Children often assume money just seeps from their parents’ or grandparents’ wallet or purse with unbridled enthusiasm, no end in sight, a constant flow of cash to be spent on any whim.  It can be a rude awakening for kids to learn this is not the case, that money needs to come from somewhere, usually as a result of many hours spent working. 

At the beginning of the school year my son expressed interest in joining the school band.  Wanting to encourage him we talked about why he wanted to join, discussed the cost of purchasing an instrument (and all the necessary accessories) and looked into the school band fees per term.  We also discussed where we could store a largish instrument (and its accessories) in my son’s already overcrowded bedroom. 

“I think the way we make space for a bass guitar (his chosen instrument) is the same way we help to pay for it,” I suggested to my nine year old.  Keen to introduce an understanding of money and expenses to my son at an early age we’ve usually been quite open about the costs of things.  A new bass guitar and amp was going to cost over $600 (money we didn’t really have to spend) and up to $150 per term in lesson fees.  It was going to be over $1000 across the year.

There was an option of hiring a bass guitar, amp and carry bag which we carefully considered, but to hire them would have been over $400 per year.  While rental outlay was viable with a monthly payment plan spread across the year and less outgoings in total, it also ruled out owning the equipment outright which could be kept beyond the year and potentially sold if no longer in use.  We decided it was a better investment to purchase the items even though there was a risk the passion might last 12 months.

I have childhood memories of avoiding asking my parents if I could play an instrument when the option was presented at primary school.  I didn’t want to stress them about having to find a way to pay for it, so I didn’t even ask.  On reflection, I’m sure they would have been very supportive and found a way to make it happen. I guess I’ll never know.  I did know I didn’t want my son to miss out on something he’d expressed interest in, and I certainly didn’t want money to be the reason we said no.  Learning an instrument is excellent for brain development, coordination, discipline and teaches collaboration and team work, so it was something we wanted to encourage for our son.  We just had to find a way to fund this new hobby.  I also wanted my son to really think about why he wanted to play bass and ensure it wasn’t just a spur of the moment decision likely to be abandoned at the first sign of hard work.  I wanted him to appreciate the commitment it required. 

“How about we sell some of your old Lego?” I suggested.   The suggestion of giving up some of his toys, I hoped, might elevate his commitment.  He would be involved in raising funds and making a sacrifice to make it a reality.  We didn’t want him changing his mind two months down the track and saying he was over it.  He needed to be invested in this new venture.  Even better if he was a financial investor too.  

For about four years my son was obsessed with Lego and was his primary gift request from family and friends.  He plays with his Lego much less these days.  He reached Lego saturation point with so many sets he didn’t know which to choose, so often didn’t bother.  When he did play with Lego, I observed it was usually building from random bits and pieces rather than rebuilding sets he had.  The joy was in the invention and creativity for him, not in the following of instructions (I know how he feels!). The picking up after a creative afternoon building had put him off a bit too.  So many boxes to search through to find ‘the right piece.’  I wanted to find a way to reinvigorate his enthusiasm for Lego while culling his collection considerably.  We could make some space, and hopefully a few bucks along the way to fund a new interest. The plan was to reduce his Lego down to once large tub he could easily sort through and two smaller containers with figurines and accessories. 

To involve my son in raising funds for this venture we held a ‘Mum and Dad’ garage sale, where my son laid out all his books and toys he didn’t use or play with anymore, and my husband and I offered money for each item.  We handed over cold hard cash, on the condition it would be put toward the bass guitar.  We did a bit of bartering here and there and some negotiation, but by the end of it Flynn had earned $100 in cash for items he was happy to sell.   We gave Flynn the cash and he put it aside for his bass guitar.  He was now actively involved in saving for this new instrument and a committed investor.  

A valuable lesson was gained in understanding the depreciation of second hand items, weighing up sentimental value with cash value, introducing the concept of bartering and the concept of saving toward something we desire.  All in all it was a great financial literacy experience!

I bundled away all the items I had ‘bought’ from my son and listed some book sets and cheaper items on an online Marketplace.  In some cases I made more money than my son had sold them to me for, and some items that didn’t sell in a few weeks were donated to charity. 

The end goal was to make at least (if not more than) what we had paid Flynn in cash.  The big ticket Lego sets which still had boxes were given to his Nanna to sell on eBay via her established and highly rated eBay account.  Nanna Bear as she is affectionally known, was excited to help raise funds for Flynn’s new bass.  We now had our son and his grandmother as active participants in the fundraiser. 

The end result after a month was space for a new passion (and its equipment) in my son’s room as well as a rekindled love for one of his favourite pastimes of building Lego, but without the overwhelm.  As well as a some cash to put toward the purchase.  Since Flynn has started his music lessons at school, his dad has pulled out his old dusty bass guitar from the garage and the two of them now often have bonding jamming sessions together.  As we begin a second term of music lessons at school, Flynn still appears enthusiastic about playing his chosen instrument and can even play a couple of songs and read tablature.  We are very happy to have invested in our son’s growth and development and supported his learning and passion for music. 

As parents we want to shield our kids from money stress.   But we can still involve them in financial decisions and help them to understand the cost of things, how to value what we do have and to appreciate that for most of us, money doesn’t come from nothing.  Learning about how to set savings goals (along with guidance around how to achieve them) is a valuable life skills kids need to experience to fully appreciate.  Teaching kids a basic understanding of money early on will help them to grow up with a healthy money mindset.  Get started with setting up each of your children with their very own savings account.  Consider the Australian Mutual Bank Young Saver for an account with zero fees and a competitive, tiered interest rate to encourage the growth of savings. 

Alison Gallagher is a freelance writer, resourcefulness expert and entrepreneur.  She has been featured in various publications including Stellar Magazine, Australian Health and Fitness Magazine, and Cleo Magazine. Alison is particularly passionate about sharing practical tips on how to live simply, sustainably and seasonally.  



02 May 2024