Costco also introduced me to my own avid consumerism. In no other place was there such an abundance of new, shiny, exciting stuff. Big or small, I wanted it all. I can remember many conversations that went something like this:
My Dad: We don’t have any trees in our yard. Where would we hang a tire swing?
Me: Maybe from the ceiling? In the family room?
My Dad: That wouldn’t work. And I don’t think you mom would like it.
My Mom: No, I wouldn’t like it.
Me: Why not? It would be fun.
My Dad: It wouldn’t be safe. And we don’t need it. If you want to swing, we’ll take you and your brothers to the park.
Me: Okay. Can we buy a tent? Wouldn’t it be fun to go camping at the park?
My Dad: Camping isn’t allowed at that park.
My Mom: I don’t like bugs.
Me: Oh. What about a trampoline?
And so it continued. Me, begging with my parents for one unnecessary item after another and formulating hare-brained justifications for these purchases. My parents, countering my pleas with common sense and responsible answers that usually involved the word, “No.” In hindsight, I realize that I must have been quite a handful as a child.
Soon thereafter, my parents implemented a rule: if I wanted to buy something, it had to be with my own money. My “own” money was earned by doing chores around the house and given as an allowance. If I didn’t do the chores (which was not an option), I didn’t get my allowance. It amounted to $2/week at age seven. By the time I was 12, my allowance had increased to $5/week. Many of my peers were given a weekly allowance equal to their age. I’m uncertain why my parents settled on the lower amount. Perhaps money was tight in our household, although it didn't often feel that way. Or perhaps my parents just thought the lower amount was sufficient. In either case, having such a modest allowance taught me the value of a dollar. This was especially important since I was showing signs of an acquisitive personality at a young age.
By giving me a $2/week allowance, my parents forced me to do three things: budget, save, and prioritize. Even in the early 1990s, you couldn’t buy much with $2. Therefore I had to decide how I wanted to spend my money, and then save until I had enough stashed in my piggy bank (I think it was actually a Hello Kitty bank, but you get the idea). I quickly learned that I couldn’t have everything my heart desired, so I would have to choose one or two things that I really wanted.
I also learned the terrible feeling of being in debt. Generally, my brothers and I were discouraged from spending if we didn’t have any allowance left. There were a few exceptions, including times when we wanted to do something with friends or attend a birthday party (we paid for gifts out of our allowance). If I needed, my mom would let us borrow from the “Bank of Mom.” It was always interest-free (wouldn’t it be nice if real banks were this way?), but she kept a running tally of how much was owed. That tally hung on the refrigerator, so that I could never forget. Having the debt so visibly displayed was enough to guilt me into paying back the loan as soon as possible.
Twenty years later, I still like stuff. I’d be lying if I denied it. But I think that, by giving me an allowance, my parents instilled money management skills at a young enough age that I’m now aware of my tendency to spend, and can limit myself before I get out of hand.
Did you have an allowance as a child? If you have children of your own (or plan to), will you give them an allowance?