No Joy in Mudville: Teaching My Son About Payback Periods

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The other day, my 14-year-old son Matthew was really trying to sell me on his wish for a PlayStation 3 video game console this Christmas. Never mind that he owns an Xbox system that’s in perfect working order – because he got that as a gift from us last Christmas.

After paying almost $300 for an Xbox last year, I struggled to see the logic in his request for a brand-new PlayStation 3.

“OK, son, help me out here. How much are PlayStations going for these days?”

“About $250.”

“Two-fifty, eh? And why should we shell out all that money for a new PlayStation 3 this Christmas when you already have a perfectly good Xbox?”

“Because with a PlayStation I can play games online with my friends for free!”

“So how much does it cost to play online with your Xbox?”

“About $50 per year.”

Uh-huh.

Talk about a teachable moment, folks! And this was one of those money lessons for kids that couldn’t have been served up any better. My son just tossed me the equivalent of a personal-finance fastball – right down the middle of the plate – and I was going to hit it out of the park!

“So tell me again, son – why should I spend $250 on a new PlayStation?”

“Because online gaming is free with the PlayStation, but it costs $50 per year for an Xbox.”

“But why would I pay $250 just to get free online gaming with a PlayStation, when I can pay $50 for the same service with the Xbox?”

“But, Dad, it’s $50 per year.”

“So? Assuming the price stays $50 per year, the Xbox is still the smart choice here, son. Think about it: It would take me five years to recoup my ‘investment’ if I bought a PlayStation.”

I thought about explaining to Matthew how it would take even longer than that if we also consider the time-value of money, but after having already smacked the pitch deep into the left-field bleachers, I was on the last leg of my home run trot and didn’t want to risk stumbling around third base.

The funny thing is, as I crossed the plate and stepped into the dugout, I didn’t quite get the greeting I had hoped for. No cheers or high-fives for dear old Dad. Nope. Not even a friendly pat on the bum.

Instead, I felt like I was in Mudville – and yours truly had just struck out.

In fact, my son seemed rather annoyed that I was even able to make my point. “I guess you’re right,” is all he mumbled. And none too convincingly, I might add.

Then he went back into his bedroom. Presumably to play his Xbox.

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