Sunday, 23 July 2017

Weekly Column: So What The Hell is a Fidget Spinner?

So what the hell is a fidget spinner?

If you have kids, or even if you don’t, you may have heard of “fidget spinners” that are all the rage right now. Consisting of a ball bearing and some metal weights, these are the next popular gadgets for kids to yearn for.

Remember Pok√©mon? For those older folks, maybe hula hoops are a better comparison. Basically, it’s a toy just cheap enough to make it into almost every household, and leave those without one feeling alienated and alone. Isn’t childhood fun?

On one hand, many parents saw that fidget spinners range in price from seven to $16, heaved a sigh of relief that they don’t cost more, and just bought the darn things. But, on the other hand, the supposed low cost is part of what’s frustrating. They must cost very little to make but are priced just at the cusp of what most people would refuse to pay.

You might say, why is there always an old curmudgeon complaining about the cost of things? Let your kids be kids, buy them the toys, give them a fun childhood!

Old curmudgeon or not, some of us can’t help but look beyond childhood at the implications fads like these have on our kids.

For starters, it’s small and easily lost. Nothing grates on a frugal parent like spending $15 on something that might not see 24 hours of play. Depending on how many kids you have—because who expects their kids to share anything nowadays—you may be looking at a lot more money spent and potentially lost on the playground. This is especially true if they are treated as disposable and more are bought as others get lost or wrecked.

There’s no conclusive research proving these gadgets do anything to improve concentration—it’s hard to imagine how they aren’t considered a distraction. This makes them a gimmick, pure and simple. They’ve been marketed as a “learning device” when indeed they are not. In that sense, they’ve infiltrated our schools and homes using misinformation.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, trendy toys like fidget spinners give rise to a number of emotional hang-ups for kids and parents alike. Were you deprived of similar “cool” toys when you were young? If so, does this make you more or less likely to buy in to the fad? Does your child feel left out, less popular, or picked on because they don’t have what everyone else is playing with?
Because, really, all any of us wants is to feel like we belong. And your child may be begging you for a fidget spinner (or any other toy) not necessarily because they want the item but simply because they don’t want to stand out as being different or, in their minds, less than.

Choose to buy the fidget spinner, if that fits your financial situation. It’s true that they are cheap and seem to provide hours of entertainment, even if some of us can’t wrap our heads around the pastime. But don’t make these types of purchases thoughtlessly. 

Consider the labour and cost that goes into manufacturing them overseas. Consider that mindless spending and the acquisition of whatever is popular teaches your child to put impulse before common sense. We don’t know what economy they will face as adults. Is it wise to let these learning opportunities pass them by?

It’s not that we shouldn’t indulge children with occasional treats and surprises. Not even old curmudgeons want to rob kids of joyful childhood memories. But use this as an opportunity to have thoughtful conversations about spending.

Do you want it based on its own features, or mostly because everyone else has one? Are you willing to do extra chores in order to earn the money to buy it yourself? Do you promise to share your spinner with the kids that don’t have one, knowing as you do how it felt to be left out of the pack?

Frugal people don’t mean to bust your chops over every trivial purchase you might make for yourself or your kids. But we know that we’re making mortgage payments with the money that accumulates when you resist these petty fads.

We can’t help but have the vague sense that kids and adults alike often learn more from deprivation than from reward. Wanting and not getting builds character and encourages empathy, while constant gratification breeds only an appetite for more, and more.


Whether you buy the spinners or not, the next fad is just around the corner. Setting a precedent with your kids that every purchase, no matter how small and meaningless it seems, will be discussed and evaluated and saved for gives you more traction when they later expect a phone, a car, or their education to be handed to them.

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