30 Minute Standoff at Walmart

Lego ChimaI took the kids today to Walmart so that I could get a fishing license for this weekend.  As we were walking in, my youngest son asks me if he could get a toy.  I give him my usual answer – “You can do whatever you would like with your money.”  My hope is that his greed for money will deter him from making foolish purchases.  This worked very well for my older son, Caleb.  Andrew has not yet developed any propensity for money.  He only likes what you can trade in money for.

In the Federal Way Walmart, the fishing license station is strategically located right next to the Lego aisles.  Legos are Andrew’s weakness.  His eyes went wide as he started looking up and down the aisles.  

Getting a fishing license seemed to take forever as the clerk asked me question after question about licensing options.  Meanwhile, I could see Andrew drooling as he paced up and down the Lego aisles.  He finally comes up to me and tells me that he found what wanted.  It was a $60 Lego set of what looked like Ninjas and a castle that shot out cannonballs.  I finish up my fishing license transaction and went over to see the Lego set.  He proudly shows it to me and starts exclaiming, “I have the money!  I have $600 in the bank!”  A line had formed at the wildlife licensing station, and Andrew and his poor father were the only entertainment available to those waiting in line.

I started to whisper, “How do you earn money, Andrew?”

“I do chores!”  He exclaimed.  “I have the money!”

“How much do you get paid for a chore?”

“$1!”  Andrew replied.  Caleb who is nearby corrected him, “1 School Dollar.”

I am not completely privy to my wife’s monetary/economic system she has developed around chores, so I continue to inquire… “How many school dollars equal 1 real dollar?”

“10!”  Andrew replied….

‘Great!’ I thought, ‘This should be an easy argument… ‘   “So, how many chores do you need to do buy this Lego set?”

It took some calculation, but he finally got the number.  “600!” He exclaimed proudly.

“Do you think this Lego set is worth doing 600 chores?”  I ask.

“I’ve got the money!  And I can get money in other ways like Birthdays and New Year’s!”

This was not going in the direction I was hoping for…  People in line are trying not to look, but they are smirking… ‘What are you going to do now, Dad?’

I’m torn because I want him to know that he can do what he wants with his money, but I also want to help him develop restraint… At the end of the day, whatever he decides to do with his money is going to be his choice.  There’s a part of me that thinks that I should just let him buy it.  Then, I should bring him every day to Walmart and let him spend all of his money or until he gets tired of buying Legos.  Kinda like making him smoke an entire pack of cigarettes.    As I’m thinking this through, he pulls on the Lego box and finds that it’s chained to the shelf.  “Whew!”  I think.

“Dad, the box is stuck to the shelf!”

“Well, I think you have to ask the clerk to unlock it for you.  You probably need to get to the end of the line.”

A man near the front of the line overhears our conversation and offers to let us go ahead of him to get this taken care of.

“No thanks.  I think I’d prefer we wait at the end of the line so that he has a chance to think about how he’s going to spend his money.”  I smile politely and decline.  ‘You’re not helping me, buddy.’

As Andrew continues pulling on the box to try and see if he can self-unlock, I try another approach.  “Do you know what the purpose of Walmart is?”

“To sell thing,” he replies.

“That’s right.  It wants you to look at all this fun stuff, so that you will give them your money.”  Then I started describing the packaging, and why the packaging looks much more fun than the toy is likely to be.

“Well, Walmart wants me to have fun, too!”  He protests.

“They don’t care if you have fun or not.  They care that they get your money.  If you went home and threw away your $60 Lego set, they would not be sad.  They want your money.  They want you to come here every day, until you run out of money.” 

He thought about this for a moment.  Then, he let go of the $60 Lego set, and chose a $14 Lego set.  ‘Whew… the stakes just got a lot smaller… ‘  “Andrew, It doesn’t matter to me which one you get.  I’m not going to stop you.  You can get the big if you want.  You can come here every day and buy a Lego set if you want.”

“No, I’ll take this smaller one.  It’s not as expensive.”

Still trying to talk him out of it, I continued, “Well, something that Caleb and I always did was we practiced waiting one week before buying anything.  If there is something you see that you want, I would ask Caleb to try waiting one week and see if he still wanted it.  Usually he didn’t, and he was glad he kept his money.”  I reminded him of his last toy that he bought.  It was a Hot Wheels set that his grandma bought for him a few weeks ago.  It is now in multiple pieces littered around the house.  It hasn’t been played with after day 2. 

He looked at the Lego set in his hand (the smaller lego sets were unfortunately not chained down), then put it back on the shelf.  Success! 

Then, he picked up an even smaller Lego set.  It was $9.  “I want this one.”

We’ve been talking for about 25 minutes at this point.  “Ok, “ I relented.  “Let’s go pay for it.”  I have until here to the check out counter to dissuade him. 

During that 50 meter walk to the checkout counter, I gave it my last attempt.  “Are you sure you don’t want to wait 1 week?” 

“Yes.  I want it now.” 

We got to the checkout counter.   “Do you know why all of these candies, sodas, and magazines are right here next to the checkout counter?”

“Because they’re yummy!”  Andrew replied.

“That’s exactly right.  It’s for people that can’t control themselves.  Right before they’re about to checkout, they can’t control themselves and they start picking up all this yummy food.  It’s called impulse buying.  People who can’t control themselves eventually become poor because they buy everything that they see and want.  Do you want to be rich or poor?”

“Rich…”

“Then, you might consider waiting one week and see if you really want that toy.”

“But, you won’t have time to bring me to Walmart.  We never come to Walmart!”  An objection!  Must overcome objection!

“I promise I will come to Walmart if you are still thinking about this toy next week.  OR, I am happy to order it on Amazon.  We’ve done that together before.”

He looked at his Lego for what seemed like 30 seconds.   The gears in his mind churning.  “Ok,  I’ll come back next week.”  [YES!!!!]

I keep my poker face on,  “You’re more than welcome to buy this toy right now… as well as anything else you want.  It’s your money… I just don’t want you to be poor…  but, it’s your choice… “

He was already walking back to the Lego aisle.  “No, I’ll get it next week.”

There’s hope for him yet.   And hope for me.  I know I took the time to have important discussions with Caleb.  Not so much with Andrew.  Part of it is his personality.  Part of it is me.  In my mind, I probably think I’ve already had these conversations… but if I stop to think about it, I really haven’t with Andrew.  I normally go with the classic “Because Daddy said so” or more likely I don’t even offer any explanation for why he can or can’t do something.  This was a rare moment where I felt like I actually took the time to convince him of a good life principle.  I know I need to do more.  Jotted down the story as a reminder to myself.

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