No Joy in Mudville: Teaching My Son About Payback Periods

Saving money is no game. And teaching your children the value of money isn’t going to win their appreciation. But it’s still worth the effort.

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.

Stacy Johnson

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