Life lessons when a 9-year-old buys a doll

Abbey Buys Samantha

by Steve and Annette Economides

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EXCERPT from Page 103 Abbey Buys Samantha
Four Steps to Spending Smart

When Abbey was about nine years old, she expressed a desire to buy an American Girl doll named Samantha. At the time, they retailed for more than $120, which was a vast fortune for a child earning $7.50 each week. Initially we just let the comment go, but she persisted, so we wrote it on her wish list and agreed to help her take her first steps on a journey to smart spending.

1. Planning

Seeing her resolve, we discussed the process for making this kind of purchase. We talked about creating a special envelope where she could put a portion of her spending money, separating it from the rest to more easily track her progress. On the outside of the envelope, we would write the date of each deposit and the total saved. We told her that if she received any birthday, Christmas, or other unexpected money, she could put a larger portion into her Samantha envelope. As we talked, she realized that this goal could take a year to reach, more than 10 percent of her lifetime.

Even though the challenge was great, she had already seen her siblings tackle large purchases and she was ready to do it too!

2. Researching

Once an item is on the wish list, we help our kids research to find the best deal. We started by looking at an American Girl catalog, and Abbey was a little discouraged at the price with shipping. When Steve and Abbey looked on eBay and Craigslist, they discovered that the doll was selling for between $60 and $100, and wrote down several options. The higher prices included more outfits and accessories. Emotionally bolstered, Abbey determined to save $50 to $60 for her purchase.

3. Waiting

Patience is perhaps the hardest part of becoming a MoneySmart kid. Abbey stayed focused on her goal and steadily saved her money for many months. Some weeks it was merely pennies, while other weeks it was several dollars. Remember that she was still putting 20 percent in Save and 10 percent in Give. At some point in the waiting and saving process, Abbey realized that she was more than halfway to her goal. She had hope and went from mere resolve to total enthusiasm, deciding to accelerate her savings. We had to remind her that putting money into her regular Spend envelope was still important, but it was now less critical to her.

After about seven months, she hit her $50 milestone. Earlier we'd offered to pay the cost of shipping, but now we wanted to reward her diligence, so we told her that we would contribute $10 to be used toward shipping and the purchase price. She now had $60 and was ready to buy her doll!

4. Buying

Once she had her full purchase amount in hand, we started searching in earnest. We put several dolls on our eBay watch list and confirmed that they were still selling for between $60 and $100. Of course, many of the dolls sold for more than Abbey's budget. Initially, she was disappointed, but we encouraged her that we would eventually find the right deal. And after a couple of weeks, we did.

On February 12, 2004, her bid was submitted in the last 15 seconds of an auction and Abbey won her Samantha doll. There was cheering and laughing and a little squeal too. The long wait was over. Well, it was almost over. The final price was $61.03, so she pulled the $1.03 out of her Spend envelope. We paid using our PayPal account and she reimbursed us.

The waiting continued until the UPS truck finally delivered her prize. We celebrated as Abbey finally held Samantha in her arms. The sacrifice and discipline were worth the effort!

Seven months to a nine-year-old is a virtual eternity, but to Abbey, this successful expedition was one giant step toward financial maturity. In the ensuing years, she's followed the same four steps (Plan, Research, Wait, and Buy) to make more expensive purchases. However, none of them rival that first purchase of Samantha, who is now gently and carefully stored in her box, waiting for the day when Abbey will allow her daughter to hear the story of how Samantha came into her life.

This same journey has been completed dozens of times by each of our kids. Every successive mission resulted in greater confidence, patience, and expectation. Our kids have saved for and purchased their own trading cards, bicycles, radio-controlled airplanes, stereo systems, special uniforms for Boy Scouts, Police and Air Force Explorers, and scores of other items.

This excerpt is from the new book, The MoneySmart Family System: Teaching Financial Independence to Children of Every Age by Steve & Annette Economides. Published by Thomas Nelson. Chapter 10, Spending: Living With Limits.

Steve and Annette Economides ( are New York Times best-selling authors and internationally recognized personal finance experts frequently interviewed in newspapers and on websites and radio programs. They have been featured on Good Morning America, The Today Show, ABC's 20/20, Fox TV's Your Life with Neil Cavuto, The Dr. Phil Show, and in Good Housekeeping, People, and Real Simple.

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