Building an empire from the bottom up

Nima Abu Wardeh uses everyday life to educate her young son about making money.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
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This is the song doing the rounds at home these days:
"There's a hundred and four days of summer vacation / Then school comes along just to end it / So the annual problem for our generation / Is finding a good way to spend it."
These are the lyrics to the opening tune for the American animated comedy-musical television series Phineas and Ferb. Parents of young boys will probably be acquainted with it.
So, summer holidays are just about up, and I have a confession to make: we did zero schoolwork. Does this make me a bad parent? Will my child suffer as a result? Are we the only family to truly take the summer off?
In our defence, I have a few things to say.
Story time was our reading time. Comprehension was constantly worked on through exploring new places visited. I definitely know my son was fine in this department, as he took on all the safety instructions before we launched ourselves into the latest daredevil feat - like ziplining atop giant jungles, whitewater rafting and rock climbing.
Maths was addressed by working out the cost of things, the time an activity or trip would take and other daily-life matters, as well as talking through the budding entrepreneurial spirit my little one is showing.
In fact, we had great maths, money and life conversations. They included simple things like working out how much was needed for a croissant and juice.
Him serving customers at a bakery whose owners we befriended, including giving back change and handling money - where the coins go, and getting a real, literal, feel for them.
But even more significant was that my child got to thinking about passive income as well as ways of earning - all on his own. One day he stated that we should build a casita when we got back to the UAE - both as a way to meet people and to earn money. We had been staying in one - more of a standalone studio that we booked through Airbnb, which was a super set-up because it gave both us and the homeowners total freedom of access and our own space.
As for him earning, he came up with plans. One was to sell drawings, another to start a comic series. He sat for hours creating a work of art one day - based on the latest Lego hero fad. Then a few weeks later he presented me with his first complete comic book.
The only help I'd been asked for was to staple A4 pages folded in half, and figuring out how he could reproduce his art - as a result he is now asking whether photocopy machines will reproduce all the pages of the comic as is . meaning pre-stuck together and then wondering how copies of thick books are made.
Throughout these sessions, my boy has been excited and motivated by the simple and wonderful act of creating things - with the bonus prospect of earning his own income.
We have talked through what he would charge for his work and how it could be sold.
A great exercise was him figuring out how much he would be left with if he got a bookshop to carry his comics: If they charge him Dh2 for every comic sold (because they have to pay staff, rent and so on) how much would he get from the bookshop if he gave them 100 comics to sell and 70 were bought? He had decided he would price them at Dh10 each.
He has also been exposed to the cost of setting up a business - for example, how much it would cost to produce his wares.
Understanding true cost will take time, including factoring in electricity used to copy the comics and art, paper bought, petrol used to ferry him and his goods and the cost of ink and upkeep for the photocopier.
The point is that he is learning and coming up with plans that reflect his current understanding of things.
I knew he had a way to go when he said that I could just go to the thing that gives money (an ATM). Plus, the dear heart said we could live somewhere green and he'd pay me Dh2 out of the Dh6 allowance he gets every weekend (note to self -give him a pocket money increase) so that I would have an income during the transition.
But I know he's really ticking away in there when he asks me things like "what if a bank keeps your money?".
We do not spend a great amount of time talking about these things, but we do talk. It's a relaxed, exploratory dialogue that is often exciting and full of experimentation and dreaming out loud.
When was the last time you did this?
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website You can reach her at
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