whisks the egg, milk and salt mixture, I pull the toaster to the edge of the other counter and put an open bag of bread next to it.

“Done!” says Trystan as he puts the whisk down and climbs off the step stool.  I take the egg and cook it in the pan.  Trystan picks up the step stool, brings it to the other counter and places the bread in the toaster and climbs back down.  While waiting for the egg to brown, I grab some plates, silverware and glasses from the cupboards and put them on his empty step stool.  Trystan makes several trips from the kitchen to the dining room and sets the table.

“Trystan, do you know who makes money by cooking?”
“Yes,” I reply as I hand him some quarters. “Who makes money by setting the table?”
He thinks about it and then shrugs.
“They’re called bus boys.”
Trystan nods understanding and takes another pair of quarters from my hand, then puts them in his piggy bank.

During the early stage of introducing Trystan to money, I knew that the reward had to be given as soon as the work was done.  I also wanted to simulate the manner in which someone would earn that money.  For example, what person would make money by painting? An artist. How does an artist do this?  Well, after Trystan and Zoey finish their artwork, I look at them like an art critic, make comments about what I like and then “buy” it from them.  This is how I get the artwork that I display on my desk at work.  Before I started working at SpaceX where you can’t take pictures at your desk, I used to take photos of their artwork displayed at my workstation.  I still put up their art work, I just can’t take pictures to show them.

Now that the joy of work and the rewards of work have been instilled, we have graduated to the “sticker” system in which they earn stickers for doing things around the house as well as activities that they can relate to a career/job.  Payday is on Friday and they get a quarter for every sticker they have on the board.

The Dream

At three years old, I showed Trystan a Toys R Us brochure and he was instantly drawn to a Hot Wheels track that had several paths from the top to the bottom.  He cherished that brochure and looked at it often, until it wrinkled and tattered enough and got thrown out.

Two weeks ago, Trystan and I took a trip to Toys R Us and went shopping.  We took our time walking around the store and he got to choose three toys that cost around $30, which is roughly the amount he had in his piggy bank.  This is the first time he has been allowed to just roam a toy store to browse so it was a real treat to see his excitement at all the cool things around.  We took photos of his top three options with the price tag visible so we don’t forget how much they cost. He even made me take a picture of the front of the store so we don’t forget where we saw the toys.

The wait

After selecting his top three options, we start the ten day waiting period.  The waiting period is something that I started applying to myself after the many times I’ve bought on impulse and regretted it shortly after. I started browsing Amazon, putting things in the shopping cart, and then waiting a week before actually buying it.  Most of the time, I end up removing it from the cart and not buying anything at all.

Throughout the week, Trystan kept asking to look at the pictures that we took, dreaming about which one he will take home.

The Budget

– this past Saturday morning –

“Daddy, today’s the day we go get my toy.”
“Is it?”
“Yes, I counted the days on the sticker board.”
“Alright then, let’s finish up breakfast, count out how much money you have in your piggy bank, see if you’re happy with what is left over, and then we’ll go.”

The coins are arranged in neat stacks on the kitchen table, each stack equivalent to a dollar.

“…thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five.” finished counting. I move the leftover pile of coins away from the “toy money” and ask “are you happy with what’s left over?”
He looks at me.
“What else did you say you wanted to do with your money?”
“Save it.  And give it to the poor.”
“Well, are you happy with the amount that you still have left to save and give to the poor?”
“He smiles and nods his head.”
“Well then, let’s go get your toy.”

A lesson most of us learn is how to save our hard earned cash for that ONE thing that we’ve been coveting through the shop window, or brochure then buying it.  But after we make our purchase, we’re sometimes left with the question of, “where did all my money go?”  So I built an additional check into the spending process, which is really the most basic emotion that comes with budgeting… are you happy with how much money you have left over?  Which later on will translate to do I have enough to pay for rent, car payments, etc.  The order of priority is definitely reversed, but at this stage in learning I’m relying on what makes the strongest emotional connection: something that he wants and has been dreaming about.

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