My grandkids are of the age where they want to know the cost of everything.“How much did you pay for that, Papa?”They’re making a few bucks and are probably calculating subconsciously how many weeds they’d have to pull to earn enough to buy whatever “that” is.
If we go out to eat, they scan the menu for cost – not that they buy low to save me some money, but they like to know how much Papa is willing to pay to feed them!
“Can I have sprinkles, and whipped cream, and two scoops?” says the clan when not considering the cost of their ice cream treat!
My youngest local grandchild, CJ, suggested this week that I could buy two Tesla automobiles. “My parents say they could afford one, and you have more money than they do, so you could buy two.”
CJ and his siblings are in a stage where they want at least one of everything they see. Whether it’s a car, truck, gun, bicycle, house, shoes, computer, camera, watch, lawn mower or the crumbs from a chocolate chip cookie left on the counter, they declare “I want that.”
To their great credit, their parents, Erin and Benji, don’t fend off the wish whines by saying, “We can’t afford it.” That’s the handy, but shallow, phrase I employed when my kids leaned over the same deep well of wishing.
The truth is, then as now, we could afford some of the shiny baubles the kids see and agitate for, but we’re not going to buy them for a variety of reasons. Primarily, we know the sparkling object that captures their attention today will be fish wrap tomorrow. They don’t need it. It’s not a priority, even if we could afford it. It’s not healthy, or good for you.
I used “We can’t afford it” because it was simple, and even a kid can understand it. It quickly ended most begging and whining. But, I realize now, it also ended rational discussion about needs versus wants, cost versus value. And, it left the impression on their young minds that we were poor.
But Erin, a school teacher, and Benji, a fireman, don’t blow off their kids’ accumulation fantasies like that. For some things, they agree and say, “That would be nice, but it’s not in the budget now.”
Or, “We could afford to get that, but it’s not a priority. We have other things that are more important.” They know that today’s “gotta have it now” item will have a new identity tomorrow.
I remember when I learned my dad made the astounding figure of $250 a week. It was the mid-1960s and I was with him after hours at the local Farmer’s Union Cooperative, where he managed the store. Trying to comprehend the magnitude of that dramatic weekly windfall made me wonder why I always felt we lived marginally.
“That’s $50 a DAY,” I exclaimed. “What in the world do you do with all that money?”
While I remember that moment clearly, I also remember it as a rare instance in which dad appeared upset. He didn’t yell, but his jaw was set as he realized for the first time I had no clue about money and the cost of living.
Rather than explain in detail why $250 a week, with four kids at home, really wasn’t that much money, he mumbled something about my failure to understand currently, “But you’ll learn.”
With seven grandchildren – like the computer network in the Terminator movie – becoming “self-aware,” I’m having plenty of opportunity to rationalize just how much to share about the cost of things, how much to help them fund their own little projects, how easy or hard to make it on them to achieve their goals of saving for “this” or “that.”
Ultimately though, my primary role is not to help them understand the cost of things, but to support their parents in guiding them to understand their value. Some things that carry a great cost, have little value. Some things available for small cost have great value.
All future is uncertain and I don’t “worry” about what it holds. I know that any child who learns the value of things will have no problem in bearing their cost.