A Fool and Her Money?

A fool and her moneyWe’ve just returned from a sort of parental rite of passage. We took our son to see Sesame Street Live at the theater in a nearby city.

My son had a blast. I was a little concerned that there might be a moment or two of panic on his part as the larger than life characters made their way into the audience to greet the little ones, but my son was very brave in the face of the giant fuzzy characters and so a fun night was had by all.

Attending the event, however, did provide for plenty of observation of the spending habits of other families. Being that my family and I are on a path to financial freedom we are very conscious about the spending decisions we make. As I’ve written before we were always pretty careful with money but have recently been viewing consumption from a more philosophical angle than ever before. From this perspective I often view the spending of money to purchase “things” as wasteful of more than just money and life energy but also wasteful of our planet’s natural resources.

So as we walked into the theater I was not surprised to see multiple booths with vendors selling various items made mostly from plastic or other petroleum based materials, each with Elmo’s smiling face stamped on it in some fashion. Parents were lined up, buying multiple items for multiple kids. Now before you think I’m a heartless parent who won’t spend money on her son, I will first point out that we spent about $90 to walk through the doors of the theater that night since Elmo wants $30 from each of us to enjoy the show. And that was a cost I was willing to pay because, of course, I wanted to have this fun experience with my son. Secondly, I will say, that I wanted to buy him anything that would make him happy, but I also know that he has a lot of “things” already and buying something here would only provide a short period of enjoyment on his part. We were there for the experience, not for “things”. That being said, I walked over to one of the vendors to browse their wares. I thought I could buy a $5 thing to bring a smile to my son’s face. However, what I found amazing was that there was no $5 thing. No, the swirly light-up Elmos that 90% of the kids around us were clutching were $15.

Fifteen dollars?!

Perhaps it’s because I am new to this sort of event, but I thought that was nothing less than insane.

So I walked away determined to not spend any more money. We made our way to our seats and sat down to enjoy the show. My son noticed the vendors walking up and down the aisles selling cotton candy and popcorn. When he asked for some I reached into my purse and pulled out a sandwich bag containing goldfish crackers. He happily munched on his crackers and continued watching the show.

Then came intermission.

Vendors were once again sent down the aisles selling all sorts of items. The bundle of balloons that were shaped like Elmo’s face caught the attention of my son, as was the intention. I watched in amazement as one parent after another went up to buy a large balloon for their child. The fools, I thought. My husband and I laughed as we made playful bets with each other about how many of those balloons would be lost against the theater’s multi-story ceiling by the end of the night.

But, alas! At 15 minutes the intermission was too long and with the show not starting up quickly enough it became more difficult to distract my son from the inflated Elmos that were taunting us from every corner of the theater. I rationally thought, “Well a balloon couldn’t be more that $5. I don’t see anything wrong with buying one for him to take home.” My husband agreed and walked over to get the balloon. Of course, the balloon was actually $10. Yep. TEN DOLLARS. For a balloon. Now who is the fool? I told my husband to make sure he clutched it with a death grip lest we became one of the fools whose $10 floated away to the ceiling.

Am I Being a Tad Harsh?

I don’t want to seem too harsh. I understand that everyone there wanted to make their children happy and they were going about it in the way they thought best. But I also know that everyone there was spending about $30 a head to get in. And when you add in expenses for souvenirs or unhealthy snack food, some families were easily spending $150 to $200 that evening. It’s our culture – we consume. But is there a better way? Can we walk the line between too much and too little?

I certainly didn’t have to buy my son the $10 balloon that is condescendingly staring down at me from its lofty position on my ceiling. Its been floating up there since we got home from the show several days ago, my son having no interaction with it since we walked through the door.

No. I could have been logical with him and told him he would forget about that $10 balloon as soon as we came home and that it is a foolish, frivolous purchase and we try to live our lives differently from the other families that were at the show. Families whose multiple children were clutching balloons and light-up swirly Elmo gizmos that were $15 each. But that is hard for a four year old to understand and I caved when he looked up at me and sweetly asked “Mommy, can I have a balloon?” Isn’t it our duty as parents to sometimes cave in the face of such cuteness?

So am I a fool for spending $10 on a balloon?

The lifestyle that I’m trying to achieve right now is all about compromise and finding the right balance. I feel good about the fact that we walked the line between frivolous and rational. I don’t want to deprive my child of all the little magical moments of childhood in an effort to retire as early as possible. (Tweet this)

That is not what I’m trying to achieve.

Luckily for us, most magical moments from childhood are completely free. Chucking rocks in the pond. Playing in the freshly fallen snow. Hiking through the woods collecting acorns. Reading a bedtime story every night.

And sometimes a balloon shaped like Elmo’s face is magical. Even if it is $10.

What do you think? Did I step over the line to foolish? What are some foolish purchases you have made?


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29 Responses to A Fool and Her Money?

  1. kathryn says:

    No, I don’t think you stepped over the line. As a mother of 4 (young adults) they actually remember very little from that age. Think of it this way, you took him ,for the memories you will hold onto to, when he is an adult.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Thanks! It’s always tough with little ones to walk that line. I’m glad we went to the show since my son loved it and has great memories.

  2. SavvyJames says:

    Great story! It is a situation I was in plenty of times when my children were younger so I can definitely relate. Like many of the parents at the Sesame Street Live show – I am willing to bet – when I was younger (more foolish?) I never thought in terms of the hyper-consumption and ultimately the waste of money. I’m a little more savvy now :-)

    Although you broke down a little in this case, I do not believe you are acting foolishly with your money as you are aware of what you are spending your money on and the consumption going on around you. You simply made a conscious choice to “waste” a little money for this special occassion. Most people simply just waste money.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      True – most people just waste money. I made a deliberate decision here and we all had a great time. It’s just hard to believe I spent $10 on a balloon! :)

      Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts.

  3. I do not think you are a fool. In fact, I think it’s pretty admirable you walked out with just a balloon given that I have coworkers and friends that routinely shell out hundreds of dollars on their kids for experiences like this. As your kid gets older, there will be more time to explain why the balloon isn’t worth it.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Thank you, Michelle. I definitely understand wanting to buy your kid whatever makes them happy, but it’s also a better lesson for them to learn that we don’t just buy whatever we want. There has to be trade offs, right?

  4. I echo what everyone else said! Sometimes, the situation dictates that you spend more money on something than you normally would. This reminds me of eating at the airport… I always feel silly buying food at the airport with the exorbitant prices, but I’ve got to eat, so sometimes it’s justified if there’s a long layover. In this case, it was for your child, and most likely a one time thing! I wouldn’t worry about it!

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Thanks Jon! That’s a great example about the airport. Man I hate paying for food there! But sometimes it is just necessary.

  5. Kay,
    If you bought me a $10 balloon I would enjoy it. Your kids will remember going to see Elmo long after that balloon is deflated and gone. When I was a kid we went to watch Disney on Ice, I don’t remember the crap my mom bought there just the event.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Thanks Charles. I’m happy that the consensus seems to be that I am not a fool! I know my son had a great time and we’re so happy about that. Also, that balloon has remained inflated for close to two weeks now!

  6. Pingback: Sunday Night Link Love- 02/16/2014 - impersonal finance

  7. Hmm well they certainly must pad their bottom line with those intermission products! I don’t think you crossed the line, but the $15 elmo product sounds like a better deal. Then again, if your son was happy with a $10 balloon you might as well save the extra $5! Haha, either way I think there are situations where you can splurge on things that otherwise you would never buy. A $10 balloon sounds reasonable here if your son really wanted one.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Ha, yeah the $15 elmo was probably a better deal. I was trying to get out of there without buying anything but succumbed to my son’s cuteness when asking for the balloon. It was a good night and at least I think I walked a reasonable line with regards to the extras.

  8. Adam Kamerer says:

    I think you did well, honestly. You’re out $10 more than you expected, but that’s not much in the grand scheme of things. The good financial lessons you’ll teach your son by living your life this way is well worth a few little splurges here and there.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Thanks! This probably was a good financial lesson. I want my son to understand that we can’t always buy him everything he wants. He’ll need to learn this self control as he grows older too.

  9. We did lots of this when our kids were little. We still do it now – just not so much. I don’t think it’s bad once in awhile, but I do think it holds more of the “special” when you do it once or twice a year instead of once a month. :-)

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Thanks Laurie! We don’t do things like this often (it was our first time at Sesame Street) and I agree that adds to the special aspect of the event. It was a lot of fun!

  10. I’m not a parent so it’s hard for me to weigh in on what it would be like if my little one was looking at me with wide sad eyes asking me for a balloon. lol! But I will say that it does seem like events just make a killing off the merchandise, food, and drinks. I try to sneak in my own stuff, like at the movie theater. I don’t care if it’s cheating them.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Oh, they totally make a killing off of the vendor items. I can’t imagine the mark up on a $10 balloon and $5 popcorn! We brought snacks and juice boxes. That’s always a given for me too, especially with my son in tow.

  11. NZ Muse says:

    I don’t have kids yet and I am definitely worried about that aspect! I hate saying no, even to my husband. I personally was a kid who never asked for anything (and I’m not sure how my parents drummed it into me – I knew how frugal they were and that there was no point asking) and I am not prepared to deal with nagging kids.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      What made it tough for me to say no is that my son really is such a good kid and he doesn’t nag at all. Partly because he knows that we don’t just buy him stuff, of course. But he is so good and he noticed all the “stuff” that all the other kids had all night. I finally broke down at the balloon. Maybe because I had frugal parents too and I didn’t want his memory of the night to include the thought that his parents were too cheap to buy him a balloon! :) I guess it’s all part of the “mom guilt”. But at least I didn’t go overboard.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  12. I don’t think you’d be being harsh for not wanting to spend the money. Balloons aren’t what make happy kids! That is a darn expensive balloon though.

  13. My son is only 7 months, but I’m sure there will be pressure to buy things in the future. Unfortunately, theme parks and other places put extra pressure to buy stuff and overcharge for it. You’re not a fool…it’s normal to want your child to be happy. And, I’m like you…I’m much more likely to want to get something for a kid who isn’t nagging. I’ve noticed that a lot of theme parks with rides end at a gift shop, forcing you to walk through it. I hate that!

    • Green Money Stream says:

      You’re right, there’s always pressure to buy for kids and the theme parks depend on it. Luckily, my son doesn’t expect me to buy him “things” when we go out because we don’t usually do it. Which just makes it more special when we treat him to a balloon or something, like this time. I’m sure it will be the same for your son.

  14. My plan is to budget for the ridiculous cost of junk when I go to these types of amusement parks. Saving money is very important to me, but making memories is even more important. Since I have been on my debt free journey, I tell my daughter that she will only be able to purchase one item and for how much. This way she takes the time to choose wisely and gets a lesson on how much items cost in the real world. Never too earlier to learn.

    • Green Money Stream says:

      Letting your daughter know ahead of time how much she can spend is a very good idea. That is probably what I’ll do as my son is a little older. I agree that the memory is important and if you are going to an event like this you should budget for a small “extra”.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. Talk about consumption overload. They must really make a killing selling all that Elmo stuff.

    If anything, they should have had a booth where you could have your picture taken with Elmo and get his autograph, then sell it for $15. Then at least they would get the “experience” and have a memorable souvenir. I remember meeting Barbie when I was a little girl and getting her to sign my notebook. Now that was awesome. :)

    • Green Money Stream says:

      They make so much money with that stuff, not to mention the $30 tickets! The idea of a photo souvenir is a great one. I would have paid $15 for one I’m sure, and it would last forever! Thanks for stopping by!

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