In 1989, Nintendo released the first Game Boy.
Why is this important? Because six years later, my brother and I, at the tender ages of 10 and 5, decided that we desperately needed one.
I can’t even remember why anymore. But there is a vague memory of standing in a Cash Converters, pleading and begging with my Mum to try to convince her that we deserved to get that used, green, Game Boy Pocket. (We didn’t mind that it was used, we just wanted it! Apparently raggedly rich was the way to go for me, from the very beginning.)
Every kid goes through it – there’s something super cool out there that catches your eye, and your mind is consumed with how you’ll be able to finagle one into your hands. Be it Pokemon cards, Pogo’s, Tamagotchi’s, or jumping beans, the knick-knacks they have available for children are everywhere. I’d venture to say they’re even more prevalent now than they were before, with the evolution of ads, the internet, and product placement in the media.
My Mum caved, but she did so in the best way possible – she gave us an instalment loan, and made us stick to the payment schedule.
For something like two months, we did work around the house every Saturday and in turn took $5 off the loan each week. I remember sitting down in my room with her and a calendar, as she explained how many weeks it would take for us to pay off the Game Boy, and asked if we were really sure that the Game Boy was what we wanted to put so much time and effort into. My little five-year old brain could sort-of grasp the span of time we were talking about (the visual aid of a calendar was immensely helpful – I’m still terrible with time).
In retrospect, this was the best thing my Mum could’ve done for me. I’m not sure if the lesson in finance resonated so clearly with my brother, since I’m not sure what his previous experiences with money had been. I don’t remember what the cost was, but it was somewhere in the range of $70.00 to $90.00. In 1996, it was a lot of money for my new-to-Canada parents to spend on a ‘toy’.
After we paid off the loan, my Mum continued to give us $5 every week for doing the work – $5 each, since splitting it left us with $2.50 which seemed… low. The ‘allowance’ didn’t last long though, because we adopted the chores as something you just had to do. I didn’t grow up with a weekly allowance, since my parents went with the ‘if you need it we’ll get it route’. Money was around, but it wasn’t a freely flowing commodity.
My Mum made sure that money wasn’t invisible or mysterious to me – it was tangible, and there was accountability involved when you used it.
While the experience went a little over my head at the time, I realize now that it was an important introduction to finances for me. It instilled in me an understanding of what money was for, and how it was used. It introduced me to the idea that some things were too expensive to afford outright, and that if loans were handled properly and paid the proper attention, they didn’t have to be bad. My parents didn’t just buy things at the stores for nothing – they worked for everything they bought the same way I worked for my Game Boy, five dollars at a time.
Now, looking ahead to my financial plan for the next 3-5 years, and the mortgage I’m planning to take on, I can see the seeds that my Mum planted in my head coming to fruition, and informing my financial decisions.