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The Toddler Candy Challenge and Money Management

Have you seen the Toddler Candy Challenge that’s been trending on Facebook lately? A parent sets up their phone to record their toddler sitting at a table. The parent brings the child to the table and sets some candy in front of them saying, “Don’t eat this candy until I come back. I’ll be right back, and then you can eat it.” Then the parent leaves the room for a minute. The audience watches to see if the child has the impulse control to refrain from eating the treat without supervision. Then the parent comes back in to praise the child if they are successful.

This challenge is a take on a behavioral technique of delaying gratification. In the original experimental design, the child is offered one piece of candy, which they are free to eat while the adult is absent, but if they choose not to eat the candy in the interim, the adult tells them they will be rewarded with a second piece of candy upon their return. This design allows the child an opportunity to perform a cost benefit analysis and make their decision accordingly.

Delaying gratification is an important life skill for many reasons, and especially in the arena of money management. If you are helping your child learn about money by giving them an allowance or having them earn money through work, you have the opportunity to teach them about delaying gratification. Perhaps they accrue one dollar per week. Take the opportunity to counsel them in their options. At the end of one week, they could go to Dollar Tree and spend their dollar on something small that they are mildly interested in, or they could save their dollar each week until they have enough to buy a more expensive item that really excites them.

The same principle applies to adults. Are you willing to nickel and dime your income away each month with small, insignificant purchases, or are you going to be disciplined to save up for a larger purchase, or for your retirement? Ultimately, the one who is most affected by your decision is you. Whether you choose to enjoy your money now or later is up to you. But don’t lose sight of your long term goals when faced with a decision in the moment about how you could spend some of your money.

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