Nima Abu Wardeh watches proudly as her seven-year-old son learns the art of only spending what you have.
Maturity from a young mind on big decision
He didn't divulge his decision. He simply repeated that he knew what he was doing, and for me not to worry.
Nothing betrayed the emotional struggle earlier on. And with that we left the house.
It was as though I was witness to an evolutionary process up close and in fast-forward. A vision of the whole of life - of what we struggle with sometimes on a daily basis. Want vs need. Instant gratification vs waiting, and more. It was fascinating to see one so young display the full spectrum of what we big people go through - many of us on a regular basis - and come out the other end - I believe - faring much better than most with his ultimate decision.
Let me tell you what happened:
Earlier in the day, mini-me stated that he loved Lego Chima and that he would really like to buy some - to which I said "Sure". He has pocket money, and can do anything he wants with it.
Mini-me's eyes widened with expectation. I asked a few questions to help him make a decision he was happy with.
Me: "Do you know how much pocket money you have?"
"Do you know how much Lego Chima costs?"
The answer to both was no.
My suggestion to look at prices online fell on deaf ears. Mainly because he associates internet shopping with having to wait for a chunk of time before the desired object arrives.
So we set out to count his pocket money.
He gets Dh6 every weekend - as long as I remember to give it to him. He never asks for it, but there will come a day when he hounds me for it, I'm sure.
He counted out 86 coins and was overjoyed. "I'm rich, I'm rich," he said - to which I explained he's only rich if he keeps his money. Once spent, it will be gone. Forever.
Silence as the thought sank in. (Big people take note).
Now as anyone who has ever bought Lego knows, Dh86 doesn't go very far.
I wanted to manage his expectations and come up with a plan.
But all he wanted to do is get out and shop.
So, getting ready - including finding a swag bag for his money - was used to talk him through a few things.
We decided we would go to the closest mall and to two specific shops only. A big supermarket, because we thought it might be less expensive if it had what he was looking for, and if not then we would go to a book/toy shop.
Then came the more prickly issue of how much money he was willing to spend.
"Do you want to spend all your money or keep some?"
"Keep some" (phew).
"Do you want to leave the money you want to keep in the house or take it all with you?"
"Leave it in the house." (yay)
"What if the money you have with you isn't enough. What are you going to do?".
Light bulb goes on in his head. Processing.
Basically we went through different scenarios including a plan for if the money he had with him wasn't enough and for if we didn't find any in the first place.
He thought things through and came up with an array of answers, which included doing a U-turn on leaving money at home, and at one point blurting out that he would do "whatever it takes" to get what he wanted (I haven't a clue what that could've meant but shudder to think that many adults do this and it often includes crazy debt).
I planted various thoughts, took a step back and observed.
It ended up with mini-me leaving Dh19 at home and happily skipping across the mall swinging his swag bag to the book/toy shop having found zero Lego Chima in the supermarket.
He headed for a wall of boxed toys but found nothing - and was a tad disheartened - but then eureka, he found some Lego Chima. We went through the four or five different types - all cost more than the money he had . But look: one cost Dh60. The smallest box, but within his budget. The next price range up cost Dh89.
I wanted him take his time looking, to figure out what he would really like to have and how he could afford it.
I left him to it.
A while later my boy was not happy - he had picked a Dh119 packet, saying he wanted it but could not afford it.
He thought of using his money at home too - but was still short.
We talked it through. If he really wanted it, one choice was to use his savings at home, work out how many weeks' pocket money was needed and for us to come back when he had the money. I assured him that it wouldn't all be gone by then (gulp).
Another option would be the Dh89 one - less money to save.
Or he could go for the Dh60 packet, have his desired Lego Chima fix, still have money left over and get to keep the money he left at home. Again I let him take his time.
I now want to thank the very patient and obviously thrilled assistant who calmly waited as mini-me counted out all his coins, helping him put them in Dh5 piles and happily observed the double-triple checking of the money being paid out.
Result: everyone got what they wanted: mini-me got his coveted Chima - that he adores and plays with daily - and has cash left over. And I witnessed the miracle that is him processing information and making deliberate, mindful decisions to do with money and life.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website cashy.me. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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