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Yesterday was a monumental day for Ethan.  For the past ten months, he has been saving his money to buy the Lego Death Star.  (For all the Lego or Star Wars fanatics out there, the title is self-explanatory)  For the rest of you – it’s an absolutely gigantic lego set based on the Star Wars death star – complete with a gazillion mini figures and moving parts you can use to re-enact scenes from the movie.  (I have to admit, it’s pretty cool.)

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Somewhere along the way Ethan discovered that this existed, and starting researching the set on the internet.  With every detail discovered, his excitement grew – but his initial plans were thwarted when he was told it was too big (expensive) for a birthday or Christmas request.  And so, our story starts with his question:  “What if I save up enough money for it?”

Both Dean and I were of the same mind on this one – Go for it.  But with a whopping $565 price tag, we pointed out that it would take a lot of dedication, extra work, creativity and patience to reach his goal.

His mind was made up, and for the next ten months, Ethan saved almost every bit of his allowance (which was a trial run in the fall and has since been terminated). He saved most of the money he received in the past year for gifts from family.  He did chores, washed windows, cleaned my car, did yard work for friends, weeded our garden, and was often heard to ask: “Mom, are there any jobs today?”  I suggested he ask our neighbours if they had any jobs for him – but he balked at that one.  With every choice he was presented with, he evaluated his decision on whether it would move him towards his goal, or away from it.  It was pretty admirable, I have to say, to watch a 9-year-old resolutely pass on spending his birthday money while watching his younger sister choose how to spend hers in their favourite toy store.  (As a side note, the name Ethan means strong and steadfast… I guess he was living up to it in this instance!)

At the suggestion of a family friend, Ethan posted a chart beside his bed so that he could track his progress.  With every $5 earned, he’d colour in a bar on the graph.  I heard him lament at times how far he had to go… and the equal angst when he saw how close he was getting.   In recent weeks, the question became “When, when when?”

Goal tracking chart

It was a great lesson in saving and working towards a goal – and experiencing the joy of finally reaping the rewards.  A part of me was a little uncomfortable with the idea of spending such a large amount of money on a toy.  However, as it was his money, it was also his decision.  I asked him if he knew what else $565 could buy, wondering how much of a concept of money he could possibly have.  But he quickly answered: “a laptop, an ipad, a bunch of lego sets.”  Obviously he had some idea. (At least, with what he could do with that amount of money.  In this instance, we didn’t get into how that same amount could impact people in need.)

One lesson we would like to teach our children with respect to money is to spend some, give some and save some.  Admittedly, in this instance, the balance was skewed.  While he did still give some and spend some over this time, the biggest emphasis was very definitely on saving to reach his goal.

THE BIG EVENT went down like this:

We told the kids we had some shopping to do, eventually ending up in a Lego store that carried the Death Star.  Ethan picked up the box – but didn’t think he’d be getting it until our pre-determined date for the following weekend.  “I’m so excited!” he exclaimed – I guess he was feeling so close he could almost taste it.  “What would you say if we told you it could be yours today?” asked Dean.  Ethan’s head was like it was on a swivel – holding the heavy box, eyes wide, as he looked back and forth between us – as I handed him the envelope with all of his money in it and it hit him:  the wait was over.  Overcome with excitement, jumping, laughing, near-crying with joy- he hugged us, and then the box.  He walked up to the check out, put his thick envelope of cash down, and announced (as rehearsed): “ONE LEGO DEATH STAR, PLEASE!!”

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The reaction of the young, lego-loving store cashier simply added to the moment.  This was a BIG DEAL.

Afterwards, at dinner, we quietly mentioned to him that Audra was $25 short for the much smaller lego set she wanted, and that if he wanted, he could let her use some of the $25 worth of ‘lego dollars’ he earned with his large purchase – but that it was entirely up to him.  He sat with that for a little while, and then leaned over to me and whispered in my ear that he’d like to give it to her.  And so, on the same day as reaping his rewards, he was also rewarded by the overjoyed look on his sister’s face when he told her that he wanted to help her reach her goal.  Needless to say, it was a win-win situation in the Robinson household.

There have since been many quiet hours in our house – complete with happy conversations between the two of them as they check on each other’s lego-building progress.  They may just be toys, but I think something bigger happened here.

Upon reflection, I can see that there were many lessons learned:  

  • The power of setting a goal
  • The habit of holding that vision clearly and frequently in mind (with excitement!)
  • The need to take consistent action towards that goal
  • The power of a visual for tracking progress – even the baby steps
  • The awareness of making conscious choices based on goals rather than impulse
  • The absolute joy of experiencing the fruit of your efforts
  • And the joy of paying it forward.

(He says his next goal is a computer.  Awesome.)

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