Since it’s shortly after Christmas, I was reflecting on Christmas past this year. How many toys that my older boys received as younger kids still see use today? One came to mind – the Lego Death Star. This was the first purchase my older son wanted enough to save up for, and I think it set the stage for his saving habits today. So I thought I would share the story with you.
The Lego Death Star – The Beginning
Back when my oldest son was 5-6 (he’s 14 now), all he wanted was a Lego Death Star. He had seen it in a Lego club magazine, and could talk about nothing else. So we used this as a way to teach him about saving up for things he wants, and lo and behold, he still plays with that Death Star today, over ten years later.
Let me tell you the story of how he got it, why we had him save for it, and how Santa kicked in the difference so he could achieve his very first financial goal.
My oldest son is not like other kids. He’s always been quiet, creative, mature beyond his years, and a bit of a solitary person-even as a little kid. He always loved building creations out of Legos, Knex, Lincoln Logs, and whatever else he could find. So when he was little we signed him up for the Lego club magazine, and that’s where he saw it for the first time. The Lego Death Star.
My husband is a huge Star Wars fan. He saw the movies when they first came out, collected the action figures, owns several lightsabers-we’re very much a geek household here at CMO central. Hence why we put up a giant Nintendo Christmas World on our front lawn. He was the primary caregiver to our oldest son during the day, and worked either part time nights/weekends or full time second shift (depending on what year we’re talking about) and cared for our son during the day. So of course he had passed his love of Star Wars on to the little guy. The Lego Death Star was like a dream come true for him.
Now the Lego Death Star is expensive. Today, eleven years later, it sells for five hundred dollars. That’s one heck of an expensive toy! It wasn’t as much back then -it was $400. Still way above what I would consider for a toy for a five year old, but achievable if he wanted to save up money instead of getting gifts for birthdays and Christmases.
And that’s exactly what he did.
Saving Up – A Hard Lesson in Delayed Gratification
For over a year, the Lego Death Star was all he could talk about. He saved every single dime he received into a big jar. When people asked what he wanted for his birthday, the answer was money for the Lego Death Star. And that’s what he received.
Now, this wasn’t the easiest thing for a five year old kid. He still loved getting toys for his birthday and Christmas, but we explained to him that if he wanted something big like the Lego Death Star, it was going to take a while and he was going to need to give up other things to get it.
Delayed gratification is one of the key financial concepts adults sometimes struggle with, let alone kids. The famous marshmallow experiment shows that kids who can resist the temptation of eating one marshmallow for fifteen minutes in exchange for getting two marshmallows at the end of that time, are more successful in general later on in life. They have higher SAT scores. Lower levels of drug abuse. Better scores in a range of life measures. Forty years of the study have shown time and time again that kids who are able to delay gratification early on are more successful later. You can see the followup studies here, here, and here.
Why is this? Because the concept of delaying gratification doesn’t just apply to candy. What about delaying playing a favorite video game to do your homework? Not eating out and making a meal at home instead, delaying your meal but eating more cheaply and healthier? Not going out to have fun with friends, and instead finishing that college degree? There are so many examples where the skill of delaying gratification is key to general success.
And of course, there’s the financial benefits of delaying gratification. Saving for retirement over buying that new television today. Getting the last generation game system instead of the current one, and putting the difference away in a college fund for your kids. Not getting the new SUV you want and instead continuing to drive your nine year old car, so you can take what would be a car payment and put it away for the future. Working hard for low pay at a business you’ve started so years down the road you’ll earn more.
Learning to prioritize having more in the future in exchange for less today is difficult for many people. The future may never come, or it may look entirely different than you think it will. So many people just throw in the towel, live paycheck to paycheck, and spend everything they earn so they can have what they want now.
Not you, though. If you’re reading this site, then you either are already experienced in delaying gratification, or you want to become so. And you probably want to pass those skills on to your kids. One way to do so is by doing what we did, and working with your kids at a young age to save up for a big goal rather than having them get a ton of little things as gifts.
Ending The Delay – Getting The Lego Death Star
Same answer came on Christmas. By the end of the year, he had saved nearly enough. So on Christmas Eve, Santa kicked in the rest and replaced his money with…the Lego Death Star.
He was so happy and excited to finally have it, although a bit confused about where his money went. We explained that Santa had seen all year how much he wanted this, and how much he was saving towards it, so Santa chipped in and magically! Lego Death Star.
You may be wondering just how long it takes to put together a Lego set of that size. Let me tell you-it took us five days from start to finish. Essentially it was my entire Christmas vacation from when we woke up to when we fell asleep. The instruction book is huge! He was so proud when we were finally finished.
And I’ll tell you-of all the toys my 14 year old received as a young child, this is the only one we still have that he still plays with. Of course a 14 year old “plays with” a Lego Death Star much differently than a 5 year old. Today he uses our old smartphones to take pictures of the characters in different poses, creating a story and a movie about the characters adventures. And his younger brother also loved playing with the Death Star. I’m sure the little guy will too, once he’s a bit older.
Have you ever helped encourage your young kids towards a big financial goal? Let me know in the comments.
Want to learn more about teaching kids about money? Check out this great page with my top articles and resources I’ve found from around the web.
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