Deep Thoughts About Money and Happiness (Or, Let’s Talk About Legos)

My oldest child is 9. I’m trying to involve him in my writing by letting him know exactly what it is I’m doing when I’m working on the computer.

He’s also a Lego addict.

My 9-year-old is lusting after a $400 Lego set

My son checked in on me when I was emailing Laura Vanderkam a couple of months ago for this post. I told him that she wrote a book about money and happiness, and I was emailing her questions about it. He said, “I have a question.” It was a good one:

Are kids are happier when they save up their money to buy one big toy (like the big Lego sets that cost several hundred dollars), or when they spend the same amount of money to purchase multiple smaller Lego sets, more often?

And bless her heart, Laura answered, saying,

A good question! And my squishy answer is that he should do both. The issue is that we get used to most things in life. So every time he gets a new Lego set, it will make him happy, but then, soon, it will cease to do so. If he buys lots of Lego sets, he’ll have lots of happiness boosts, whereas one big set will give him only one boost.

The counter-argument, though, is that we gain much happiness in life from setting difficult goals and then achieving them. Saving up for a big Lego set will have him anticipating the purchase over a long period of time, and anticipation is about as important to happiness as the actual experience itself.

To get both, he could devote half his money to smaller purchases, while building up one big fund for a bigger purchase. That would strike me as the optimal balance.

I saw an opportunity to buy lots of Lego happiness cheap–and took it.

My son has also anxiously been awaiting an out-of-print Lego book from the library since sometime last summer. I wanted to just buy it for him, but it’s out of print and in demand, and last year I couldn’t find a copy for less than $80.

A month ago, I checked the status of our request on the library website (and seeing that we’d be waiting for forever, still), then checked on a whim, just to see. And they had a copy for $5 (and a whole bunch for $80). I’m an under-buyer, and have a hard time pulling the trigger on any discretionary purchase, but I thought about it for all of 5 seconds before I clicked “buy now.”

I knew he’d love it. I knew he’d read it for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours, because he has pored and pored over Sean Kenney’s books. I knew the purchase would make both of us very, very happy.

That’s a lot of happiness for $5 plus shipping.

My son is still toying with the idea of saving up for that $400 Dreamliner, but he’s loving his $5 Lego book. It’s been a long time since I got that much bang for my happiness buck.

Do you lean more towards small happinesses or are you saving up for some large happiness?Β 

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  1. Jamie says:

    What a great post! I’m very lucky in that I tend to be a “little happinesses” person and my husband tends to be more of a “big happiness less often” kind of person, so together we have a perfect balance! πŸ™‚

    • Jennie says:

      We’re exactly the same way! I love making small purchases that I know I will use every day and be happy when I see them, while my husband likes saving up for things and making bigger purchases. It really is a great balance.

      He has taught me to be more patient with my money decisions, and I have taught him that it’s okay to go ahead and buy something small, even while you are saving up for something else.

    • Anne says:

      Agreed: it’s such a fun and breezy read, and so different from most books. Perfect for summertime πŸ™‚

  2. deborah says:

    My son is a Lego lover and collector too!

    I like seeing all the things he creates and builds.

    His older sister likes Legos too, and they have spent a lot of time lately playing with Legos.

    I think that I like small and large happinesses. I struggle the most with just being content and enjoying what I have. It’s easy for me to forget that more stuff just equals more of your time demanded of you in taking care of it all!

    And hooray for you and your son on your awesome good deal on the book! I love deals!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks, Deborah! He’s enjoyed the book so much and for so many hours that it might have been worth the big bucks…but I do love getting good deals πŸ™‚

  3. Leanne Penny says:

    I can’t wait for lego time! Right now I’m fairly certain that real legos would be the death of my two (1 & 3) who insist on putting things in their mouths.

    I like to have some cash in the bank for big things (mainly a bigger downpayment on our next house up North) but I do find the sudden urge to try to convince my hubby to take spur of the moment trips when I simply have to get out of our rural small town. He usually says no and tries to pacify me with a pedicure or something though, so I suppose in this way we make it work.

    • Anne says:

      Hahaha! I’m selfishly hoping you move back to MI so I can see you without visiting the Great Plains πŸ™‚ And I know what you mean about the choke-factor, my baby is blessedly out of that stage now at 26 months, but I had daily heart attacks about teeny tiny toys until just a couple of months ago. Sooo not fun for a mum.

  4. HopefulLeigh says:

    Love this story! I tend to do both. I have a small amount I’m allowed to spend each month on books and CDs. But I also save toward Big Ticket Items and vacations. Both make me happy but for different reasons.

    • Anne says:

      I think doing both is healthy, and good for you! I tend to back into choices like this instead of being deliberate about it. I think I’d be happier about it if I was more intentional.

  5. Tim says:

    I love going to the Lego store in Downtown Disney when we go to Disneyland!

    As for finding satisfaction in big or little acquisitions, I have to say that I’m now finding the opposite. I get a charge out of clearing the decks, whether large or small clearings. We are putting new doors on the kitchen cabinets and replacing the drawers too. What an opportunity to get stuff gone!


    • Anne says:

      ME TOO! We’re young and haven’t had the opportunity to accumulate way-too-much stuff, but I’ve been on a decluttering mission this year and I have gotten a huge boost from every box and bag that have gone out the door! I love getting stuff gone, like you put it!

      But I have to admit, I get a definite happiness boost from bringing carefully curated items into my home. Like that Lego book πŸ™‚

  6. Jennifer Haddow says:

    After that post on Money and Happiness, I requested that book from the library and I see today that it has shipped! Now, I put myself (Samuel) on the really long waiting list for the Ultimate Lego Book, and also requested the Cool Robots. Now I’m inspired to get the boys together for a Lego playdate. I’ll e-mail or call you next week.

    • Anne says:

      Yay! I’ll be very interested to hear your thoughts. And Samuel can browse the Ultimate Lego Book when our boys get together, because that waiting list is looong. My son would absolutely love a Lego playdate πŸ™‚ And for the 3rd or 4th time, I can’t say enough good things about Sean Kenney’s books!

  7. Suzette @ says:

    Well no Lego-ers in this house yet, but I think that this applies to life in general and how exciting! Even a good idea for me and my husband when we have a small something we want and a large one!

  8. What a great post! I wondered where his question was when you posted your original post on that book. πŸ™‚

    I tend to be a big purchase, but I am learning that I do find a great deal of joy from smaller purchases!

  9. Sarah says:

    Yes to both.

    I know that buying a used book or cup of coffee will jolt me into my happy place, but so do beach vacations, getting away just about anywhere, planning to fix up parts of the house.

    And I know well the power of Legos. I go into my son’s room and that’s all I see.

  10. I like what you said about both. Both approaches are important. It’s an important question you ask because we’re constantly facing that in this society.

    For Christmas this year, my husband and I decided to give the kids one “bigger” present instead of multiple “smaller” ones. We found it helped, in the long run, with the clutter in their rooms. And when we bought several smaller ones, we noticed that some got shoved to the side in favor of the “favored” ones. Then it was just more clutter.

    (I’m on an anti-clutter vengeance right now.) πŸ™‚

  11. I like the idea of saving up for something big, yet “splurging” on something small. Our kids are young (4 and 2) so we try not to buy them too many toys, especially since most of them don’t get played with. I think it’s important though to engage in what the kid likes and not just what the parent wants them to play with. Knowing my son’s love for balls, my husband bought each child a big ball for $3 at Target one trip. Granted, we already have balls, but the fact that it was unplanned and a “special treat” that daddy picked out, the kids were OVER THE MOON. Several weeks later and those two balls are STILL the most played with toys in the house. Best $6 spent this year!

    • Anne says:

      Tiffany, thanks for sharing. I think it’s so funny how that works. Hurray for $3 balls and Target trips with Daddy πŸ™‚

  12. With no kids, I can only tell you about my toys for myself. πŸ™‚ However, I am not good about spending on the little things. I think about the big expenses and the big FUTURE with way too much worry in my heart. I’m always saving for the future instead of taking advantage of the present.

  13. Kathi says:

    I have a Lego guy too and I did not even know about the Sean Kenney books! Thanks for the suggestion- he loves lego plans almost as much as the blocks themeselves.


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