Delayed Gratification – A hard lesson for my teenage son
Saturday is trash day. Since we live in rural area, we don’t have trash service and thus an hour or so on Saturday morning is spent collecting the trash and recyclables, loading them into my Expedition and taking them down to the remote trash drop off facility. I generally bring my older boys since they are a little stronger.
What started off as a chore has actually turned into a fun time where we can talk and spend some quality time together. We discuss all kinds of things, and ironically enough, I’ve actually started looking forward to Saturday morning trash runs.
This past Saturday, we were heading to the drop off facility and nearly there when son #1 (14 yo) yells “Dad! Is that a Mustang??” I look to where he is pointing, and there sitting in a parking lot is a dark green 1967 Mustang. Written on the windshield is $5000 OBO.
Son #1 has become very interested in cars over the past few months as driving age slowly approaches. Due to my brainwashing (and the brainwashing I received from my father) son #1 wants a Mustang. What can I say, he has great taste.
I replied, “Yep, it sure is”, knowing exactly what would come next. “Can we stop and look at it Dad??” The look on his face made it impossible to say no. After dropping off the trash, we pulled into the parking lot to check it out.
The Mustang was rough. It needed a paint job, some minor body work, was missing a few trim pieces, the interior needed serious work, and the floor boards were rusted out (a common problem for early mustangs). The engine (a 289 V8) looked decent. I didn’t spot any major oil leaks or blown gaskets. In the car world, you would say this car “has potential”, which means with a decent amount of money and a great deal of time, it could be a really nice car.
My son fell in love. That car is all he has talked about for days. To be honest, if I had the cash right now to spare, I’d make an offer of $2500 and buy it, just to give myself and my boys a project car to work on. That’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while anyway. But, with us just recently moving and the various unexpected repairs we’ve had to make on the house, I just don’t have the reserve cash right now.
A hard financial lesson
Later on Saturday, his mind was going 90 mph trying to figure out how he could buy it. At one point, I said “Look, I know how bad you want that car, but you nor I have the money right now. You’re going to have to wait.” While I hated to tell him that, the situation was a great opportunity to teach him the concept of delayed gratification.
This was also a great opportunity to remind him of something I’d been saying for years and hopefully use this opportunity to teach his younger brothers. Fortunately we were all there together working on our yard, so I asked Son #1, “How long have I been telling you to save your money, that one day you’ll want a car?”. He replied, sighing “Since I can remember.” He knew where this was going. “What did you do instead?” “I spent it on video games and other stuff, and now I wish I had that money.” I asked his younger brothers if they all heard that. They did.
I then explained to him that there are lots of old Mustangs out there, and that while I know he thinks this is the only one for him, there will be another. He has asked us to stop giving him babysitting money and instead, place it into savings account for him automatically.
Financial lessons learned
From this story, I think we can all learn (or be reminded) of a few personal finance basics:
- Think long-term, not short term – While it’s difficult for a kid to think long term, for us adults it shouldn’t be. Instead of letting that money burn a hole in your pocket and spending it on frivolous things you don’t need, think about the things you want long term. Think through the impact to those longer term goals when you buy something in the short term. Practice delayed gratification.
- Make your savings automatic – While we told our son to save, we never forced him. Should we have? Maybe. But sometimes a lesson is much stronger when you learn “the hard way”. While not being able to buy that car right now is tough for him (and for me!), I know without a doubt it’s a financial lesson he will carry with him the rest of his life. He is now saving automatically to help avoid spending the money. I’m proud of him for that decision.
- Increase your income – Now that he realizes how bad he wants a car, and that he doesn’t have the money, he is looking for every opportunity to make money. He’s going to hit our neighbors up this summer for yard work and I am most likely going to let him begin helping me with my blogging activities and pay him. I need some administrative help anyway.
- Avoid debt – He keeps asking me to loan him the money. He’s also asked if his grandparents might loan him the money to buy it. I refuse to let him borrow the money. I don’t want him to see debt as a quick solution to getting what he wants “now”. He needs to understand this his mistakes in the past have put him in the position he’s in, and take responsibility for making his financial situation better. Tough lesson now, but one that I think will benefit him in the long run. Tough love is exactly that, tough.
What do you think? Are there other things I could be doing to help him that I’m not? How do you feel about the way I’ve handled the situation? How how you handled similar situations with your kids? Add a comment!
Photo by: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³