I have written about everyone having a natural tendency when it comes to spending or saving. For some people, saving comes naturally for them but spending doesn’t. I call them ‘natural savers’. For many people, spending comes naturally and saving is difficult. I call them ‘natural spenders’.
Differences in natural tendency
What happens if the parent’s natural tendency is different to the child’s natural tendency? What if the parent is a natural saver but the child is a natural spender? A parent who is a natural saver is inclined towards saving and finds it difficult to spend on frivolous things. Children by their very nature want frivolous things. The difficulty is compounded when the child has developed a natural tendency to spend. The solution may simply be the parent encouraging the child to save and discouraging the child to spend. If the child is, in fact, spending unnecessarily on frivolous items, that solution makes sense. No one would disagree with it. But this is a very simplistic and superficial way of looking at the underlying problem.
The real difficulty is in defining what exactly is ‘unnecessary’ and ‘frivolous’. The problem isn’t in the words. Just like ‘needs’ vs ‘wants’ the heart of this difficulty is that what are unnecessary items or frivolous items are subjective opinions. Something that is unnecessary for the parent may, in fact, be necessary for the child. These are all tied to a person’s values, attitudes and beliefs about those things. The older a child, the more developed is the child’s values. By the time they are teenagers, the child’s values may look very different to the ones we were hoping they had developed. Those values are also likely to conflict with our own values.
All things Pokemon
I had the pleasure of encountering this dilemma recently. My natural spender bought an advent calendar from the shops. It had a picture of her younger brother’s favourite Pokemon character and it was to be a gift for her brother. She also bought a small Pokemon stuffed toy for another brother because he begged her to buy it for him. So she did. This simple gesture involves so many different emotions: there is generosity, caring and sharing; there is the question of whether the items are ‘necessary’ spending; there is the question of whether it was worth the money spent.
My natural tendency tells me that the advent calendar is unnecessary and frivolous. Whilst it wasn’t expensive (my natural spender tells me it was only $3), it is something that is easy to make at home and it certainly doesn’t cost that much to make. My natural tendency to save would, therefore, tell me that it is unwise spending money on the advent calendar. My natural spender, on the other hand, reasoned that it was ‘only $3’ and it would make her little brother so happy to receive it as a gift. In addition, it was money she could have spent on herself, but she didn’t. Seeing her little brother so happy would make her happy too.
As for the Pokemon stuffed toy, again my natural tendency tells me that this is another phase the kids are going through. Give them a few months and they’d forget about Pokemon and move on to something else. Buying a Pokemon stuffed toy is really not necessary especially since the same child got another Pokemon stuffed toy only a month ago. But my natural spender reasoned that the stuffed toy was on clearance and had been reduced to ‘only $7’; that this is a different Pokemon character and is one that her brother really like as well; that she wanted to buy her brother a Christmas gift that he wanted so badly. And seeing her brother so happy with the Pokemon gift from her would make her happy too.
Arguments and counter-arguments
Here is my dilemma. I definitely see her logic and I definitely empathise with her. I agree with her 100% with all of her points:
- it would definitely make her younger brothers very happy.
- as a result, she would also be very happy to see her little brother so happy.
- it was her money.
- she could have spent the money on herself, but she had chosen not to.
- it was a different Pokemon character which her younger brother really wanted.
- and it was ‘only $3’ (or ‘only $7’).
But here are the counter-arguments for all of her points:
- giving her younger brother anything would have made him happy – even homemade advent calendars.
- the other brother was perfectly happy with the Pokemon stuffed toy he was given only a month ago. That novelty hadn’t worn off yet, so why accelerate it by giving him another Pokemon stuffed toy?
- she didn’t have to spend her money on anything at all.
- many items of ‘only $3’ or ‘only $7’ can add up to a lot of money in the long run.
The Conversation …
There were 2 options as far as I can tell: I could focus the conversation on her generosity or I could focus the conversation about the money lessons.
Having seen so many people’s lives spiral out of control from their spending habits, I was fearful my natural spender would end up that way too. I had to nip that unwise spending habit in the bud before it bloomed into a problematic habit when she’s an adult. My fear for my natural spender’s spending habits led me to choose the second option. I chose to have a money conversation. And I regretted my choice. I watched my generous and kind-hearted daughter’s beaming face (as she handed the presents to her younger brothers) crestfallen the moment I started to talk. I realised that despite my best intentions, that conversation was my money conversation. It wasn’t our conversation because she didn’t want to talk about that aspect. In the end, it wasn’t even a conversation anymore. It became more of a lecture and one that neither of us enjoyed.
‘Choose kind’: Wonder
Ironically, two days earlier, my natural spender and I had watched a movie titled Wonder where I came across the most beautiful phrase: when there is a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.
I should have chosen to be kind.