No Joy In Mudville: Teaching My Son About Payback Periods

The other day my 14-year-old son, Matthew, was really trying to sell me on his wish for a PlayStation 3 video game console this Christmas. Never mind that he owns an XBox system that is in perfect working order, mainly because he got that as a gift from us last Christmas. I know.

The thing is, after paying almost $300 for an XBox last year, I struggled to see the logic in his request for a brand new PlayStation 3.

“Okay, son, help me out here. How much are PlayStations going for these days?”

“About $250.”

“Two-fifty, eh? And why should we shell out all that money for a new PlayStation 3 this Christmas when you already have a perfectly good XBox?”

“Because with a PlayStation I can play games online with my friends for free!”

“So how much does it cost to play online with your XBox?”

“About $50 per year.”

Uh huh.

Talk about a teachable moment, folks! And this was one of those money lessons for kids that couldn’t have been served up any better. My son just tossed me the equivalent of a personal-finance fastball — right down the middle of the plate — and I was going to hit it out of the park, boy howdy!

“So tell me again, son — why should I spend $250 on a new PlayStation?”

“Because online gaming is free with the PlayStation, but it costs $50 per year for an XBox.”

“But why would I pay $250 just to get free online gaming with a PlayStation, when I can pay $50 for the same service with the XBox?”

“But, Dad, it’s $50 per year.”

“So? Assuming the price stays $50 per year, the XBox is still the smart choice here, son. Think about it; it would take me five years to recoup my ‘investment’ if I bought a PlayStation.”

I thought about explaining to Matthew how it would take even longer than that if we also consider the time-value of money, but after having already smacked the pitch deep into the left-field bleachers, I was on the last leg of my home run trot and didn’t want to risk stumbling around third base.

The funny thing is, as I crossed the plate and stepped into the dugout I didn’t quite get the greeting I had hoped for. No cheers or high-fives for dear old Dad. Nope. Not even a friendly pat on the bum.

Instead, I felt like I was in Mudville — and yours truly had just struck out.

In fact, my son seemed rather annoyed that I was even able to make my point. “I guess you’re right,” is all he mumbled. And none too convincingly, I might add.

Then he went back into his bedroom. Presumably to play his XBox.

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson & Lou Fancher

38 comments to No Joy In Mudville: Teaching My Son About Payback Periods

  • tracee

    True story to make you feel better….I literally just had this exact same conversation with my 32 (!!!) year old fiance. At the end I don’t think he was quite convinced that xbox live for a year is still cheaper than buying a whole new gaming system…not to mention new games to go with it, but at least he gave up the fight! I feel your pain Len.

  • I’ll give you a high five for your homerun! My kids get surly too when I make a point that they don’t like. Someday they will understand….right?

    • Len Penzo

      Thank you, Pam. I think our kids will eventually realize us parents aren’t as dumb as they think we are. I just hope we don’t have to wait until they’re 32 like tracee’s fiancee! ;-)

  • … and a lesson about sunk costs!

    Ask him if he thinks he’ll still be playing either in five years – the PS3 and XBox 360 may have a decent life but they’ve already both been out for a while. It’s not long until the next generation systems mandate you shelling out another few hundreds for a system plus an annual fee…

    • Len Penzo

      Good point! You’re right about the sunk costs, Paul. I also pointed out to my son that the odds are technology advancements would make it such that he was going to get a new system (or simply quit playing) in another year or two anyway. He wasn’t impressed. LOL

  • I’m the Uncool Dad. I stopped buying my kids game consoles many Christmases ago. They wanted a new one every year and they kept getting more expesive. Plus, the games and accessories cost a fortune and became worthless every two years. What a racket.

    • Len Penzo

      It is a racket, Bret! I don’t remember having all these issues in the 80s with Activision, Intellivision, and ColecoVision. Or did we?

  • And chances are in five years there will be a new system to have anyways, so your point is spot on. I’m still playing my Xbox…the original one :)

  • Edward

    PS3 is a better console,a lot of XBoxers are just now figuring this out and switching over. He should’ve told you about the $50/year savings LAST Christmas though. (But I bet he kept that info quiet back then because his friends were on the XBox.)

    • Len Penzo

      I think you nailed it, Edward. Unfortunately, my son didn’t realize this when he asked for an XBox last year. Now he’s stuck, unless he decides to start saving up his money to buy a PlayStation on his own.

  • Len, when I know which gaming console is the best one, and the fine points of each, please call my wife and ask for an intervention. ( as you are known to say, “I’m just sayin…”)

    I know I can count on ya!

    • Len Penzo

      You know I got your back, Dr. Dean! (By the way, I had no idea how all this gaming stuff worked either — and I’m still not really sure, to be honest.)

  • I get the feeling there is more to why he wants a PlayStation then just the free online games. There must be more to the PlayStation than just that.

    • Len Penzo

      I think Edward hit the nail on the head. I think my son realized through time and experience that the PlayStation is probably the better gaming system and now he wants to switch over.

  • Derly

    Hey Len, a gamer(and first time poster) here. I don’t really think about consoles as “this one is better, or this one” all of them have pros and cons. Actually I think that the reason your son wants a PS3 is because there is a exclusive game he really, really, REALLY wants to play…

    …yeah, sorry, but we gamers sometimes can be really stupid :P

    So, that means that the PS3 doesn’t cost just 250, add the game, that’s probably another 40 to 60 dollars and that is the real cost of what he wants

    So yeah, If you want to know a little bit more about gaming, ask me and i might be able to help you:P

    Great blog BTW

    • Len Penzo

      Yep, the dough adds up even quicker if you consider you need to buy games too. Although I believe when we got Matthew’s XBox last year it came with one of those war games already in it.

      Thanks for the gaming tutorial. I’ll keep it in mind if another question comes up.

      And thank you for the kind words too.

  • Tom

    I’ll bet all of his friends play on the free online gaming system so he doesn’t want to shell out $50 to play against people who he doesn’t know.

  • YFS

    I’m a PS3 owner. I must say that the PS3 is a better console. Free only gaming and a blu-ray player. But, I understand your point about payback periods. I wonder if your son got the point or was simply upset he didn’t get his way.

  • “unless he decides to start saving up his money to buy a PlayStation on his own”

    Bingo. There’s the solution! ;-)

    Love the sense of humor in this well-written post. Having 4 gamer sons, it was deja vu all over again!

  • Entity325

    Ask Michael whether he’d rather own his console or rent it. Sony is working very hard right now to tell their customers that we don’t own the products we buy from them, with mandatory updates and broken promises. I love the stuff Sony makes, but I will never again buy another product from them.

    In my opinion, the Playstation 3 is definitely the better console, but Microsoft is by far the company I would prefer to give my money to.

    And while we’re on the topic of money wasters, I don’t have an Xbox Live Gold account. Not when I can jack into the networks at my friends’ houses and play “online” with them for free ;)

    • Entity325

      Matthew. MATTHEW. IT STARTS WITH AN M!

      well, while I’m correcting myself, I may as well stipulate: I won’t buy a product from Sony if they profit from it. If they take a loss on each one, all bets are off.

    • Len Penzo

      Well, Matthew will be giving his money to XBox whether he wants to or not. He’s got the XBox and there is no way I am shelling out big bucks for a PS3 now.

      • Entity325

        That’s obvious enough, being the intelligent financial guru that you are. I was simply suggesting an additional line of argument to help convince your son to be happy with what he has.

        In my case, I was about ready to get a PS3 when several things all happened at once. The OtherOS and GeoHot fiascos were two major deciding factors.(The other being that I was able to get a fully-loaded used Xbox from a friend for a pretty good deal)

  • Courtney

    I completely see your point about not wanting to buy another console. It’s ridiculous how much they cost and how often they change them so you can’t play the new games on the one you have. I wonder though, if your son actually thought he was making a good investment with the Playstation. In his 14 year old brain, he could be thinking that he will play on this same console for years and years (well beyond 5 to recoup the cost) and that you would actually save money in the long run (his mistake being that he didn’t consider that he would tire of it, or it would wear out). I’m sure you know your son really well and you can probably read his mind half the time, but his comment, “But Dad, it’s $50 PER YEAR!” and his focus on “play online for free” makes me wonder if maybe he actually tried in a roundabout way to make a good financial decision on this. It’s a waste of money to buy the Playstation, of course, and he could have been trying to justify it any way he could, but I still wonder based on your article.

    • Len Penzo

      Thanks for your comments. I don’t really know his ulterior motive, Courtney. I don’t think my son has developed any long-range visions yet though. He seems to be one of those kids that is always living in the moment. I suspect he will live his whole life that way.

  • Maybe you can let him save up money to buy a Playstation? $5 to mow the lawn; $10 to write your blog posts (with a raise to match Nina’s pay if he can also equal her writing caliber.)

    Then he can experience earning and saving for a big purchase. And in the meantime, his lawn-mowing/blog-writing proceeds can pay his $50 per year Xbox fee.

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