Thursday, October 4, 2012

Money Matters

This last week, Raghav has been setting up shops at home all the time! He sets up his shop on the bed, with the pillows around him as walls, displays hand-picked toys and odds and ends from his own collection. Sometimes, he takes the trouble of writing down the prices of each item and sticking them on the respective thing, while most times, he just arranges them all around the bed and asks me to come and buy stuff from him (all the prices in his head!). We have some pretend money that I got from Jodogyan, that we use to play shop. I would take some arbitrary amount, choose what I wanted to buy, and give him some money. He would quite quickly, do all the calculations in his head, and give me back the change! I don't know how, where and when he learned that.

The stuff that he would sell would range from a Lego that he has built (which would usually be very expensive!), to a game or board game of his, to a sketch pen or something else that he has made. One thing that I noticed in the many times that he set up shop was that he would always say that if I bought something, something else would be free. This puzzled me and I asked him why he usually had something free to give away.

Here is an audio recording of our conversation one afternoon (after I had finished buying from his shop) that brings forth Raghav's own ideas on money, economy, the government's role, consumerism and greed.

He talks about how shopkeepers make some things in the shop expensive and why, that they should give things free to people who buy in the shop, how one person's greed is linked to another person's need and how the cycle continues, how it can be stopped and so on. It was an amazing lesson in economics and living for me!

I stopped and thought long and hard about where and how he could have learned all this stuff and I failed to figure it out. He stumped me!

What I could recollect about shopping with him when he was younger were frequent meltdowns, insisting for a toy or something to be bought, especially when his father or grandmother were with him, refusing to go shopping with us most times (this is something that he does not really like even today) except if it was for Lego and difficulties in waiting endlessly at the billing counter.

Sometimes he would insist on us buying something which was quite "expensive" and we would have a hard time explaining the "worth / value" of the thing he had chosen for the "price"and so on, because he needed an explanation that could satisfy him, in a language that he would understand, and the ones that books usually dole out so generously, never worked! Parenting is real hard work for the neurons!

I often worried about this scene that he would create every time, and wondered if it would become a habit that would be hard to break. I often chided my husband for giving in to his whims and fancies without a thought. While I understood the space from where he was coming from - he had hardly any toys as a kid and money was constantly rationed out for everything - it was hard for me to let go of this. We talked and argued a lot about this and tried different things. I realised then how much our childhood plays a part in the way we bring up our children.....our dreams, our fears, our thoughts and actions can so often be on "automatic" mode, as we breeze through life - instead of being aware and introspective.

I knew that I had to get Raghav to experience it for himself to understand the value of money.  I remember how I talked to Raghav one day before he went to the shop with his father. We decided on a sum of money and I gave it to him in a purse. We decided that he could buy something only if it was within that amount, and that he could ask the shopkeeper for help (I knew that he would take the words of the shopkeeper more than his dad on this) if he needed. In the shop, he looked at a number of toys that he wanted, and every time he took it to the billing counter and asked the person there if he could buy it with the money he had. When he was told that it cost more and that he couldn't, he put this one back and picked up another toy. He did this for all the things that he could think of getting - every one of them! Finally, he started crying in frustration that he could not get anything and even asked the shopkeeper if he could get it free! When the shopkeeper said "no", he knew that there was nothing that he could get for the money that he had.

After that, for a long time, he would refuse to come shopping, saying that he would feel like buying something if he came, and so would rather stay away! So he only went shopping for Lego.

Once during Christmas, we were at a mall when someone dressed up as Santa in a shop, gave him a small piggy bank as a gift! He has treasured that till today and saves all the coins that we give him in that. That was how and when he learned the denominations of money - all on his own.

Last year, just before Diwali, I was asking him if we could give away some of his old toys and books to charity - things that he was not using. I told him the story of one of the lady security guards in our building (whose husband deserted her) - that she had two daughters and that they could not afford to buy books and toys. We then had a discussion on poor and rich, how we get money and so on. He refused to part with any of his own stuff. I was a little sad, but just kept quiet and did not broach the topic at all. A few days later, he came up to me and said : "Amma, anyway for Diwali, we don't buy and burst any why don't we use that money to buy something new for those two akkas you were talking about?" I had tears in my eyes when I heard that. That was some solid lesson in charity that I learned from my son. He thought that one should give others new things, not give away old stuff. Another perspective from a child's point of view. Perhaps he felt that if he was in their place, he would like something new, not old! I don't know what really went on in his mind. But this is something that he has said time and again when we talk of giving away old stuff. Now, those two kids have a special place in his heart. He likes them. Ever since then, he makes it a point to give them cake for his birthday and call them home for our Golu, and they always come.

Today, Raghav's needs are very very few. The only thing that he asks for us to buy him is Lego and I have to thank my husband for pointing this out to me. He is the one who makes money available when Raghav needs it and has always said: "We don't spend money on anything else for him like school or a class or something else. Why don't we think of buying Lego for him as something that he needs or something like school or a class?"

So, as a family, we give money the respect it is due - nothing more and nothing less. Today, we have enough to satisfy his needs. We don't think too much about spending it on Lego for him, because that is his passion and we are so glad that he and we have discovered his passion so early in life! Yes, we do save a little, but we don't cringe to spend today, thinking about tomorrow. We have a good time when we can and try our best to live in the moment.

For to us, it is not indulgence but rather, a celebration of living one's passion!


  1. Exactly my thoughts and insights with my children...well written..thank you..

  2. Thanks for your thoughts Dola! I have so much to talk to you guys about when we meet!


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