About six months ago, inspired by a few internet blogs and my son’s first grade math homework, we simplified our sticker chart reward system. In lieu of buying toys or treats, our kids (ages 7, 4, and 4) are now working toward cold, hard, American cash.
Yup. That’s right; they’re locked and loaded. They each have a wallet/purse, they generally have goals they’re working toward. The accounting is on them. It’s been a learning experience for all of us, and here are the principles we’ve followed:
- Let them choose. Whatever they want to buy with their money, with very few exceptions, is fair game. Do I think the Paw Patrol car is a total waste of money? Yes, yes I do. Does my snake obsessed seven year-old, who owns at least 436 toy snakes, need another? No, he does not. But it’s not my money.
- Let them lose. The wallets and the money aren’t mine. It’s not my job to care for them or track their whereabouts. Losing one’s fortune to the heating vent, mysterious cracks in the minivan, and/or the dog are…life lessons. Expensive ones.
- Allow yourself time (but not too much). If I’m in a rush at the store, wallets stay home. We won’t go to the toy aisle. But if we’ve made time for that type of trip, I decide, ahead of time, how much time they’re allowed to have. And we stick to it.
- Let them suffer. After what felt, to her, like EONS of saving, my four year-old made it to Target, her purse heavy with a small fortune: $12. Her goal was to buy a dress. On some days, she may have been able to find something on the clearance rack. However, that day was not her day. The ones she wanted were $30, and the lowest-priced, acceptable alternatives were $15.
Similarly, after raking in some substantial birthday dough, my son waltzed into the toy section with $18. This is a heart-breaking amount of money to have if you want to buy a Lego kit; the cool ones start at $19.99. In both cases, the kids were super bummed.
And, frankly, both times it was legitimately difficult for me not to rescue them, throwing just a few dollars in cash at them, to bridge the gap. I held back, though. In both cases, the kids saved their money and will go back, richer, into the fray.
- Let them transact. Actually, I think this is one of the most important lessons we’re trying to teach. Not only do the kids get to choose their toys, but they march up to the cash register, dollars in hand. They say, “I’d like to buy this, please,” to the cashier. They fork over their money. They get the receipt, and stow the change in their purses (I expect the older kid to count his money and change, too.) They say, “Thank you.” And, while I do help the 4 year-olds with counting, they do as much of this independently as possible. In support of this goal, I try and go to the store at less busy times, and I tell the cashier what we’re up to, beforehand, saying something like, “Hi, ___ has earned some money, and she’d like to make this purchase herself. Would you mind helping her learn?” If a line springs up, I offer more support. I haven’t had anyone complain, yet.
I really have no idea if I’m culturing long-term financial ability in these precious creatures, and if these baby-steps might one day help them put me up in a nicer nursing home. However, I can say that, overall, it’s been fun. It’s teaching them independence. And, most importantly, the other day one of them said, “Hey, Mom! Can we go for ice cream? I’LL PAY!”
And that, right there, is every parent’s dream.