An Ode to My Son’s Piggy Bank

About three months ago, my four year old son saw a toy at a store. He mentioned that he had played with it at a friend’s house and that he wanted one.

But rather than demanding it this minute, he asked how much it would cost. Then, he asked how many allowances he’d have to save to be able to afford it.

He waited the necessary six weeks’ of allowance (plus some pocket money put into his bank by Grandma), then happily went to the store and bought himself a Zhu Zhu Pet. The weird little electronic hamster has spent the last few weeks constantly running around on our floors – and I couldn’t be prouder.

No, I’m not proud that he got a Zhu Zhu Pet – my primary concern there is that I’m going to accidentally step on it and hurt my foot when he’s sending the toy all over the place and I’m walking through the entryway or the dining room.

I’m proud of other things.

I’m proud that he didn’t have a meltdown in the toy area, demanding one now, which is something that we witnessed two other children doing that very day.

I’m proud that he didn’t simply ask for or expect for me to just buy that toy for him.

I’m proud that he knew to save diligently for it and not to spend money along the way – he even pointed out that if he saved his “pocket money” too and went without the small stuff, he’d get the pet sooner.

I’m proud that even though he was really into saving for the toy, he still put money from his allowance aside for college and aside for his favorite charity.

How did we get to this point? I really attribute it to three things.

First, we bring home the point time and time again that everything costs money and that Mom and Dad have to work to earn the money they have. Whenever we consider any purchase of any kind, this is an idea that’s brought up. We also talk about how the more money we spend, the more Mom and Dad have to work, and we also point out that as he gets older, he’ll also be working for money.

Second, we do not give in to any sort of meltdown, crying, or whining. We leave, period. Neither Sarah nor I have any problem with just walking out of the store if either of our two older children melt down, particularly over a material desire. (Our youngest one is four months – the only reason he melts down is when he wants milk or a diaper change.) Our older kids have learned that crying and such only makes their case and their situation worse, so they’ve largely abandoned it. Yes, they still do it sometimes – they’re four and three, after all – but it’s not something that happens often, and it’s usually when they’re tired and acting more on raw emotion.

Third, we help them mark their progress towards specific savings goals. For example, when saving for the Zhu Zhu pet, we made it clear to our son that he would need $8.50 for the pet ($8 for the item, $0.50 for taxes). Each week, they get a small allowance – $0.50 for spending as they wish, $0.50 for saving for a goal, $0.50 for a charity, and $0.50 for college. Each week, he diligently chose to put the free spending money and the saving money into the saving for a goal slot in his bank. Then, he would ask how much more he’d have to save and he started to get quite excited when he was close to the goal. The clear marking of progress – talking about it, seeing money build up in his bank – excited him far more than the delayed gratification brought him down.

It works. If you want your kids to learn how to save, start young and be diligent. Our four year old gets it – it can be done!

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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