Can Four Quarters Break a Habit?

As a financial planner and a parent, I often think about how I am going to teach, or help my children learn about money.  From all accounts, they have it pretty good and there are only so many times I can be turned down when offering a penny for every weed they pick.  Recently, my wife and I have been doling out an ever increasing number of reminders to “turn off your light!” We have tried the gentle reminder, the stern reminder and even the occasional low baritone reminder in an attempt to break the habit.  None have worked and so we decided to change up our approach.  There is still a library full of parenting knowledge that I have yet to learn, but I do know two things…Kids like games (competition) and kids like money.   When the kids came home from school on Earth Day, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to try our new “Lights Out” contest.   

On that Saturday, I got out my all time favorite tool, painter’s tape, and I taped four quarters around each one of their light switches.  I explained the rules, “Starting Monday, every time you leave your light on, you lose a quarter.  By Friday, whatever quarters are left, you get to keep.  Not “keep”, and have to listen to me drone on about saving and 529 plans, but keep and spend on whatever you want!”  The other rule was that you could not turn off someone else’s light, but you could let them know before either parent discovered the misstep.  

We were unsure if a dollar reward would be enough to impact any consistent change, but to our surprise in the first week there was not a single bedroom light left on!  Week two, they were still batting a thousand.  It wasn’t until today that my son lost his first quarter and when he realizes it’s gone it won’t go over well, but I think he will cheer up when he rolls into the dollar store with $2.75 burning a hole in his pocket!  

Since this little contest is working, I am not sure how long we will keep it up.  If the kid’s were clever, they would take turns leaving their lights on periodically and that would keep the contest going longer and allow them to collectively rack up more money, but that is a game theory approach we can save for another day. 

If you have any other good parent tricks or kid games, please share.  Likewise, if you know of any frustrated parents who might like our “Lights Out” game, please pass along today’s post! 

Happy Friday! Stay healthy and please be safe!