Going through some old stuff the other day, I came across a stack of savings bonds. Every Christmas and Birthday, my Grandparents (children of the great depression), would give their grandchildren a savings bond. These bonds varied in amount, but usually had a maturity value in the neighborhood of $100. Being an ungrateful little punk that I was, I would usually open the card and quickly discard the savings bond to get to the “allowance” of $50 that was also usually included. Not wanting them to cut off the allowance portion though, I would often suck-up and say something like, “thanks so much for the money Grandma and Grandpa. That savings bond is awesome too and will really come in handy when I’m 82 years old like you.” I probably didn’t say that last part, but I was definitely thinking it or something along the lines of, “if I cashed in the bond today, what would it be worth?” Thankfully, my parents kept the savings bonds for me until I matured along with the bonds and was responsible enough to care for them.
Today, I have a stack of bonds that matured at a rate of around 4% over 20 to 30 years. The total amount isn’t enough to buy a house or a car, but it could buy a really nice bike. Other than the memory of getting the cash, my allowance money was converted into toys or stuff that have long been gone and forgotten. Admittedly, I can’t remember one single thing I purchased with the allowance money. Knowing my grandparents loved me is the most valuable gift today.
As a parent, I really want to teach my children the value of delayed versus immediate gratification. To me, I am happiest when I’ve worked for something or feel as though I earned it. This can be such a challenge as kids are born to live for the moment (usually a good thing) and they hold interrogation skills that would break down Jason Bourne in minutes. Think you’re tough? Try walking through Target with E and Lil D and see if you can leave with less than $20 of crap in your cart. Kids want everything right now and if you don’t comply, they can easily rip out your soul – I’m living proof as I no longer have a soul.
To get through Target and leave with just the Annie’s Snack Mix or Pacifiers we came for, I fight the immediate gratification kung fu of my children with my own delayed gratification jiu jitsu. This jiu jitsu consists of me constantly repeating my Target mantra of “they don’t need this, they don’t need this, they don’t need this.” It works perfectly by royally pissing off my kids where one of them will go nuclear in the middle of the toy section. Double unfortunately, the mantra works on my wife and I too and whatever we wanted to buy, we become convinced we don’t need it and our trip to the store is a waste. Going to Target is great.
I never take my kids to the store without Jenny. One, because the thought of going shopping alone with my kids gives me night tremors. Two, because I hate having to tell my kids (and my wife) no. Three, because having to navigate Target, Costco, or any store requires a sense of direction I don’t have. Overall, even when I find something I want, shopping leaves me feeling worse than when I came. Similar to the allowance versus saving bonds, immediate gratification just doesn’t do it for me.
In an effort to pass along the experience of delayed versus immediate gratification, Jenny and I have begun giving silver coins for kid’s birthday presents (savings bonds are worth crap at today’s microscopic interest rates). The coins are cool because you still get to give something somewhat immediate as the shiny silver looks neat. It was really hard to decide not to give traditional presents anymore (toys, clothes, etc.) as we didn’t want to feel like weirdos or extoll our belief system on someone else. However, after we started giving the coins, we’ve had numerous groups of parents say things like, “thanks so much for not giving my son or daughter another toy they don’t need.” Maybe they are just being nice, but we know our kids have too much of everything, so why not stop the proverbial bleeding elsewhere.
For Christmas, Jenny and I have never given a present or toy for our kids (though they each get one present from Santa). Mainly, because they are spoiled by their grandparents and other family, but also because our children were still a little too young to understand the over-the-top gift giving of the holidays. However, things are changing with our 4 year old (she’s getting wiser to our thriftiness) and I worry that a 3-page Santa wish list is on the horizon.
I don’t like the idea of upsetting my daughter, but I feel relatively confident that excessive gift giving doesn’t lead to a happier childhood. With that said, I also don’t want her to not feel loved or appreciated. My childhood was filled with loads of presents (maybe too many Mom) and it was a childhood I’m grateful to have received. We all want our children to have enough, but what do we do when the battle of “wanting” versus “needing” has long been fought as your child doesn’t lack the bare necessities of food, shelter, and clothes. What’s the line not to cross? Therein lies the problem, there is no universally accepted and scientific answer such as, “$100 of gifts every year from age 4 to 12 years old plus inflationary considerations equals the optimal level of childhood happiness.” Like everything else in parenting, it seems as though decisions are all based on what is right for your child at the current time. What’s right for my family, might not be right for your kids and family.
For my family, we have adopted a family in need and are trying to show my daughter that she is getting less presents (because she has a lot already) so others can have a fuller holiday. This is really the only answer I have come to; showing my kids how fortunate we are and teaching them the benefits of hard work and goal setting to obtain longer term and more significant gratification. Like every Dad, I think my kids are smart, but holding a goal setting exercise with my 4 and 1 year old sounds more pointless than a trip to Target. As such, I don’t think this is a lesson they will learn over one Christmas season. I guess this is something to work on over the next days, months, and years of their life. Ugh, why isn’t parenting easier!? Where’s Siri to the rescue when you need her? Oh, hmmm…Oh wait…Damn. I came to pass along the power of delayed gratification to my kids, but it looks like it was me who wanted instant gratification all along. Funny how that works.
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Photo is of our 2017 Christmas Tree with no presents currently underneath