The lesson my son learned by losing his life savings

December 6, 2019

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My ten year old son recently learned a really important life lesson. He lost his wallet and $300 cash at a recent shopping trip.

This may not seem like a big deal to many of you, but here’s the thing: we don’t do allowance in our home because that does not teach our children how money really works. For us, it is important to teach our children how to be productive, fully functioning adults.


“If you work, you get paid.
If you do not work, you do not get paid!”

My kids each earns a dollar or two per week (depending on the number of chores they complete) and receive gifts of money on birthdays and Christmas. As you can imagine, given the amount they earn in commissions, he saved that $300 over many months time!

To make matters worse, he had just reached a big savings goal. You see, that same week, he and my wife began surfing Craigslist with plans to buy a Foosball table! He had even forgone birthday presents asking for money towards his “big present.” Losing that money made him feel like he failed his friends and family.

What does he tell his friends and family when they notice he never did get that Foosball table? Will they find him irresponsible? Will they think that he didn’t value or appreciate their gifts? He even wrestled with avoiding telling grandparents the truth.

Teachable moments

As a father, it is hard for me to see him go through some of the pain and frustration that this caused him. Of course, we are in a financial position that we could just give him the money or buy the Foosball table for him…

That said, my wife and I understand the importance of teachable moments like this and won’t in good conscious let them go to waste.

After all, it is moments like these that build up or erode the character of your child. As parents, we have to decide what life lessons we want him to carry with him. It is either:

“I don’t have to be responsible with my money because my parents will just bail me out.”

Or

“I should limit the amount of money I have on-hand so that in the future, if something like this happens my losses will be minimized.”

I’m very happy to say that my son walked away with the second conclusion. If you ask him today, now more than a year later, he still deeply regrets losing the money. That said, he’s not bitter about it as he can look at it objectively as a life lesson and as something he will not repeat.

He learned that money is a finite resource to be preserved. Furthermore, by allowing him to practice honesty and integrity to friends and family, but has found that they love him in spite of his mistake. In the end it’s just money… not the end of the world. 

Doing the right thing is hard

As parents, your impulse will be to just fix it to avoid the pain. To do otherwise really requires forethought and integrity with regards to the character you want to instill in your child. Ultimately, it is that vision for your child’s character that simplifies the decision making process. It is better that he learns this lesson at age 10, rather than at 30.

Not surprisingly, in the months since this happened I have caught my oldest advising the younger two to hold back some of the money when we make a trip to Walmart so they don’t repeat his mistake!

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Mr and Mrs Life on FIRE have gone from a negative $130k net worth to over $1M. We have helped a number of our friends and family get on track with their finances. As we are in the final leg of our early retirement journey, we have launched this blog to share are our experiences more broadly. Currently, we are blogging anonymously but look forward to doing a big reveal twelve months from now!

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J @fimigrant
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Great lesson that we all can learn from. I learned it way older when carrying important doicukents I shouldn’t have in my wallet.
My little one is two and when I am tempted to clean every mess he makes I really try to engage him and now he automatically does it. It’s great how this little lessons can shape you as an older kid and eventually and adult 🙂