How do you get your kids to understand the difference between wants vs. needs? Some things we need like food, shelter and clothing. Some things we want like filet mignon, a pool house and a Neiman Marcus credit card.
I understand the difficulty kids have in processing the idea that money isn't readily available anytime we want something. After all, they see us whip out our credit cards and swipe it through a machine at every store. What kid wouldn't think we could just use the credit card to buy whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted? In the eyes of a child it seems so simple; have credit card, buy things.
I remember as a kid asking my mom for a toy or something that I really wanted and she said no. As I continued to press her about said toy she told me she didn't have any money to pay for it. I said, "just write a check!" as if money magically appeared from the mere act of writing a dollar amount in the little window.
When we moved into our house I bought a new dining room table. It was a 48" round wrought iron beauty with a glass top. I loved the scroll design legs and table base and it fit perfectly in our kitchen area. We didn't have any kids yet so little did I know that my glass top table would become the bane of my existence. Fast forward three years to two kids, lots of smudgy fingerprints and gallons of Windex. I came to loathe the table and all of its glassiness that was impossible to keep clean. I wanted a new table and I wanted it bad.
The problem was that I didn't need a new table. The table we had was in perfect condition. I hated trying to keep it clean, yes, but it technically was still usable and I couldn't justify spending money on a new table when we had other household expenses that required our funds. I wanted a new table but I didn't need one. How to solve the dilemma?
I told my husband that I would like to buy a new table, but I would use the money I earned from selling the kids' outgrown toys and clothes at a twice yearly Mom2Mom sale. Each sale only netted a couple hundred bucks, but at least it was a start. I also sold a few things here and there on Ebay so little by little my table fund got bigger. Saving for a new table enabled me to choose the table I wanted without any input from the peanut gallery. I perused catalogs, showrooms and even consignment shops. I searched high and low for the perfect fit.
Fast forward four years. Yes, it has taken me four very long years to save for my new table, but my perfect table ended up costing more than I anticipated. Instead of settling for a mediocre table that cost less, I continued to save for the table of my dreams. I finally reached my goal when I sold my current table on Craig's list. I ordered my new table and breathed a sigh of relief.
I can't express how much I love my new table and chairs. The chairs' scalloped details and contoured ladder backs are exactly what I was looking for. The 48" round chestnut-colored pedestal table is just right. But, I'm not sure what I love more. The actual table or what it represents.
When the boys asked me over the years why I didn't just go out and buy a new table, I explained the whole wants vs. needs concept to them. We've had the same conversation many times. When I say no after they ask me for something they want, but don't really need, I remind them of how I had to save my hard-earned money for my new table. After many whimpers and moans and "but I really, really need it!" I ask my kids to figure out how to pay for what they want, like I did. I can always use a hand cleaning and taking out the trash. Sometimes the need wasn't so monumental after all. But, if the need was monumental enough to help me dust or scrub a toilet to earn a few bucks, it must be pretty special.
After all, the treasures we buy from our own hard-earned money usually turn out to be the things we love the most.