Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tic tacs

Matthew's favorite thing to buy is tic tacs.

Rachel was a little outraged at the single box surcharge, so she got a four-pack and sold them to Matthew individually for the cheaper bulk cost.  It's about $3 for the four-pack, over 30% off the price if you bought them singly.

I applaud the frugality that prompted this, but I had slightly mixed feelings about it at first.  Mostly because as soon as he gets his allowance he spends most of it on another box of tic tacs.  He bought all of Rachel's initial four-pack and another that I picked up.  That's six weeks of allowance at a dollar a week.  (Currently we are out of tic tacs, and he is out of savings.  Call it a draw.)

The more I think about it, though, the less I'm worried that we're teaching him to go for instant gratification instead of saving.  Mostly because I remember back to when I was five.

Back then I got fifty cents a week as allowance.  I remember because it took me two weeks to save enough to buy a seventy-five cent soda at a convenience store a few blocks from our house.  (I'm pretty vague on the actual distance.  To a five year old it was a long ways but it was almost certainly under a mile.)  I did this with a significant portion of my allowance; the only other purchase I remember from that time period was a pair of vice grips.  I don't remember whether that pre- or post-dated the discovery of the orange sodas.

Here's the thing, though.  I didn't even particularly like the soda.  But I kept buying it!  Crazy!

This illustrates a couple relevant points, and one irrelevant (?) one:
  1. To a five year old, two weeks is forever.  There was no point in saving longer than that because a five year old is just completely unable to focus on events past that time horizon.  A soda was the best option available for less than a dollar, so that's what I bought.
  2. The main reason I kept buying the soda was I was in charge.  My mom took the attitude that if I bought it with my own money I could do with it as I would.  Sugar was otherwise controlled with an iron fist but that soda was mine.
  3. I've always been absolutely terrified of new situations.  To the point where I couldn't function sometimes, when I was younger.  (Another story: in fourth grade, thanks to my dad's tutoring, I was put in the "accelerated" program with sixth graders, studying 8th grade math.  The teacher told my father that for the first couple days I was so flustered I couldn't have counted my toes.)  Even though I knew I didn't really like the orange flavor I still got that instead of trying a different one.
  4. Eventually, I did save up for the vice grips.  Probably when I was a little older.
For Matthew I hope point 3 is not a factor.  But I definitely see #2 playing a part; he loves being In Charge of his tic tacs.  (He's very generous sharing them with his sister and friends, too.  I think this is why tic tacs are so attractive: there are a lot of them in a box.  Certainly more than twenty, which is as high as he can reliably count.)  And I think #1 does as well.  And when his time horizon lengthens enough, he'll find something he likes more than tic tacs and save up for it.

No comments: