Dollars and Sense…

We are always on the lookout for teachable moments with our kids, and the past week gave us two gems for financial responsibility.

Story #1: A Bullseye at Target

Our three oldest children participated in soccer this past Spring, and last week was the final game and awards ceremony. With all the pomp and fanfare that a Kindergarten through 6th grade soccer league demands, everyone got a nice trophy and 3 seconds of fame while being announced, all set to one of those “Party Jamz” CDs (one of those where they try to ride the fine line of being hip and edgy but also family friendly).

It was nice, and our kids really enjoyed it a lot. At the end, they raffled off about 12 $20 gift-cards to Target. As luck would have it, our oldest daughter AND our middle son both won. We felt a little bad that two of our kids won when there were so many there, but I guess we didn’t feel bad enough to give it back (Is that wrong?).

Immediately after, we had some time to burn and were looking for something to do, so we decided that we would take them to Target and let them pick out their spoils of war.

First, we realized after we rounded the first toy isle that this is the first time that we have taken our kids to a store like Target or Walmart. So many shiny plastic things! They almost exploded.

Basket o' ninos. They were exactly like kids in a toy store.

Basket o’ ninos. They were like kids in a toy store… exactly like that!

Second, the subtleties of shopping were a little lost on our two winners. At first, I think they thought that their card was good for “one free thing” in the store. The middle son almost immediately zeroed in on a Ford Festiva that he said he wanted (maybe it was just a really nice Power-wheel – it’s hard to be sure). We had to explain that he would need about 24 more cards just like his before he could consider that.

After we got the concept of picking out something that we could afford and how to read prices, I was proud to see that the limited options didn’t crush their spirits too much. We also told the two winners that it was their money and their decision, but it would be super nice if they bought something nice for their brothers and sister. They were under no obligation, but we floated the idea out there. We also made the other brothers and sister aware that this could be a trip in which they get nothing.

This led to two hours of bargain shopping, bartering, and problem solving. Beth and I coached them here and there, but we let them have the reins. We took about two laps in the store to learn all of our options, and then we started zeroing in on deals and how we could make everything work. A kid with a gift card would say “I want plastic thing X”, and we would say, “That’s too much” or “You can do that, and you have about $Y left”. The others without the gift cards would get excited when the “$Y left” was a big number because they knew they still had a shot at getting something.

The two youngest were pretty easy… Darth saw some Hello Kitty bubbles for $2.99, and the older sister locked that deal before she changed her mind – “Yes you can have it. I’m a great big sister, the folks happy, and I still have 85% of my money.” The youngest son, after looking at everything in the store settled in on a generic pontoon plane bath-toy for $1.99. The middle son agreed to this for similar reasons.

For the three oldest, the negotiations were more akin to a Middle-East peace deal. The two holding the cards (literally) were more judicious about their purchases since the stakes were higher (more money), and the oldest son was looking for something cool but cheap enough that his siblings would sign off on the purchase.

Any time one of them said that they would want something, the options of the others were limited. Eventually, the oldest found a flying disk toy that lights up on the clearance rack for $3.00, and the middle son found a Lego set marked down to $15.99. In typical lady-shopping fashion, our oldest daughter was the last to commit her resources, but eventually decided on a Barbie movie and a stack of pink playing cards ($9.99 and $2.99 respectively).

Thanks Upward - Everyone's a winner!

Thanks Upward – Everyone’s a winner!

With two and a half hours spent, we went to the checkout line, and to our surprise, we rang up $40.00 on the dot.

I can't do this on purpose, but five kids can do it when I take my hands off the wheel...

I can’t do this on purpose, but five kids can?!?

Our kids mess up a lot, but we were so proud of them last Saturday. They learned to share, to bargain shop, and to solve problems, all with a great attitude. When you walk into a store with five kids, only two of which have the power to buy something, and you walk out with all kids happy without spending a dime, that’s a huge win.

Toys and a two-hour family outing. Done and done.

Toys and a two-hour family outing. Done and done.

Story #2: Not Fair at the Book Fair

Our kids’ elementary school has had a book fair for the past couple of weeks, and our children have walked past it every day without being able to make a purchase. They come home telling us about all of the books that are there. We remind them of all of the books that they haven’t read here at the house. They don’t like that answer, but we try to remind them that just because we want something doesn’t mean we immediately get it… Man… I still have problems with this! I haven’t been allowed to shop at Walmart since Beth sent me for some milk, and I returned with about five movies.

Nonetheless, our oldest, after realizing that busting out all of his teeth for the quarters that the cheese rat leaves him wasn’t worth it, has been asking mommy for some odd jobs around the house.

The last day of the book fair was today, and he had about $3 to spend. He was so determined to buy something at the book fair, even if it was something ridiculous. That’s exactly what happened. He bounded to the car this afternoon after school with a Camp Rock poster, with Demi Lovato and the Jonas Brothers posing rather… well… you know… how I described that CD in paragraph 2.

I tried not to laugh, but he was so proud of his poster. I guess working hard for two weeks will do that to you! We just finished hanging it up in his room such that the Jonas Brothers have a front row seat to an 8-year old sleeping at least for the indefinite future.

Mom taught me everything I need to know about my taste in music AND movies!

Mom taught me everything I need to know about my taste in music AND movies!

He was further proud of the fact that he got a deal on it too. He told us that the posters were $5, but because it was the last day, the ladies wanted to get rid of the rest of the inventory, so they gave it to him for $1.08 (counting tax).

It's legit.

It’s legit.

Beth told me that she really wanted him to use his money more wisely, but I think, for now, it’s OK that the lesson is just “saving up for something you want.”

Our oldest daughter was pretty indifferent about the book fair, but our middle son chose a different, and more disappointing tact… he manipulated people.

After opening his piggy bank, he only had a few cents that he took up to school. It may have been close to a dollar. He needed at least a couple of bucks to be a “legitimate buyer” and get to leave class, so he coaxed his friend into giving him another dollar. On the trip to the book fair, the friend thought better of his decision, and took back his dollar. Cue tears. One of the sweet ladies at the school, not knowing the situation, stepped in and gave him a dollar after seeing this. Also, another student give him a couple of quarters to stop the waterworks. Upon getting to the library where the book fair was set up, he proceeded to brag to his friends about the money he got. Oooo! That boy!

Upon hearing about the caviler attitude after the “redistribution of wealth”, the teacher promptly returned money to rightful owners, put a frowny-face in his folder, and had him fill out a worksheet to make him think through his decisions.

We talked to him about begging, manipulation, laziness, and a grateful attitude for the things he has. Unlike the oldest, he will be working this weekend FOR FREE as he contemplates his decisions. Our middle son has told us a number of times that he plans to live with us for the rest of his life… After a day like today, I sure hope it doesn’t come to that!

We’ll see how all this goes, but after Christ, I hope one of the main things my kids learn from me is how to use money responsibly. Life is hard enough without the mistakes that have zeros at the end (to quote Dave Ramsey)!

At the dinnermesa,



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