Pocket Money: My son's learning the value of money – the hard way

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The Independent Online

now, i'm no economics expert (what do you mean, you could tell?) but seeing the headlines earlier this week made me feel slightly, how shall I put it, on top of events. "Britain declares war on food waste" was how Monday's Independent expressed the current furore over our cavalier attitude to produce, especially when prices are rising.

Two weeks ago, I bemoaned my own food waste, and my foolish lack of willpower when it comes to special offers. I was turning over a new leaf, I declared. And so it has come to pass...

Now I've got a new challenge – my son and his money. Like any 12-year-old boy, he knows the price of nothing and the value of everything. Which is to say, Guitar Hero will improve and enhance his life in ways I could never imagine. This is probably true, but this music-challenge computer game will diminish my life to the tune of £65.

I say my life (ie my bank balance), but is it? Peter gets £5 a week pocket money, which is paid directly into his own bank account. I set it up some years back to teach him the value of saving money, and for him it's worked (but oh the irony, since I'm always in the red). He's had up to £200 in there, from time to time.

But not, ahem, at the moment. Since he moved up to secondary school last autumn, there's been an intermittent loss of every single piece of school uniform, PE kit, stationery set – and after the first few months I had a sense of humour loss. I think it was when he came home from a mate's house without his school shoes. How does a child negotiate London's streets without shoes? Just ask Peter.

They were never to be seen again, and I started playing hardball. Replacement coat, shoes, joggers, shin pads, they all came out of his pocket money. Tough love? You bet. Since the (state) school uniform has been farmed out to a supplier in a godforsaken industrial unit in a far-off suburb, it's time, energy and cash (I added up about £170 in lost schmutter), so it's been a valuable lesson to learn.

Of course, it's all a nonsense since it's my money really. And virtual money in the bank is less of a loss than something tangible such as, for instance, removing the Xbox 360 for a week. Going off to the cashpoint in a parental rage, with the confiscated debit card, my indignant burning cheeks turned to a flush of embarrassment. Why take money off a kid for something that's not done on purpose. He's genuinely trying to remember his jumper, but when it's been used for a goalpost (yes, that does still go on, I'm told) and it's time to sprint to scouts, something's got to give.

So when he recently got cash for his birthday, instead of whipping it away as a down-payment for some new black school shoes, I said, "why not start saving for Guitar Hero?" He nearly choked on his apple juice. This is because I am a) a universally-acknowledged hater of computer games and b) a hard ass who is keen on reprimands. I'm hoping this new laissez-faire attitude will be enough of a surprise to drill home the message once and for all – use your own initiative to save your money!

Meanwhile, back to the weekly shop. Thanks to a medical scare, I've leapt on the health food bandwagon. Buying organic tomatoes and raspberries, lentils and sprouting broccoli, plus spelt (this year's trendy grain) is hard on the pocket, but seems a small price to pay for being in good condition before being subjected to hospital food. What I do feel furious about (back to those indignant red cheeks) is the price of healthy beauty products – £6.50 for an aluminium-free deodorant is eye-watering! Paraben-less body wash, upward of £10, hurrumph.

I suppose I'm less likely to waste them – rather like abandoning the cheap supermarket food for less and higher quality produce – but it don't half hurt at the checkout. At this rate, I'll be dipping into Peter's savings for eye cream. Please don't tell him...


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