The Cost of Conscious Parenting

I make a sincere effort to help my fourth-grade daughter understand the difference between needing things and wanting things. She has always been encouraged to earn her own spending money and save it for items or activities she wants that aren’t within my budget.

Recently, I’ve added a new process to the decision-making around her increasingly expensive desires. She must research the product on her own, not only for cost-comparison purposes, but to understand fully what the desired item may eventually require in supplies and upkeep. This is necessary because we aren’t talking about a trendy necklace or cool pair of shoes. We’re talking about pets.

The first experiment was related to the purchase of a fish. Emily underwent the expected research and took copious notes about the type of fish that could survive in a small tank without a lot of expensive gear or serious upkeep. She handed me a report that showed costs of the tank, the food, a few decorative items, water treatment, and the beta fish itself. She needed $26 after I approved the plan, and fortunately for her, the wait was short because she scored $20 from her Grampa for Valentine’s Day. Her room now sports a small tank with a bluish-green beta named Sylvester. New research, which she vetted with consultation at a local pet store, indicates potential for an African dwarf frog as a tank-mate in the future.

A natural animal lover, Emily continues to think about what kinds of creatures she can afford to add to her family of pets. On a recent trip to the Big R farm and ranch supply, we encountered a selection of spring chicks and she immediately began adding up the costs of having a chicken coop in our back yard. This plan was immediately thwarted by Gramma and Grampa who said they would move out of our shared homestead if we bought chickens. It was inconceivable to Emily that not even the promise of future income from selling fresh eggs could change their minds.

After a day of extreme pouting that we’d never have our own farm fresh eggs to eat and to sell, Emily began researching another breed of creatures. It had to be smaller than a dog (we don’t need another large animal), bigger than a mouse (I don’t like things escaping and hiding where I can’t get them) and more interesting than a fish (Emily can’t pet Sylvester).

As I read in the next room, Emily sat at the kitchen table with my laptop and asked how to spell “guinea” … as in guinea pigs. The next research project began, and a day later, I was presented with a pricing list. Fortunately for me, there’s going to be a serious waiting time on this acquisition. A guinea pig and all its requirements are going to cost about $125.

Ever determined, my entrepreneurial 9-year-old has ideas, and she dumped one of them on her unsuspecting mother tonight. I came home from a long day at the office to find our living room transformed into a spa-like environment. The incense was burning, there were pillows and yoga mats on the floor, bottles of lotion, nail polish … and chocolate. Emily instructed me to change into a robe, which I eagerly did, and then she set about pampering me. She put a hot rice bag around my neck; read to me; massaged my feet, hands and head; and gave me a fresh pedicure.

An hour later, she presented me with an itemized bill and asked for $16.

Now, being a savvy consumer, I complained about her gouging customers without explaining upfront what the cost of services would be. She agreed to a much reduced rate and gave me a $3-off coupon for my next visit.

Still, I have to be much more careful about falling for her spa treatments. Otherwise we’ll be welcoming a guinea pig to the family in no time.