A Dollars and Sense Life Lesson

My daughter has $3 burning a hole in her pocket. Actually, she keeps it in the car, in her cup holder, in case we go somewhere and she remembers that she has it and she decides she wants to buy something.

My daughter is a money novice. She’s collected money in a piggy bank for awhile, but that’s about it. This past spring, she worked toward earning her first solo toy purchase. She kept her tooth fairy money, did some odd jobs and collected a few dollars in her Easter cards. She picked out the doll on one shopping trip, and held tight to the idea of saving the money for it for nearly two months. I thought we were on to something.

Then she went on a field trip to the zoo with her day camp. Apparently, we missed the memo where the kids were allowed to bring spending money on this excursion. I didn’t hear anything about the wonderful treats and fabulous toys her friends were able to buy the day of the field trip, but when we returned to the same zoo as a family, she was ready to bargain for some treats herself.

“All of my friends got to buy ice cream except for me and Ben. We were the only ones who didn’t have money for ice cream.”

“In the gift shop, Mommy, they have the cutest baby foxes for stuffed animals!”

“Do you see that juice bottle shaped like a lion? My friend Emma bought one. I didn’t have any money to buy one.”

“Those Dippin’ Dots, they are $3. I have $3 you know.”

Oh my. Yes, she was well versed in all the ways one could spend money at the zoo. But here’s the thing- our family doesn’t buy those sorts of things. When we were at the zoo at Christmas, we skipped the $5 hot chocolate for sale there and went through a drive through on the way home. Cost of two hot chocolates, one coffee and one Coke? Right around $5. We tried to use the hot chocolate as an example, but even today, three weeks after the field trip, she’s still hell bent to spend her $3 on that ice cream.

Me: “Once you spend that money, Little Sally J, then it’s gone and you won’t have it anymore.”

LSJ: “I know that mom, but I really want to try that ice cream.”

Me: “You know, we could get a lot more ice cream at the store for $3.”

LSJ: “I know that, but I really want the ice cream. Besides, when I buy it, they’ll give me more money.”

Me: “What do you mean? Once you spend that $3, then you don’t have it any more. You’ll have to lose more teeth or do more work the get more money.”

LSJ: “No mom, when you buy things they give you some money back.”

Me: “Oh, well, that’s actually the change. If something was $3 and you paid for it with a $5 bill, they’d give you the $2 back. That’s making change, that’s not getting more money.”

LSJ: “I still really want that ice cream.”

So, what were your first independent purchases as a kid? Were you allowed to spend your money on random everyday crap or did you work toward earning something specific? Parents, what do you do with your own kids?

6 replies on “A Dollars and Sense Life Lesson”

I think you have to be really careful with money bargaining. One of the reasons my mother is overweight is because she can’t stand to “wastefully” toss leftovers. She wears clothes well beyond their expiration dates. And yes, she follows the same logic you do about being able to buy ice cream at the grocery store. The issue there is that your kids don’t want the ice cream from the store; you’re better off saving all your money and not buying ice cream at all if you’re not buying them the one they want. It’s a quality over quantity thing. You end up with a fridge stocked full of cheaply-bought food that no one’s going to eat.

My son is 7 and plays wizard101 which is an online based MMORPG (Massively Multi-Player Online Role Play Game) – yeah we teach ’em early to be nerds in our house. It’s a child safe gaming website where kids create wizard characters and fight bad guys in battles. There are some great reviews of the game for anyone who has a tech-savvy kid between 5-11 years old.

To the point, there are items in the game that cost “Crowns”. These are only obtained by buying game cards at places like Game Stop or Target. They are like a gift card that can only be used for Wizard101. Anyway, they come in three denominations, $10, $20, and $39. He is pretty good about saving up his allowance, birthday, tooth fairy etc. money and buying them.

My son is almost 4, and he is learning these lessons. A few weeks after he started getting money to spend, he picked out some candy at the store. He got chocolate flavored Necco wafers, and he was not thrilled. I knew he wouldn’t like it, but I let him buy it and he learned that just spending money isn’t all he thought it was.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately because my teenagers are old enough to start thinking about jobs. I’ve heard from a few different sources that it’s a bad idea to let teenagers do whatever they want with their money once they start getting a paycheck. It ill prepares them for real life when they get a paycheck that has to pay for bills and rent and whatnot, with a much smaller percentage going toward buying fun stuff. I’d suggest doing what they recommend, have her put at least half of whatever money she gets into a saving jar for her doll and let her do whatever she wants with the rest. It’s hard to let your kid spend $3 on a fancy ice cream when you know that she could get more bang for her buck by waiting till you leave the zoo, but in the end it’s her money to spend as she likes. Sometimes the only way to learn the lesson is to make the mistake yourself.

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