Friday, June 26, 2009

DS

DS, for those who do not live with an eight year old boy, stands for Nintendo DS or Nintendo dual screen and it's handheld gaming unit. It's what every grade 2 boy we know owns and the only way parents ever take children on long trips. Except us. We use some of the old fashioned ways of traveling, if ever we are brave enough to go further than our local mall. We bribe, plead, beg, threaten and pray. Sometimes simultaneously.

I'm kind of anti gaming. I watched some kids play games in a catatonic state, their thumbs moving as they slay a dragon. I don't like the violence in some games or the vacant look the gamers have.

We are no stranger, as regular readers will know, to computer games. We just don't buy the shooting or repetitive ones. We buy the ones where you have to find stuff, figure out stuff, solve puzzles, search for clues. I've convinced myself that this makes all the difference.

The J Boy has wanted a DS since last fall and made his request to a big red fat guy. Santa did not comply so the J Boy started saving his allowance.

By "saving his allowance" I am really overstating the case. Though J does theoretically get $2 per week, it's really notional accounting. He never asks for it and we don't actually give it to him. I used to have a scrap of paper and I would keep track of how much we owed him.

Initially, every time Husband or I had an extra tenner or a wallet full of $1 or $2 coins, we'd throw it in the pile, make some calculations and scribble "Paid to Jan. 2nd". This would likely be in about late February and we rarely ever caught up.

Eventually, we started using J's allowance as our petty cash. Money needed for field trips or to buy chocolate covered almonds from the Boy Scouts at the door would be taken from "our" slush fund. I kind of liked having that pile of coins. Husband needs coins to wash the car. J kept me afloat for a month when I kept forgetting to buy bus tickets but had ready access to his coinage.

For a while I kept track of what we owed. In my head. So if you had asked me in early March what we owed J, I would have said, "we owe him $16 for bus coinage, $4 for the field trip, $8 for the car wash, $4 for chocolate almonds plus $20 I took to work for a lunch out."

Eventually, it became much more loose, and I daresay as fictional as the books of Enron.

J didn't want to spend his money so I was not really held accountable. Quite fortuitously, he didn't really press me to see his stash of allowance or our Ponzi scheme would have been exposed.

Every once in a while he would ask me how much he had and I would pull a figure out of the air. "You've got $110!". I tried to remember to always make the number go UP from the last time he asked as he didn't spend it and he accrued another $2 every week. We also had to add tooth fairy money (which he funded from his pool of money) and some birthday money.

I realized at one point that I have given him a number about $20 too high, but there was no undo button on that so it became a parental donation to the DS.

Quite apart from allowance juggling, since Christmas I have been tracking the price of DS's. I figured, having taken 4 undergrad courses in economics, that demand is high at Christmas, and with collapsing economy and usual retail slump in January, we could look forward to lower prices. The DS universally sold for $129.99 at Christmas.

Imagine my shock when it was $134.99 in January. The price went UP! I didn't think it would last and I was right. A month later they were selling for $139.99! Apparently Nintendo DS's are price inelastic. At least the price doesn't go down. I actually saw an article interviewing the president of Nintendo saying "the sales of DSs aren't going down in the recession". I spent more than a little time checking out multiple suppliers of the DS thinking somebody, somewhere must have it on sale. Never.

In March I started to hear the hype of the Nintendo DSi, the new better, faster, WiFi version, due out on April 1st. It was set to sell at $199 so I wagered, the DS price would come down. It didn't. The $139.99 price held.

Once the J Boy crept closer to accumulating the price of the DS he cottoned on to 2 things: games and taxes. The $139.99 price tag did not include any games. A few games can be bought for $20 but most are $30 to $40.

Sales taxes (federal and provincial) are 12%. We have foolishly always paid the taxes on the kids' purchases. It was worth it to us to pay the 24 cents on the $2 "Gone Fishing" sign at the dollar store, rather than explain exactly what taxes are, why we have to pay them and why it isn't really $2 "when that's what the price tag says". So J secured our commitment to "always pay the tax on the stuff we buy with our own money".

In June, I let the allowance amount rise to $150, meaning he could afford to buy the DS and almost a game. I thought if the kid is going to get this thing, it may as well be for the summer when his boredness and my impatience peak.

I upped my price surveillance looking for deals. I even checked out Craig's List for local available units. Though there were some, I could not bring myself to buy a used unit only to have it fritz out in a week.

I also started asking around about good games to buy. About the same time, I saw that Toys R Us was selling the DS for $129.99 IF you bought one game in their list. There were a few at $19.99, which meant J Boy could get his DS and a game for his $150 (assuming the parental tax exemption continued).

When the rubber hit the road, he pretty much only wanted a $40 DS game. None of the $20 games interested him. They weren't "real DS games". I even found one that is similar to the ones he plays on the computer but he was steadfast in his desire for a certain kind of game.

So the Toys R Us deal was no good to us. I did float the trial balloon with Husband that we pay for a game (in addition to the tax and my overcommitment on the allowance thing). But we never really settled on it.

At lunch last Friday I was discussing possible games with one of my very reliable Mom friends mentioned "wow, those DS are really getting cheap".

How could my surveillance system go so horribly wrong.

"They're $99 at Shoppers Drug Mart. I saw them there this week and they had all kinds of them".

This Mom knows her stuff and I knew I could take this to the bank. What hadn't I thought to include drug stores in my intelligence grid?

After school, I told the J Boy about the sale (I resisted the urge to pull him out of school early) and we headed there as soon as I could shepherd them and their backpacks to the van. He was giddy over being able to afford the DS and a real game. So was I.

I did make some gentle reminders that the sale might be over, they might be out of stock or we may have had some confusion. "Don't freak out on me if we can't buy it" were my exact words.

Well we did have a freak out when they were sold out. But it was me. They had boxes and boxes of DS's labelled "SALE $99.99", which is what Reliable Mom had seen. The boxes were empty. They were sold out and had been all week. I expressed my dismay, displeasure and even disgust over having the boxes there so it looked like they had them in stock.

"We just haven't put them away", clerk said casually.

"They've been there all week ... my friend was in 3 days ago and saw them. That is why we came in. Don't you think that's ... irresponsible?"

"We should take them down".

I gave her the evil Mommy glare and waited until she started doing so.

When I got home I called every Shoppers Drug Mart in the tri-cities area only to be greeted with guffaws that I would think 6 days into the sale that they would still have any. Everyone was sold out on the first day, because you see, they NEVER go on sale.

J Boy maintained his composure remarkably with this disappointment. He said we could just buy it at $139.99. I reminded him of the Toys R Us deal and started tauting one of the games on sale for $19.99 that actually was 42 basic games. They weren't the fancy Mario Bros/Star Wars/ Indiana Jones, but rather solitaire, checkers, bowling, old maid and a bunch of Japanese card games I have never heard of. With the Shoppers Drug disappointment he was ripe to accept the compromise and immediately saw the appeal of 42 different games.

And so late Friday night I sojourned to Toys R Us for the coveted DS. Imagine my delight when he actually took pride is showing S how it works, and shared, more than a little with his sister. And his mother.

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