Kid Money

May 23, 2022

When I was a kid, my parents let me spend my own money.

Where’d that money come from? To be honest, I’m not quite sure. A sizable portion of it probably came from my $5/week allowance, and then birthdays and Chinese New Year added up.

But the rule was that, if it was my money, I could spend it however I wanted to. If I wanted my parents to buy me something, then I had to convince them to pay for it.

This was super useful to me as a child. There were times when I wanted to buy a gadget or a toy that my parents weren’t so sure was a good use of money. But it was my money, so I could spend it however made me happy. And were the things I bought a good use of money? Probably not, from where I stand now. But in the moment, it made me happy. And I learned that your spending money is a finite resource, but that it’s under your own control.

I remember spending most of my money on magic tricks. They’d sell you the parts you needed to construct the trick and a DVD that explained how to do it, for around $30.

There was this strong culture online of not revealing how tricks worked. So when the box arrived, sometimes I’d be underwhelmed with how the tricky actually worked. But I realized that I was more okay with a trick being underwhelming if I had bought it with my own money. Somehow, I wasn’t transferring that risk onto my parents. It was disappointing, sure, but it wasn’t as bad as if I had begged my parents to buy it for me.

I’m not sure whether being allowed to spend my own money as a child taught me things, but I suspect that it did. The idea that I could buy things that I wanted, if I convinced myself that it was a good idea. The idea that buying something means a trade-off of maybe not buying the next thing for a while. And the idea that, sometimes, you spend your money and it doesn’t turn out the way you expected.