As a long-running family tradition, my parents gave our kids red envelopes with money inside for Chinese New Year earlier this year. Being a natural saver and thinking about the future, I then took the money and put it in a savings account for them. Mrs. T and I figured that since both of them still don’t quite grasp the concept of money, we just save whatever gift money they receive.
Giving the money lesson
Recently, Baby T1.0 discovered the Youtube sensation, Ryan’s Toy Review, and started talking about buying a giant Ryan’s egg. He then remembered that he had received a red envelope with money and wanted to use that money to buy the giant egg which has a mystery toy inside amongst other things.
Both Mrs. T and I were very much against blowing that much money on a toy that costs around $50. After reading a few reviews about the egg, we quickly learned that it’s basically a giant plastic egg with a bunch of plastic wrappings and a bunch of cheap plastic toys inside. Being environmentally conscious, we did not want to buy something filled with that much plastic. The idea of spending $50 for some cheap plastics is outrageous! (I have to say, this Ryan kid definitely is a marketing master!)
At the same time, Mrs. T and I also felt that it is Baby T1.0’s money and he should have every right to decide what he’d do with the money. If he decides to blow it all on the overpriced egg with cheap plastic toys inside, so be it. Maybe he’ll learn from a financial mistake. Making a $50 financial mistake at five and a half years old is probably way better than making a huge financial mistake when he’s 25.
As his parents, Mrs. T and I feel it is our responsibility to teach him about money. So we explained to him how we manage our money – by dividing all income into the different categories. To keep it simple, we explained to him about Spending, Saving, and Giving accounts. We also explained to him that we could divide up his money into the 3 accounts and let money in the Savings account grow so in the future he’d have enough money to buy a small LEGO set (we obviously ignored the super low interest rate).
The discussion ended positively with Baby T1.0 stating that he’d save the money for a LEGO motor instead (he wants to build a LEGO robot). And Mrs. T and I padded each other on the shoulders for a job well done.
On a side note, we haven’t told Baby T1.0 that we created a portfolio for him and his sister which is almost $20,000 in value. I guess that might be a surprise when both kids are a bit older.
This past Friday, Baby T1.0 stated that he wanted to stay at my parents’ place for a few nights. Since it’s summer time, we agreed that he’d come back on Sunday afternoon while Baby T2.0 would stay with us.
To our surprise, my parents dropped off Baby T1.0 while we were out Sunday morning. When I returned home with Baby T2.0 (Mrs. T had an appointment), we were greeted by my parents and a very excited Baby T1.0.
“I have hidden something in the garden!” He told Baby T2.0.
The two of them quickly ran to the back of the house toward the garden. Then my parents told me that they had just went to Walmart to buy a couple of Ryan’s toys.
I became very upset immediately. I thought that my parents had spent $100 on a couple of those stupid eggs with cheap plastic toys.
As it turned out, my parents luckily didn’t purchase the giant eggs. They had purchased a couple of smaller eggs with some squishy toys inside for $7 each.
Being a great big brother, Baby T1.0 thought about his sister and asked my parents to buy an egg for her too. He had hidden the egg for Baby T2.0 in our backyard garden as a surprise.
But I was quite upset and was a bit furious with the situation. I scorned my parents a bit for spoiling Baby T1.0 and buying cheap plastic toys for the kids. When both kids ran toward me with their eggs, I quickly ripped them out of their hands and told Baby T1.0 it was not OK and he was not getting the toy.
Baby T1.0 got very upset immediately and started to cry. I was just as upset and told the kids to go inside. Didn’t want to interrupt, my parents left me with the kids so I could do my own parenting.
Once inside, still frustrated, I told the kids that they wouldn’t get the eggs. I told them it was a waste of money. Both kids were quite upset and proceeded to collapse on the couch and continued to cry.
The important lesson of delayed gratification
After 10 minutes or so, I became calmer, but still frustrated about the idea of my parents giving in to Baby T1.0’s request/demand and spent $14 on cheap plastic toys. Then I got an idea!
“Kids, please come sit down in your seat at the dining table.”
I went in the pantry room and took out a bag of dark chocolate (Mrs. T keeps a few bags of chocolates around for Christmas chocolate making).
“I will give each of you 2 pieces of chocolate. I will set the alarm for 15 minutes. If at the end of the 15 minutes you still have chocolate left in front of you, I will give you 5 more pieces. But if you eat the 2 pieces before the alarm rings, then you don’t get anything.”
I went over the rules several times, figuring this would be a perfect time to teach them about delayed gratification.
“I can’t wait anymore!!!” Baby T2.0 said with about 3 minutes left. She then ate both pieces of chocolate. At the end of the 15 minutes, Baby T2.0 didn’t have any chocolate left while Baby T1.0 still had all his pieces in front of him.
Figuring that 15 minutes was maybe a bit too long for a 3 and a 5 year old, I decided to give them another chance. I told them that I’d give them one piece of chocolate again (one piece total for Baby T2.0, three pieces total for Baby T1.0). After 10 minutes, if none of them ate the chocolate pieces in front of them, they’d get 2 extra pieces. And I started the timer.
To my surprise, both kids managed to not touch the chocolate before the time expired. By now I was much calmer and decided that it was OK to give the kids the eggs with squishy toys inside. However, I wanted to teach them something still.
Knowing that Mrs. T would return home shortly, I first gave each kid 2 pieces of chocolates. I then put the eggs in front of them.
“If you can sit in your seat until mommy comes home and not eat the chocolate and not touch the eggs, you can have 2 extra pieces of chocolate and the eggs when mommy comes home.”
For the next 20 minutes or so, both kids sat in their seats. I could see they were agonizing over the chocolate and the idea of touching the eggs. But they seemed to remember the end prize and avoided the temptation completely.
I was very pleased to see both kids passed my ridiculous contest. When Mrs. T got home, they were able to have their chocolate pieces and open up the eggs to discover what squishy toy they got. They were happy and played with the toys for a number of hours.
The painful childhood memories
Later, I called my parents and apologized for my behaviour earlier. I had a long talk with my dad and about our parenting style. My dad reminded me that Baby T1.0 got an extra egg because he wanted to surprise his little sister. We should have praised him for such thoughtful gesture. Toward the end of our long conversation, my dad said…
“Baby T1.0 had been talking about the squishy toy egg since last night. He was so happy when we went to Walmart. He was so happy that we purchased an egg for him. He was also so happy about buying one for Baby T2.0 and hiding it to surprise her. Then you came home and completely ruined their happiness. When you were younger, we often couldn’t buy toys for you and your brother due to financial reasons. Do you remember what that felt like as a kid?”
Then it hit me. I immediately remembered what that was like. All of a sudden I became very emotional and almost couldn’t say bye to my dad.
After the phone call, still very emotional, I went up to our bedroom and shut the door. I sat in the room and cried.
I recalled what it was like, as a kid, to see my friends having the coolest toys like Transformers toy figures, Tamagotchi eggs, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, Voltron figures, etc, and wondering why I couldn’t have the same toy. I remembered the frustration and disappointment I felt as a kid. I remembered drooling over these new toys at the department stores, secretly wishing that my parents would get them for me for my birthday. I remembered leaving wish notes on my nightstand, hoping that my parents would see and would buy what I was wishing for for my birthday or Chinese New Year.
I remembered that most of the time, my wishes never materialized.
I sat in the room and cried, wondering what have I done. Am I a bad parent? Did I completely mess up? Have I ruined Baby T1.0?
Mrs. T entered the room later to find me sitting on the ground crying. She knew right away that I was really upset and gave me a hug immediately (according to her this was the 3rd time she had ever seen me crying since she met me 10 years ago).
We sat there on the bedroom floor and just talked. We talked about our childhood, we talked about financial independence, we talked about our dreams, we talked about Baby T1.0 and Baby T2.0, and we talked about what we want to do in the future.
I’m truly blessed to have an amazing and supporting life partner.
Later, I came to the realization that I was perhaps too hard on Baby T1.0. Rather than focusing on spending $14 on a couple of cheap toys, I should have been focusing on having abundance. I shouldn’t tell him that it was a “waste of money” or use terms like “we save money only,” or even “we can’t afford it.” I shouldn’t have been a party pooper and ruined his happy moment. Rather, I should have cherished his innocence, praised him for thinking about his sister, be happy, and use this occurrence as a money learning lesson.
I realized that at this age, Baby T1.0 is still learning and exploring the world. He needs to learn through failures. He needs to learn through successes. This is even more true as he grows up as he will need to learn valuable life lessons throughout different experiences. Although I am his dad and loves him dearly, I cannot teach him everything. Some lessons he must go through himself, just like what I did with some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. For example, like finding the right balance between saving for the future and spending to enjoy the present moment, buying mutual funds does not provide the best returns, financial advisors that work at banks are usually sales people and do not have the best interests for you, etc. My dad could have lectured me on these lessons but I probably wouldn’t have listened. I had to learn these tough lessons myself, without anyone’s guidance.
When it comes to parenting, there are many different ways. One way isn’t necessarily more correct than the other. It depends on the circumstances. Similarly, there are multiple paths to financial independence.
For me, this experience reminded me to always evaluate the situation through different lenses and look at the bigger picture. In my moment of frustration, I had forgotten about that…