'Money? Well you're on your own there, son'
Our offspring cost a fortune, says David Diebold, but handling their own budgets can teach them about the cost of living - and what cash can't buy
CHILDREN, they're simply priceless, aren't they? Well, no actually, they're not. Add up the cost of that meal you just spent an hour preparing which they managed to compress into so many forkfuls, stuff in and wash down with a single flourish of a drinking glass before disappearing with little more than a "haveto- go-back-outside-'cause-skateboard-mumblesomething . . ."
Sit down and add it up as they all take off from the table in turn like jets from an aircraft carrier, one needing money on the way for some oily sponsored-walk-cub-scout-ticket-raffle-piece-of- paper thing that's just been waved in front of your own dinner that you've barely begun.
Charming? No doubt. Priceless? Er, about €120.47 per week per child on average now you come to mention it. In our house, anyhow.
"Really?" I say to my wife, raising a single eyebrow in an expression reserved for just such an occasion and chewing my first mouthful while surveying the post-evacuation debris. "Does that include wine?"
"They don't drink wine," she says seriously.
"No, but we do," I say. "And given the effort we put in, I think the least they could do is chip in for it."
Alright, so €120.47, give or take, is what we figure our kids fleece us for between meals, sponsored thingummies, school sundries, karate classes and con jobs.
The reasons we totted up this total? Twofold. One: a clever experiment to see what would happen if we gave one of our children the control of their end of the budget for a week. Two: Because we were asked to by Herald Towers.
"You're kidding," I tell the cackling editor.
"I'm not," was the response.
"But they'll just starve themselves, skip their after-school classes and spend the money on chips, Coke and Simpsons DVDs."
"Maybe, maybe not," says my wife as I break the news. Only one way to find out . . .
We choose Jonathan (13) for our fiscal foray — he has always seemed the most pennywise in the past. On holidays, when everyone gets a little pocket money, Jonathan keeps his so when everyone else is broke he has something to wave in their faces. Money is power, he seems to have realised.
So penniless and powerless I hand over a wad of notes. “Is this for the laptop I want?” he says, starting to count it.
“No, it's an experiment . . .” I begin.
He cuts me off: “Because you've shorted me at least €600 if it is,” he says, still fingering the notes.
“Actually,” I say, snatching back a tenner, “you owe me for breakfast, lunch, dinner . . . and a glass of wine.”
“We haven't had dinner yet,” he says, leaping in the air for the note I hold out of reach. It's lovely when they're not fully grown yet. “And . . . I . . . don't . . . drink . . . wine,” he says, jumping and missing.
“Details, details,” I say.
“Daniel asked me over to his house for dinner,” he says, giving up. “Right,” I sigh, reluctantly digging in my pocket for some coins. “So, you only owe me for the glass of wine then.”
I'm rather starting to enjoy this. Until I think Jonathan may have skipped breakfast today.
“He said he'd settle up later,” says my wife.
“Right,” I say.
But that night there's a party on. “I shouldn't have to buy a present out of my money,” says Jonathan. “I think that comes under ‘sundries’,” I say.
He sighs through his nose and extracts €20 of his own cash looking at it forlornly.
“He'll be surviving on cream crackers by the end of the week,” chuckles his younger brother gleefully as Jonathan trundles off to the cinema with his mates.
I suddenly feel bad and resolve to return the cost of my glass of wine from the previous night.
It's Saturday. “Can I go to Eurospar,” asks Jonathan when he emerges close to 10am.
“You can do what you like,” I say hoarsely in my dressing gown between sips of coffee.
“I was going to cycle,” he says, “but I have a puncture.” “Oh,” I say. I see where this is going and, creaking and groaning, reluctantly agree to bring him . . . to the bicycle shop for a puncture repair kit.
“You'll need about a fiver for that,” I say. He fishes out his diminishing wad, I retrieve a tenner. “And a fiver for the taxi ride,” I explain over his protests.
I lose track of Jonathan today. Rumour has it he's down the town with his friends where it's raining chips and he's been seen brandishing a gargantuan bottle of Fanta.
“I don't believe it,” I say. “He's too mean.” My wife swats me across the nose with a newspaper.
But he's back for Sunday dinner. “Cough up,” I say, snapping my fingers as he sits down.
“Have you got change of a €20?” he says, clearly hoping I don't. I go to the penny jar.
Jonathan's about to jangle out the door. There's a school trip today and I figure he's down to about €40. He seems a bit glum.
“Here,” I say and hand him some money. “For my glass of wine the other night,” I explain. He keeps his hands in his pockets and sizes me up. “Meh,” he says, turning on his heels. “That's okay.”
It's karate night. At least I think it's karate. They're all wearing martial-arts outfits in the hall when I go to pick him up later but the instructor seems to be telling them how to crush someone's throat.
I throw him a sidelong glance as we walk to car. “How was it,” I ask.
“Alright,” he says. “I forgot to bring my money though.” I hand him a tenner, mocking him cautiously from a distance, palms raised: “No, no, honestly,” I call after him as he runs back into the hall. “This one really is on me!”
Well, by dinnertime, it seems we've cleaned Jonathan out, give or take a handful of change.
“Did you learn anything from all this?” I ask in what I think is an appropriately fatherly way.
“I guess,” he says.
“What then?” I say. “That puncture repair kits cost more than a fiver and that your taxi service is too expensive.”
“I have a special rate for unsociable hours,” I tell him.
“And always ask to see the bill,” he says, stifling a smile. “In case you're paying for someone else's wine.”
“Clever boy,” says mum.
We all help clear away the dishes for a change. Jonathan hands back the wallet I'd loaned him.
I think he's happy to give back control of the purse strings. Not that it was particularly difficult or anything, more that there's something a little troubling about breaking down family life into a series of transactions.
Or maybe that's just me.
I guess I'm happy to shell out my hardearned cash to my children. Groaning and rolling my eyes every time is simply part of the game.
I don't want them to have to worry about every little penny. Plenty of time for that in the future, God knows.
I think Jonathan appreciates the cost of things a little more now, however.
As I leave the room, he tugs my sleeve sheepishly. “About that laptop,” he says.
“Not a chance in hell, my boy,” I say.