For a couple of months, my 10-year-old son has been saving his allowance, and the money he earns doing other things, up for a specific Lego set extension. (Before he can save up for those types of short-term goals, he pays tithing and he sets money aside in his long-term savings account.) He barely managed to hit the mark recently, and asked if he could get the extension right now. I decided it was time for a learning moment.

Even children need to learn about waiting to purchase something, and the value of patience, as well as the value of a dollar. Plus, I was curious about what he would say when I asked him this question: “Why do you need it right now?”

His answer was this: “I want to spend the money quickly, before I buy something else!” There’s a book fair coming up at his school, and he was thinking about taking some money to buy some things at the fair. But, by his reasoning, if he had already spent the money on his Lego set, he wouldn’t be tempted — and he wouldn’t be set back another week in his attempts to save up for his desired Lego set.

Making Him Wait

While I don’t want to push my son beyond his ability to endure, I did want to teach him to wait a little bit, for a number of reasons. So we talked about why maybe we should wait a few days before buying the Lego set. Here are some of the reasons we talked about:

  1. Do you really want the Lego set more than some of the little trinkets at the book fair? Take a couple of days to make sure that the Lego set is really your first priority right now. Because once you buy the Lego set, you won’t be able to make any purchases at the book fair. Decide what is most important to you, really, before making the decision.
  2. Maybe you should earn a little more money so that it isn’t completely gone all at once. We talked about the importance of having a buffer. Perhaps spending every last cent all at once isn’t the smartest play here. I have a couple things in my home business that my son usually does to earn extra money, and he’ll have another round of allowance in a few days. Perhaps he should wait until he can create a bit of a buffer so that there is money for other expenses that might come up.

This discussion prompted him to decide to wait until the weekend. “I’ve got school this whole week anyway, so I can think about this for a little bit. But I’ll want to make my decision by the weekend, so I have time to play with my new Legos.” Plus, he’s excited about earning some money for helping me out around the home office.

Talk about Your Child’s Spending Decisions

It’s important to talk to your child about spending decisions if you want him or her to grow up and be thoughtful about money. Teaching your children good money habits goes beyond just encouraging them to save up for what they want, and helping them learn about avoiding debt. You also want them to be conscious spenders, really thinking about how they hope to use their money, and whether or not their decisions match with what they help to accomplish.

When your child prepares to make a spending decision — especially a relatively large one — talk about it. Talk about why he or she wants to spend the money, and why he or she thinks it needs to be spent now. These types of discussions can help your child really think about what to do with money, rather than just mindlessly spend. Even if the spending is related to a long-held goal, it helps to talk through it so your child learns to examine money motivations.

Hopefully, our talk results in him learning about instating a “waiting period” for non-essential purchases, to determine how important they are, as well as the importance of creating a buffer so that one purchase doesn’t completely wipe out all of the funds. And, of course, I hope that my son becomes more thoughtful about his spending choices.

What do you think? How do you talk to your children about their spending decisions?