Even before we moved to Texas, my son knew what money was. He came to understand the value of money when he was 3 years old and the Angry Birds game began allowing the purchase of a Mighty Eagle for 99 cents. (I believe my details there are accurate, but he’s the gamer guy, not I.) Anyway, my son would cry because he had no money.
Money was synonymous with game upgrades. Game upgrades were synonymous with winning. Winning was awesome.
When we moved to Texas a couple of years ago, we also moved far away from the rest of our family. Because of this, my kids no longer receive things like bikes, clothes, or giant stuffed animals from relatives for their birthdays or holidays. They, instead, receive money. No box of chocolates from Granma, they get money. No Easter basket from Granny, they get money. No fifteen presents under the grandparents’ Christmas trees, they get money.
He opened up his Valentine’s Card from his Grandma and said, “Ten bucks, woo-hoo! I can buy more expensive items!”
Remember when you were a kid and someone gave you money? I do. I got excited over nickels and dimes. There was no form of money too small. I squirreled mine away and refused to spend it which pissed off my older brother because I always had more than he did. So, my kids like the money and do not feel cheated by the lack of gifts. But none of my girls love their money as much as my 6 year old son.
With Christmas and Valentine’s Day, he accumulated more spending money than I have made in that same amount of time selling books. He knows exactly how much that is and he likes to remind anyone who will listen that he has that amount.
This morning I asked him, “Will you go upstairs and turn off all the lights? If you do, I will give you a dollar.”
My knees are bad and I hate walking up the stairs, so I hoped he’d take the bait. But, I had my doubts because one dollar doesn’t seem like much compared to his savings.
He said, “One dollar? Okay!” He ran upstairs and flipped off all the lights.
When he came back, I handed him the dollar my husband had left on the counter. My son took it and held it up at arm’s length to get a good look at it. “One dollar! I am a rich guy!”
I said, “If you do well at the doctor’s office, we’ll go to the store and maybe you can buy something.”
“Buy something? Yeah! Maybe a toy.” He sat on my lap.
“I don’t know what kind of toy you can buy with only a dollar, but we’ll look. Besides, you have other money.”
We went to the van, but along the way he had to stop and have help shoving his dollar into his coat pocket. As I buckled him into this seat he said, “I am a rich, rich guy and I can get more and more expensive things.”
I didn’t say anything, not wanting to encourage what was teetering away from cute and tipping over into sounding arrogant.
The money wasn’t mentioned again until after we finished at the doctor’s office and went to the store. I brought it up before he did because I wanted him to spend his dollar, not hold onto it. I wanted to use the moment as a lesson in how little a dollar would buy. We started out on the grocery side of the store, so there wasn’t much he wanted to buy there. But, he began to call out the prices of things as we rolled the cart past them. I could tell he was keeping his eyes peeled for any $1 items.
I intentionally avoided the toys and wheeled down the book aisle. I showed him a few Lego books, all more expensive than $1, but encouraged him to consider using some of his other money to make up the difference. He settled on a Marvel Coloring book which cost exactly $1. (I did not explain about tax.)
At the checkout, he pulled the dollar from his coat pocket and unfolded it. Then he handed it over to me, a satisfied look on his face.
Next, we went to the drugstore. That’s where I realized just how much he had learned about saving vs. spending. Obviously, I needed to tweak the lesson.
As he grabbed the shopping cart handle and stood up on the bottom bar (I always hold him in place with my arms under his underarms for support), he saw a display of Easter rabbits. He said, “Ten dollars! No one will buy those.”
“Someone might,” I said, and maneuvered us down the candy aisle toward the pharmacy counter.
While I stood talking to the pharmacist, my son eyed a battery display, the kind for hearing aids and such. The pharmacist said it would be a few minutes, so I told my son to hop back on the cart. He did, but his eyes stayed on the batteries, “Twenty dollars!? That is an unpopular item! No one will buy them.”
“Actually, people do buy them. They don’t need them often, so twenty dollars isn’t so bad. Plus, it costs more money to make batteries than some other things.”
Again at the ACE bandages and knee braces, he said, “Fifty dollars! These are unpopular.”
I sighed, not really wanting to explain again, but I did. “Some things are worth the money if you need them and you don’t have to buy them often.”
He wasn’t hearing it. His little eyes scanned the aisles for expensive items and he’d read off the prices just like my Papaw Duncan used to read billboards just to prove to himself that he could still see them. Only, my son’s voice held disdain instead of humor. “Fifteen ninety-nine! Twelve dollars! Oh, there’s more batteries! Ten ninety-seven!”
And then we came to the ball display, the tall wire basket in the center of the store. “Oh, Spider-Man! I want one!”
I pulled out the Spider-Man ball and handed it to him so he could look at it. “Don’t throw it,” I warned. “Just look at it. It’s five dollars. Do you want to spend your money on it?”
“My money?” He said, remembering his stockpile. He thought for a moment, “Yeah! I’ll do that.”
So, $20 for hearing aid batteries is too much. $50 for a brace that helps a person walk is too much. But $5 for a Spider-Man ball is worth every penny. Oh, to be a kid again….