31 August 2013, by Darren Lim
On our trip to Australia this time round, we were faced with a ‘ happy problem’ related to money. My well-meaning mum, wanting to dote on her grandchildren, gave each of them A $100 /- to spend. Not wanting the children to become selfish in only thinking they could get for themselves with the money grandma gave, she added another request: buy her some tea-leaves and appropriate souvenirs for other family members.
We were really quite impressed when we heard of her plans. -It sounded like a good one – the children will learn to think of their loved ones on their holidays (and it’s a nice thing to give gifts anyway, isnt it?) and we could probably keep our own ‘damage’ to a minimum (you get what I mean, don’t you?) So immediately, we promised the children another A$50each, bringing the total to a grand sum of A$150! Boy, were they excited and Jairus even commented, “Wow, I have so much money I can buy the whole of Australia!” (mind you anything more than a hundred at age six is a-plenty!) Even Eve was excited-she was hoping to consolidate Kristen’s mastery of addition and subtraction through concrete life experiences and perhaps introduce the concept of budgeting to the kids.
But alas, all was not as well as we thought it would be. From the very first day, the children were asking us for THEIR money to keep for themselves, and because we have a little one who cannot understand why he doesn’t get to do what ‘jiejie’ and ‘korkor’ get to do (i.e. keep his own money), we decided that they will debit the money they spend from an account we keep. So all was good, no real cash was handled by them but they get to do mental sums of how much money is left (what Eve was looking forward to) and learn to keep individual record of their expenditure.
Then, the REAL issue came from the two older ones who started to complain and regret the things they had bought (which were purchased against our advice of course). Kristen totally regretted the fashion doodle book she bought that she asked us to help her erase the pencil markings she made in the book so as to resell at a cheaper price to recoup her loss. She was very concerned that she wouldn’t have enough to buy her friends souvenirs and the tea leaves her grandmother asked for. She was feeling so STRESSED about it! It came to a point that each time she talked about money, there would be tears in her eyes. That was when we decided that the hope of learning to budget and doing mental maths, and living with the consequence of your decision (especially when they were made against the advice of your loving parents) would have to stop.
We announced that their accounts would go into ‘receivership’ and their money woes disappear as they no longer had to worry about not having enough to buy souvenirs for themselves or their loved ones. Decisions from then on were made by us. This helped as they did not have to worry if it exceeds their initial budget of A$150! I could see the relief in Kristen’s eyes. With tears in her eyes she said, “Ok I will ask you first if it’s ok to buy the things I want to and if you say no I will not insist my way!” That was a great lesson for her.
Some of you might feel this was such a wasted opportunity – teaching them the value of money, budgeting and letting our children learn and live with the consequence of their mistakes. Well, Eve and I debated over this and we came to a conclusion — there is a time for everything and for now, our children are obviously not ready for this life lesson. The stakes were too high. Furthermore, this was also a once-off trip to Australia (for a long time to come) and there shouldn’t be any regrets to bring home but wonderful memories of our time there.
Such life lessons can and will come later, but for now we are happy for them to bask in the security of not having to worry of not being able to get something they truly desire, especially when it’s for someone else. I hope that they will look back and know that mummy and daddy had their best interests at heart.