Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Penny Saved...

Yesterday I finally took the boys to Target so they could buy the Pokemon cards they've been begging for. They carefully counted out their 'spending' money and filled their pockets with one-dollar bills and quarters.

When we got there, Kevin discovered that he was two dollars short of what he needed. They knew before they left the house that the cards would cost them $10 plus tax. Chris brought $11, and Kevin only brought $9.

When Kevin realized that he didn't have enough money to buy a set of cards for himself, his face fell. He gave me that 'expectant' look, hoping that I would bail him out and pay the rest. I asked if he had another two dollars in his spending jar at home with the intent of loaning him the money until we got back home. He didn't because he had made a choice on the last 'payday' to put more of his money into savings that the amount we required him to save. We praised him at the time for his willingness to save for the future. But that meant he didn't have enough for this purchase.

So I told him that he wouldn't be able to buy the cards. He sniffled a little and looked sad, but he handled it pretty well.

I almost told him that he could take two dollars back out of savings to pay for the cards. And it would be so easy for me to just give him two dollars and let him have what he wanted right now. Sammi was with us, and I could see she was biting her lip because she wanted to help, too. But we knew that if we let him have something he couldn't afford this time that it would be one more lesson that could have dangerous repercussions later in life. Even though the money was in his savings jar, he needed to learn that it was important to maintain those savings for the bigger things he wanted to have later.

It's sad to look around America today and see so many people who haven't learned this lesson. We use charge cards or buy big things with 'no payments due until 2010' despite the fact that we don't have the money right now. But what does that matter? I can easily pay it off at $50/month! We spend our money on things we want right now, bigger cars, cable tv, nice clothes because they are 'on sale', or big gifts for others, but in the process we run out of the means to pay for the very basic things we need. And when tragedy comes (and it will) in the form of lost jobs, illness, expensive car repairs, or natural disaster, we don't have any money saved to provide shelter and food for our families because we chose near-term pleasure.

I know that I am prone to buy beyond our means. It is hard for me to go into a Target store and not come home with a cartful of great things -- things that are definitely useful but not necessary. The same thing happens in the grocery store -- as I've reported before, if I don't have a list and a limited amount of cash, I'll buy all kinds of great and interesting foods. Through many sessions of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University, we're continuing to learn how to manage the money God provides for us, but it's not easy. We have to set aside cash each month for specific things, food, household goods, doctors visits, entertainment, etc., and when the cash is gone (even if it's the third day of the month), our spending in that category has to stop. Even if there is a big sale!

I really hate discipline. I don't like to exercise, I want to eat whatever sounds good, and daily chores are a bore. But I have to admit, there is an amazing peace in knowing that we are prepared for a variety of 'emergencies' like car problems and that we can enjoy a vacation that is paid for because we've saved in advance!

I hope Kevin will be able to have that peace as an adult, too. He may never remember having to wait two weeks for a pack of Pokemon cards, but I hope he gains a sense of pride from being able to pay for it in full all by himself. And someday, when he uses that saved money for a large purchase like a bike or even a car, he will know that he is capable of having what he wants free and clear as long as he plans ahead and works for it!

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