By Katie Hague
How many parents can relate?
You go to the store, and your son or daughter spots a toy that they really, really want. Tense negotiations ensue and promises of keeping up with chores, taking good care of said item, and never asking for anything again—ever—are made.
The drive home is full of heartfelt thank-you’s and the next several days are spent in total adoration and careful play. Chores are done without nagging, and nary a “Can I get this?” is uttered in outings.
And then one morning you walk into the living room and the very item that was just a few days earlier the actual most important thing your child had ever owned is crammed under the edge of the couch—half-broken and covered in dust bunnies and crumbs.
Tale as old as time, right?
So why is it that something that supposedly means so much one day can be easily discarded and abandoned the next?
A Tale of Two Purchases
Several months ago, my son became obsessed with a particular character in a video game. One day, he asked if we could look on Amazon in the hopes of finding a costume so that he could play outside with his friends dressed as this character.
We sat down together and began the search.
Although there were a ton of cheap options, our scrolling brought us to one Comic-Con worthy option. For the cool price of $230 my son could literally look exactly like his favorite character. Of course I told him that I would absolutely not be spending that much money on a costume. I also went on to remind him how many other things he could do with that amount of money. For goodness sake, it was enough to buy a plane ticket to visit his best friends in a different state!
He was undeterred, so I gave him the option to earn the money for it. He was unmotivated by this idea, and I thought that was the end of it. Until we took a trip a few weeks later to visit his grandparents.
I came home from the store one day to find he and his grandfather tucked away in an overstuffed chair, whispering suspiciously over an iPad.
“Guuuuys… what are you up to?” I asked.
“Mom! Poppy just ordered my costume! It will be at our house by the time we get home!”
And sure enough, it was. He tore the package open, my husband and I helped strap him in—there were so many pieces!—and I have to admit to feeling a little impressed when we finally topped it all off with the incredibly realistic helmet.
He looked ridiculously cool.
The next week was spent with him running around the neighborhood in all his decked-out, superhero glory. And then I started finding pieces laying around—a shin guard here, a visor there. I’d call him to come pick them up and remind him to make sure he keeps everything together so that he can continue to use it.
Last week I realized it had been weeks since I’d seen him touch it. I went looking, and found bits and pieces of it strewn across his room, and the main bodysuit in the corner under some books that he’d haphazardly tossed aside. I don’t know if he’s ever going to try to play with it again, but if he does I’m confident he won’t be able to find all the pieces, and that those he does find will be damaged from misuse and neglect.
A couple of weeks ago, after a family discussion where his dad and I sat reminiscing about childhood in the eighties, he decided he simply had to have a Stretch Armstrong. We found one online for thirty bucks, and I told him I’d help him earn the money for it.
We sat down and planned out what jobs he could do around the house in addition to his normal chores. We figured in putting 10% toward charitable giving, and 20% toward long term savings—an idea he wasn’t too keen on until I explained that putting some aside each time he earned money now would help him have to do fewer jobs in the future when he wanted something.
The earning was very slow. Finally, he’d had enough of me as a financier and decided to take matters into his own hands.
He devised a plan.
He enlisted his friends with the promise of shared time with Stretch when he arrived, and they spent several days scouring the bushes and hazards of the nearby golf course for lost and abandoned balls.
They collected a huge tub full, and spent a full day cleaning and separating them into baggies of six—they only selected the newest and the best. The next day, they set up shop at the entrance to the neighborhood.
Six golf balls for $3.00. They sold them all. He set aside his savings and his offerings, and I helped him make the purchase.
Since the day it arrived, he has known where it was. If it gets dirty, he washes it off. If his friends get too rough with it, he reminds them how much work they put in collecting, cleaning, separating, and selling golf balls, and how anxiously they awaited its arrival.
Never one to let a teaching moment go to waste, I dragged out our set of Tuttle Twins books and we settled in with The Tuttle Twins and their Spectacular Show Business. In it, twins Ethan and Emily decide to start a business, but this is no lemonade stand—it’s a real-deal community theater that they have to refurbish with the help of investors (Grandma Tuttle) and a whole lot of planning, hard work, and sacrifice.
My son loves this series because they don’t come off as patronizing to kids like so many other books, but this time I watched him read with new eyes. No, he’d never started a business quite as grand as a community theater, but he had stayed up late crunching numbers and he had sweat for hours in the sun—scrubbing algae covered golf balls with a toothbrush.
He hadn’t had to deal with spies for the competition, or paying back loans, but he had learned the value of exchanging his time and his elbow grease for something that he really wanted. And just like Spectacular Show Business turns Ethan and Emily on to the world of entrepreneurship and gets them always thinking about new ways to earn, invest, and save, my son has started looking at the world a little differently too.
I don’t remember the last time he asked me to buy him something at the store. Now when he sees something he thinks he’d like, he says, “I wonder if people in the neighborhood need new golf balls yet?” or, “Do you think people would pay me to wash their cars on the weekends?”
Hard work feels good. Earning something you want assigns it a sense of value and importance that it couldn’t otherwise have. Sure, earning money through parent-assigned jobs is a great first lesson in self-reliance and good stewardship of your belongings, but there’s something deeper that comes from building a money-making endeavor from the ground up and seeing it produce value from nothing but your hard work, sacrifice and the fruit of your own mind, time, and talents.
There’s something just a little bit special about an entrepreneur.