We ask Ricky, from money blog Skint Dad, as part of Talk Money Week, to answer the following question. Join in the conversation on Twitter and tell us what you would advise.
Dear Skint Dad,
My son is addicted to his Xbox, and to one game in particular. When he asked if he could download it, I said yes because it was free, and ALL his friends at school were playing, so I didn’t want him to be left out.
What I didn’t realise, is that the game encourages you to pay real money to get upgrades and buy items. My son asks for money for something for this game every week, every day sometimes. His friend’s parents give them the money, and if he doesn’t do the same he can’t play along in the same way.
I can’t always afford it and I’m worried that he doesn’t understand that buying things in the game costs money in real life. He gets so upset when I say no and constantly pesters me about it. I find it really hard not to give in.
I’m worried just giving him the money all the time is teaching him a bad life lesson. I’m not in any position to tell his friends’ parents what to do, but it puts me under pressure.
Dear Parent of a Gamer,
As an avid gamer myself, but also now a skint father, I can see both sides of this.
While your son wants to have fun, you are desperate to look after the household finances. The games I played when I was younger didn’t have the option to download things instantly from the internet and that is considered a normal way of spending money today.
Now I know times change, but the priority here is making sure you’re not going to leave yourself skint. I’m sure your son would prefer you being able to afford to pay the electricity bill to keep his Xbox on, than having these ad hoc game purchases.
First things first, you need to take a look at your budget and see what you can afford.
If paying out excess pocket money is not leaving you with enough cash for the rest of the household, you need to adjust what you’re doing. Work out what’s coming in (including any salaries and benefits) and then deduct all the bills, as well as other spending you need to pay out, to see what’s left over.
Once you’ve worked out your budget, you will know what you can afford to give your son through the month. Then, instead of giving him the money in dribs and drabs, give him a one-off pot.
Sticking to an allowance
It will be hard to give him cash if he plans to spend money online, but you could look to swap his cash pocket money for a gift card for the console.
Let him know you’re giving him an allowance for the whole month and he needs to manage and control how it’s spent. If it runs out in the first few days, then he won’t be able to buy anything else.
It’s a good way for him to learn how quickly money can get spent and to understand how to limit his purchases. If you’re planning to buy gift cards, then you can look to save money straight away.
There are a number of marketplace sellers, like Zeek or CD Keys, who sell cheaper, discounted gift cards. Buying a cheaper gift card will make sure you to have an immediate saving on how much you’re spending out.
Ways to save/earn
As a way to earn some extra digital download credit for the console, there are a few apps that allow you to earn money for completing tasks. This is doing things like downloading and testing other apps. Now, you’re not going to make a quick buck with this, but over time you can get some free gift cards, which all helps.
For some online games, you’re also able to earn in-game credit. There are some games where you can carry out tasks and get rewarded, as well as being able to earn in-game credit by completing daily and weekly quests.
While your son won’t be able to make loads of money back, it will give him a chance to save up a bit and realise how hard it is to earn the currency.
Depending on your son’s age, a part-time job around school may also be an option so he can start earning his own money. A paper round, some hours in a local shop, or even babysitting for a neighbour, can give your son the ability to have some of his own spending money.
Doing some research
Something else to try is looking to learn about the game yourself. Some online games have needless purchases, such as skins, which don’t do anything, so are not worth spending the money on.
It’s worthwhile doing a little bit of research about the game to see what items have better value and what doesn’t. It’ll also give you a chance to connect with your son over his hobby and discuss all things gaming.
When it comes down to it, you need to make sure that you can really afford to be giving him money so regularly. Just because he tells you ALL his friends play the game doesn’t mean for certain that ALL the other parents are buying upgrades regularly, even though he may really feel like this.
Take a bit of time and just talk to your son about how finances are managed, so he can try to see things from your side. Yes, he may be a bit annoyed that he won’t get his way, but it’s a good lesson for him to learn.