Totally Quotable Clementine: learning the value of money edition

Clementine learned a valuable lesson yesterday concerning the value of money. We’ve been working with her for years now on counting change, and trying to instill within her some appreciation for how much stuff costs, but it didn’t really sink in until last night, when it came time to settle up on her vacation purchases.

When we left for vacation, she had $87. Some of that was earned, though her $1/week allowance, but most of it was given to her by relatives in July, when she turned seven. We didn’t bring the money with us, but we told her that, if she wanted anything, over and above all of the stuff that we were getting for her, she’d have to buy it with her own money. And, between Disney World, and the Harry Potter area of the Universal Studios park, she spent most of it. She bought a magic wand for $30, a chocolate frog for $10, a box of Every Flavor Beans for another $10, and a kind of spray-bottle-like contraption with a battery powered fan on top used for misting one’s self for $17. We did our best to make it clear to her that she was essentially buying a stick for $30, and a what was pretty much a Windex bottle full of tap water for $17, but at some point we gave up, figuring that it was her money, and that, sooner or later, we had to let her experience buyer’s remorse firsthand. So, we let her spend her money on ear wax and vomit flavored jelly beans, and all the rest of it, and we went on about our vacation. And everything was fine until last night, when it came time to count out the money.

There’s something about taking a big wad of bills, and handing a vast majority of them over to someone else that’s inherently objectionable at a cellular level. Her reaction was both visceral, and completely understandable.

As I don’t want to embarrass Clementine, I won’t go into a great deal of detail, but let’s just say there were many tears shed, a lot of yelling, and more than a little finger pointing. (She accused me, as she tried to claw her money back out of my pocket, of not telling her that the wand cost $30, which I had done several times. I even remember telling her that, for the same amount of money, she could purchase a Harry Potter DVD back home, and a few pounds of candy at The Rocket. But she wasn’t in the mood for reasoned debate at the time, as she stood there, in Ollivander’s Wand Shop, repeating “levicorpus” and flicking her stick at me.) Maybe it makes me a terrible father, but, as she was standing there beside me, crying, and demanding her money back, I was thinking that it was probably a good thing, in that, finally, she might be beginning to appreciate that things in our society cost money, and, more importantly, that saving money can be a good thing. (Before, when I’d talk with her about stuff, like how we had to turn the lights off in the house when we weren’t using them, in order to save money (and energy), I didn’t get the sense that she really understood that money was finite, and that, when we made a choice to spend it in one way, it meant not being able to spend it elsewhere. But, I think that now, thanks to Disney, the concept might be a little less abstract.)

So, we spent our afternoon talking about money, and how much things cost. I told her how much we’d spent on airline tickets and hotels while we were gone, and tried to get her to share our outrage over the fact that small bottles of water cost $2.75 a piece at Disney World. (It was 95-degrees during our visit, and we went through several.) At some point, I remember walking into the living room, where Linette was talking with her, and hearing Linette say, “That’s what Disney is… it’s a machine built to cloud people’s judgement and take people’s money.” I felt like grabbing my little video camera, but didn’t want to ruin the family Disney-trashing moment.

And then we went though her purchases item by item, discussing whether, knowing what she knows now, she still would have still purchased them. We talked about her options, and I told her that, if she wanted to, we could put the wand on Ebay and see if maybe we could sell it. I explained, however, that it was unlikely that she could get back the full $30 that she’d spent on it. After an hour’s discussion, it became clear that she didn’t want to get rid of anything that she’d purchased – she just wanted her money back.

So, I don’t know that we totally sold her on our anti-consumerism agenda, but I think we may have made some headway. At least, next time she’s thinking about spending her money, I think she’ll take a moment or two to consider what else the money could be used for.

Oh, I should also mention that, somewhere in the process of discussing all of this, we decided to raise her allowance… not so that she could buy more, but so that she could have money of her own to save, and to give to local non-profits. It’s an idea that we stole from our friends Meg and Andy. They give their daughter $3 a week, with the stipulation that at lest $1 be saved, and $1 be given to charity. We’ve always thought that it was a brilliant idea, and now seemed like the perfect time to introduce the concept to her.

If you have other tips for how to instill good money management skills in kids, please leave a comment.

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  1. Fran
    Posted August 21, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    Painful, but you did the right thing. We are working on it too. A friend gives a heftier allowance with an older child, but everything (clothiers, gifts, lessons) comes out of it. I can find the email describing it if you’d like. Probably too early for it now, but not by much :).

  2. Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Fran. It would be appreciated. Given the level of debt most young people live under these days, I don’t think you can start working on these kinds of issues with your kids too early. I agree, however, that it might be a bit premature to have Clementine buying her own juice boxes.

    And, yeah, I was tempted to just give her money back to her. It would have been the easier thing, by far. These opportunities don’t come up too often, though, so we thought that we should take advantage of it. Hopefully she appreciates it someday.

  3. Ken
    Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

    That orgiastic disneyological spending drives me crazy! I always refer to it as “stocking up for our next garage sale” and that seems to calm it down a bit.

  4. Posted August 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    When she’s in middle school, send her to me and I’ll make her do what I made my kiddos do…I gave them a job making $33k (I’m being generous, said I. We’ll make at least $60k Ms. Smith, said they. I am being GENEROUS NOW TAKE IT BEFORE I MAKE IT $30k, said I) and then took out taxes and made them figure out how much housing, transportation, etc. would cost. By the end, they had about $5 left per month and were just laughing about it. Cuz really, what else can you do?

  5. LAKE
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Take her back-to-school shopping at a thrift store and tell her she has to pay for it. She probably won’t like that, so going to a store with new and more expensive clothes seems like a luxury to her (or she doesn’t mind and finds cool deals at the thrift store, win-win). Or, if she insists you hit up another store more her style, maybe on the drive set a budget that she has to stay within. She might have to make some tough decisions, but maybe she’ll pay attention to sales and put back certain items that are expensive and suck up her whole budget.

  6. barbu
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    I hope she saves up for an NRA membership.

  7. Susan
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    2 thoughts:

    1) You should do only Quotable Clementine editions. I’ve really enjoyed all of the recent ones, thank you for having such an adorable kid.

    2) We did something similar to what you are doing, but up a notch. Our kid always got a dollar for every year – so Clementine would get 7 bucks a week. 1/3 goes to charity of her choice, 1/3 goes to “short term savings” and 1/3 goes to “long term savings”. The short term savings for things like vacations, books, candy – really, whatever she wants. The long term savings for college, or a motorcycle or whatever.

  8. ypsilistener
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 6:54 am | Permalink

    I used to do kind of a lay-away thing. When the object of the child’s desire was on sale, I’d buy it and put it in the Mom Store (out of reach but on a visible shelf). When they’d earned enough money, they’d pay me back, then receive the item. This way, they could get the better price, AND have a visible reminder of what they were working toward. I’m sure this wouldn’t work for everyone, but it did for us. We also did the same thing that your friends Meg and Andy did. It was pretty cool when there would be a fundraiser at school, for instance, and they could contribute their own money. It made them feel proud of themselves (and made me feel proud of them!).

  9. Posted August 22, 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I’m sure she’ll learn the value of money; it’s inescapable. It’s like learning the value of gravity.

    You might point out that the chocolate frog was in fact swiped from a Monty Python sketch; and that there is a lot of money to be made by marketing other people’s ideas.

  10. Edward
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I hadn’t picked up on that, Doug.

    I wonder if anyone has ever asked her if the allusion was intentional.

    Crunchy Frog sketch:

    “Well, if we took the bones out, it wouldn’t be crunchy, would it?”

  11. Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    She’s a Python fan, and said the allusion was intentional. The marketing people took it further, of course. They sold “Cockroach Clusters” for a while too.

  12. Grandma
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    Have her understand the value of a dollar. But let her be a kid. Moms and dads take care kids and then the kids take care of the moms and dads. It’s a great big circle! Get ready!

  13. Busyish
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    I feel a little torn about the idea of making children give what is being called “their own money” to a charity. Because the forced giving means that it was never really their own money at all, right? It seems like the plan could backfire and make the child ultimately hate giving to others. Did anyone here read “Bleak House?” It has a funny/sad set of characters–the pompous philanthropist mother and her bunch of children, all miserable and nasty from their parentally enforced do-gooding.

    But I’m not a parent, so I have no idea how real kids might respond….

  14. Mr. X
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    And she clearly stole the moving staircases in Hogwarts from MC Escher, and the owls from Twin Peaks.

    I’ll have to look for other Python reference.

  15. Jiggs
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I gave my daughter $10 for her seventh birthday three years ago. She has earns 10% per week on it, the “interest” compounds. She can not spend the $10 but can spend anything above it on anything she wants, as long as she has cash in hand to do so. The less she spends, the more interest she earns. It got up to $90 at one point, $9/week for me, and she spent most of that on a stuffed giraffe. She saved up and bought it because her friend had one. (However, I’m pretty sure her friend didn’t spend her own money on hers.) Currently she has about $22 ($12 + $10 = $12 to spend or continue building her wealth). She has on a few occasions chosen to give some of her money to charitable causes too.

  16. Bob
    Posted August 22, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    The part about wanting the stuff but trying to get her money back is adorable, but it makes me fear she has been following Taters links.

  17. TaterSalad
    Posted August 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Given the level of debt these days that Barack Obama has given all of us, I don’t think anyone other than Saul Alinsky understands and if you do understand, then you are a full blown socialist.

    15 to 1 ratio. This is exactly what Barck Obama and his socialist adminstration wants!

  18. LisaD
    Posted August 23, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Hm, I got a small allowance plus a ‘clothing allowance’ when I was a bit older than that. Instead of fighting about the fact that I could buy the 1 pair of expensive jeans I wanted or the 3 pair of cheap jeans my mom thought I should get, she added up what she would spend being way too cheap for the clothes I needed and then let me figure out how to spend it. And I gave money to charity even as a teenager, but I think I was born a bit of a bleeding heart liberal type – my mom never encouraged me to do so. Somewhat embarrassingly I think I had more money saved up at 18 from allowances, jobs, and babysitting than I’ve had since.

  19. twin peaks
    Posted December 31, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    Once kids start working in coal mines again, they’ll have a better appreciation for what a dollar buys.

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