Kids and money – big dreams and bigger lessons

What can you do to ensure that money doesn’t mess with the living, or the loving.

When is the right time to start saving for a motorbike? (Thank you to Photo by Ümit Yıldırım on Unsplash for the image)

By Sean O’Connor

I’m the proud father of a five-year-old. He’s probably at ‘peak boy’ right now. Girls are simply ridiculous, the colour pink wraps him in giggles, and he’s an expert at skateboarding, bike riding, arm-wrestling, tree-climbing and jokes, rhyming and Disney-related topics. He brims with charming curiosity and whacky good humour. I’m extremely fond of him.

Also, the little guy is saving up for a motorbike. How much does he need, I ask? “Ten thousand,” he says. Hmm, I nod. Now, this figure I would baulk at, but he seems to be fearless.

For now, he’s hiding his savings on top of his cupboard. So far, he says, he has fifty-two rand, as if he’s halfway there. For his upcoming birthday, he’s adamant that he only wants cash. “No presents!” he says, wagging a little finger.

It’s slightly incongruous that any five-year-old should say ‘no presents!’ While his zeal is amusing, it gives me pause for thought. I like that he knows what he wants and is prepared to save up for it. But I wonder if his mother (he hatched the scheme with her) isn’t somehow setting him up for failure, deflecting his worrisome (for her perhaps) desire for a two-wheeled death machine into a never-to-be-achieved fantasy. Maybe it’s her way of saying no? If it is, the effects of this failure may be profound.

I wonder if the little tyke will really learn how to save with this project. Aren’t goals meant to be S.M.A.R.T? Specific (check) Measurable (check) Achievable (Um?) Realistic (Not sure) and the one that starts with a T. Terrific? Terrifying? I honestly don’t know, even if I do know Google could tell me. Perhaps this is why I’m hardly the best financial advisor. Goals? Meh. I just do the best I can with what I have.

And what I have, he has, because I’ve noticed that since he embarked on Mission Smoke ‘n Oil that he has become hyper-tuned to any lucre lying about, and scoops up rands and cents like a mini yellow digger. They’re not his, these coins, I tell him. They’re mine. “Then – Dad, why do you have so much money?” he asks me. If only it were true. I’m only rich with spare change. I remember that until recently he believed you could just grab more money anytime as long as you could find to a cash machine. That was actually the work – getting to the ATM – which resulted in your getting paid.

Contrarily, I was taught that if you want something, you earn it. Resultantly, I find it difficult to accept things that come for free. There’s no such thing as a free taco, right? Money, I learnt, is a substance that is meant to be accumulated until you have enough. That’s all money is, a means to an end. Dividing it, splitting it – well, that simply reduces it. Money is meant to be hoarded. My father, who saved up for the first family car his parents couldn’t afford, literally drove this lesson home.  He showed that it could be done. As long as the dream is powerful enough, it seems.

The little guy dreams with engine noises buzzing around his ears. Any motorbike that approaches while we’re on the roads is swiftly evaluated. Maybe there’s a chance he’ll make it, many birthdays from now. I check in with him again. “How’s the saving going?” I ask. “I’ve got four hundred,” he says. Four hundred! I convert this immediately to 1.6 packets of grocery shopping. “When will you have enough, do you think?” I then ask. “When I’m seven. Or eight,” he says.

So I google SMART goals. T stands for Timely. This little dude is going to get it, I realise. Everything starts with a dream.

Sean makes theatre in the workplace, is a father, occasional writer and forest walker.