Monsieur spent a good portion of his day today doing things to earn money. He is saving up for something that he really wants. It all started last week, when a small toy caught his eye as we were walking past a bookshop. It was one of those hatch-it-yourself eggs – an egg that you put in water for 24-36 hours and the shell slowly dissolves to reveal the creature inside. He desperately wanted it, and really loves watching the eggs hatch, so I told him that he should go inside and ask the price. If it was $5 or less, he could have it. He went inside, politely asked the shop assistant who informed him that it was $6. He was crestfallen and I was so tempted to say “Well, $6 is only a little bit over. Yes you can have it” But I really want him to grow up with an understanding of money, and saving for things, and not spending beyond your means. So I stuck to what I said, and told him that we needed to put the egg back because it was more than $5 and that was the limit that I had set. We spent the next ten minutes with him holding tightly to the egg saying that he would never put it back, and me just sitting with him (this was going to take a while, so I made myself more comfortable!) and reiterating that it was more expensive than the limit I set and I wouldn’t buy it for him.
At one point, I really thought we might stay there for half an hour – possibly the people at the next door cafe who were looking on with interest thought so too. Parenting always feels like the stakes are higher with an audience, although ultimately I know that what matters is my relationship with my son; not whether complete strangers applaud or condemn my parenting skills. However, he eventually put the egg back and we continued on our way. I was so proud of him. He had such strong emotions that he was battling, and he mastered them enough to move on.
We had a wait in the post office and he was so well behaved, remarkable considering the emotional turmoil he’d just been through. So I was thinking to myself that I might give him $1 change, that could go with the $5 I was willing to spend, so that he could get the egg. Although I was still debating the idea, as to whether it was a good thing to do (rewarding him for showing restraint) or whether it would set a bad precedent (so often a concern). Then he spotted a remote control Thomas train, and begged me to come and look at the “most awesome thing ever”. The train was $40, so a definite and easy “no”. He was much easier to lure away this time, to my relief, and I took him outside and gave him $1. I then showed him my $5 and together we worked out that equaled $6, the exact cost of the egg. Then I gave him a choice; he could go and buy the egg with his money and my money, or he could keep the $6, and start saving to buy the remote control Thomas. I was so sure that the immediate gratification of the egg would win out, but it did not. He thought about it and said he wanted to save up for the Thomas.
On the walk back to the car, he asked how he would get more money. So far his money box has been fed with coins found around the house; occasionally pilfered straight out of my purse! This is not a method to encourage once collecting money becomes a goal. I told him that his Daddy and I would think of some things he can do to earn money, the same way Mummy and Daddy have things they do to earn money.
Every day after that he asked what he could do to earn money, so we had to come up with some ideas fast! Fortunately R and I have already had discussions about how we think pocket money should work and what stipulations we put on pocket money or money earned for completing extra tasks. The discussion about pocket money has not yet reached it’s full and final point, but we don’t intend to start pocket money for a few years yet. We always intended for there to be tasks that he could do to earn additional money however, so that is where we are starting. It is important to us that any paid house chores are not chores that we expect him to do just as being part of the family. So things like clearing the table, loading dishwasher, cleaning room, vaccuuming etc, are things that we all pitch in and do. No one gets paid for them. However things like washing the windows and washing the car are things that he could do to earn extra money.
Of course, in our discussions we never expected that he would start so young! When thinking up things to do, we wanted them to be things that:
- he could reasonably manage
- would actually be helpful (so no make-busy tasks)
- are not household tasks that come under the “being part of a family” umbrella
We also broke them down into small steps, so that nothing was too overwhelming, and he could earn some money for doing part of a task. We also put in bike riding, as he has been going through a phase of always choosing scooter over bike and we want to get him over the hurdle of thinking the bike is just too hard. The stipulation is that he needs to ride without any help – which he can do; he just falls back on our help too much. Our plan is to extend the distance he covers, as his confidence grows.
During the week, I wrote a list of all the things he could do to earn money and today he started.
He started before he even got dressed for the day! Dusting the hallway bookshelves while his Daddy cooked breakfast.
I was very impressed at his dedication, and determination to do a good job. He even dusted the fronts of the shelves – somewhere I’ve never thought to dust. Our bookshelves are looking much better than usual. I’m sure they could get used to getting dusted on a weekly basis!
Once he completed them, he worked out how much he had earned and we counted out the coins together. This is such a great way to bring in counting, addition and lessons in currency! He has a chart to track his progress and his adorable penguin money box to put all the money in.
After breakfast, cleaning out the car was on the agenda. His attention was waning, so this took quite a long time. It definitely takes time and patience to teach him how to do a particular task and what we expect of him. I just kept telling myself that the first lesson is doing it properly and once he does things properly, then the next lesson is to do things quickly (and properly). It can be so hard watching a task take over an hour, when I could do it myself in 10 minutes, but this is about more than just the present time; this is about instilling skills, work ethic, focus and allowing him the time to learn, at his pace.
Okay, I didn’t completely allow him to go at his own pace. I needed the car done by a particular time so I did give him a time deadline, after which I would finish the car, but he did have a generous amount of time to get it done in. He did get very distracted in the backseat, where there are many toys and books of his!
He was very proud of himself after he completed each task and was so chuffed to have earned money for his remote control Thomas.
I have sourced the remote control Thomas at the local K-Mart, just in case the post office sells out before Monsieur has finished saving up for it. I could think of nothing worse than him going in to the post office, so proud and excited to be buying his first thing with money he earned, only to be told that there were none left. That is a brutal lesson that he can learn much later on – perhaps I’ll teach him about lay-by at that time too!