Yesterday, I discovered a string of purchases linked to my credit card. The purchases originated from my son’s Playstation. Altogether, he had spent over $170 buying random add-ons for video games. At the point of discovery, I was more shocked than angry. It looked like there was a continuous flow of money from my credit card to my son’s playstation account. Barely able to comprehend this or vocalize anything, I managed to squeak out, “Delete the credit card info from the playstation!!”
I was seriously upset. But, I have a couple realizations about what happened. My son wants to buy things, he has very little opportunity to make decent money, and he thinks my credit card is like a magic hat.
First of all, I can understand it’s hard for a kid to understand the concept of that plastic card. Maybe not hard for some.. But, for my 10 year old, it’s a weird and foreign concept. He’s very down to earth and physical in his learning process. He’s used to spending cash when he wants to buy things. Aside from a couple gift cards, he has very little experience dealing with plastic credit cards. However, he sees me use the plastic card to pay for everything… groceries, restaurant checks, museum memberships, game store purchases, bills… Not to mention swiping this card and receiving cash back in increments of $20 bills. You name it and I put it on the card. I can completely understand how this magic card seems to have a supernatural ability of endless cash flow, to someone like my son, who counts nickels & dimes to make his purchases.
I understand that. It’s just this conversation that I didn’t realize I had missed having with him. Sure, we’ve talked about money and having money in the bank and paying bills, etc. But, to a child with an imagination – that plastic card can seem like magic. This was my $175 wake up call that I was overlooking a very important lesson for my son.
Another realization that came to me was that I simply wasn’t providing him with enough opportunity to earn the money he needed to make the purchases he really wants. It’s something that goes along with growing up…. the items you’d like to spend money on gradually become more expensive. Like the real economy, my son’s “cost of living,” was going up and his “wages” remained the same…. just enough to grab a few junky toys from the dollar store or pick up something used from the thrift store. Not enough to buy the things he wants without saving up for months on end. Don’t get me wrong, there’s everything right with learning how to save money.. But, for my 10 year old who never balks or hesitates to help me around the house and does everything he can to make my life easier, it’s just not fair. I don’t think, for a minute, that this entered his thought process – that it wasn’t fair and he would just take what he wanted. He’s a very simple guy who avoids conflict and is very concerned with doing things the right way. But, now that I’ve taken a look, I can say – it’s true… I was being unfair. I had taken for granted that I can make decisions about how to spend money without answering to anyone else and I hadn’t provided good opportunities for him to experience this same important life lesson.
I’m not an employer. But, I’m one of the few options my children have to make money. Yes, there are ways they can go out and make some money – many of them such as yard work, lemonade stands – are seasonal. When I’m paying meager wages, they don’t have a choice but to work for pennies or wait for slim handouts. It cost me $175 to realize that I wasn’t providing enough money making opportunity and even when I did, it simply wasn’t enough for my growing boys to gain experience with money in today’s world.
It’s easy to see what my child has done wrong, here. We had a discussion about the not-so-magic plastic card and how using it without permission is actually stealing money – and dangerous for my account. It’s not as easy to take a step back and think, “What did I do to create this?” and, “What can I do to help him understand and to gain more experience in this aspect of life?”
The boy brought me every one of his dollar bills and some change in an attempt to pay back the money. But, it was a meager amount. I returned his money to it’s savings jar and gave him the opportunity to make up for the stolen money & earn more by helping out in the garden, this year. It’s something he likely would do anyway… except now, he will earn a decent pay for his help so that he can gain better experience with his own money.