There’s been a lot of talk about money in our house lately. What is it? Where does it come from? Who makes it? How does a person get it? As you can tell by the line of questioning, the interest is coming from the two youngest members of Camp Jarl, more than likely precipitated by the generous in-flow of birthday cards they have been receiving in recent days from faraway family and friends. Whenever they have received monetary gifts in the past, they have handed off the money to me and cared little about it. Gift cards they understood, cash was another story. I’m not even sure they realized they could spend it. And now for my first mom-fession on the blog: I must mom-fess to having spent
a lot some of that cash over the last several years. That’s right: I have spent some of my children’s birthday money on things that were not birthday presents. Not that I ever intended to selfishly deduct from my boys’ registers but as someone who never carries cash, every once in a while that birthday money got me out of a cash-only manicure/pedicure tip jam. And, let’s face it, they already have too many toys as it is! Surely they could spare a few dollars for a cappuccino for mommy? No? Well I’m really holding out hope that I can’t be the only parent on Earth guilty of this. But, even if I am, at least I have officially owned it on the internets.
Anyway, this summer we have been seeing quite a bit of our neighborhood cash-only ice cream man in Connecticut, who does parents the pleasure of making his rounds every. single. day. The boys have watched me scramble to add up whatever quarters I can find that miraculously equate to the cost of one watermelon bomb pop or two-ball screwball (yes, that’s the actual name of Tino’s preferred choice). Needless to say, the boys have developed a new appreciation for cash when otherwise they would only tie money to plastic cards.
With all of this money finding its way into their little pockets, it got me to thinking about ways I could meaningfully connect their gifts to reality. At nearly 4 and 6 years old, they are certainly old enough to have an introductory discussion about the role that money plays in the world. After all, if they are old enough to contextually ask me for money — they’re old enough to understand what it takes to earn it. We have had chats before about why mommies, daddies, and grownups in general, work in order to be able to provide for their families. They understand that if grownups don’t work, they aren’t able to buy things like food for the table or gas for their cars. Both boys have always enjoyed playing with their toy cash registers set up to mimic our experiences at
Pottery Barn the grocery store or other places of business. Alejandro and Antonio have also taken turns asking Doug, who works in the financial services industry, if he “sits at his desk counting monies all day,” (not exactly). But the link between themselves and money has always remained mostly intangible.
No longer, my friends, no longer.
With a little reflection, I remembered seeing an idea on one of my social media feeds that divided a child’s money into three separate containers; one for saving, one for spending, and one for giving. The idea is that the child is allowed to decide how much money is put into each jar and, in being the decision maker, learns how personal choices can dramatically impact someone’s finances. “If Tino spends all $5 on Ice Cream Man Monday he won’t have any money left for Ice Cream Man Tuesday.” So simple but so powerful. I loved it. I knew that my boys just being able to physically see the money divided in front of them would be tremendously impactful. Couple that with giving them the opportunity to let them be in control and make a choice of their own and you have a homerun. So, we set out yesterday morning with a mission to find our materials and put it all together after nap that afternoon.
We picked up a pair of these crates and jars at our local craft stores. I was giddy to swipe all of them at upwards of 70% off — the jars were only a $1 each! I loved how they already came prepped with the chalkboard paint, as I was prepared to have to add that myself in a separate step. I also loved the convenient attached lids that make it especially difficult for them to go missing as most things
not nailed down do in a house shared with little people. At first I wasn’t thrilled with the selection of crates, baskets, and containers — and I didn’t have it in me to take on another painting craft twice in one week — but the industrial edges on this won me over. I had the idea to turn the crate on its side and sit the jars upright on the base. The fact that I found the crates before the jars and didn’t know if I would be able to find any that fit properly made the choice a little risky but, what can I say, I live on the edge.
As you can see, the jars were a perfect fit. I grabbed one of my chalk paint markers I had at home and we went to work. As you see in our ‘finished’ picture, we labeled each jar; Spend, Save, and Tithe. For anyone not familiar, ‘tithe’ is a term commonly used to refer to donations made to one’s respected church or religious community. Having found their little behinds in a pew at our beloved parish every week of their young lives, the boys are very familiar with the ritual of tithing and putting money or envelopes in the baskets during collection. But even the Catholic Church has gone digital — Doug and I tithe in one lump sum via an electronic debit system our church is enrolled in. I defend my belief that cash really is the dinosaur of currency.
After a lengthy discussion about what each jar stood for, we laid out all of the money each boy had collected. I gave pre-school examples of what each Abraham Lincoln could buy them. I could see the wheels in their little minds turning as they began to prioritize their Gatorade, bubble gum (sugar-free, Auntie Kristin the Dentist, don’t worry!), and church contributions. It was a real treat for me as a mom to listen to them rationalize their choices. I was shocked when both of them chose to put the most money in their Tithe jars, followed closely by the Save jar, and lastly by Spend. Just to keep things right in the universe, Tino did end up putting more money in his Spend jar than Alejandro.
I have to say, for any parent who is considering whether or not this is a conversation they would like to have with their budding pre-schooler or Kindergartener, I would highly encourage it. I was amazed to see how engaged the boys were in our conversation about the in’s and out’s of finances, and how eager they were to decide where they wanted to allocate whatever they had. I hesitate to say I was surprised at their generosity when it came to giving, but I was. Alejandro even understood that 4 Abraham Lincolns would satisfy a “whole month of Sundays.” As a parent to young children it is so easy to get lost in the sibling bickering and fatigue-induced whining and lose sight of all of the good you are accomplishing in helping to shape their little minds and encourage their little hearts. An exercise in financial education for them turned into a bit of validation for me and, as a mommy, that is a trade-off I am always happy to accept.