This weekend, Big and I went to New York City. We’d been talking about it for months, a special Mother-Son time without interruptions. And it was a marvelous time. If you’re close enough to be able to take a child on a special overnight, do it. Do it while you can, before extra-curriculars and friendships take over and suddenly your weeks turn to months and you can’t get a free Saturday for a decade. I know it won’t be long until that happens.
We were crazy busy. We walked from Penn Station to Times Square to Rockefeller Center to Central Park to the Upper East Side through Central Park and back down to Times Square. And that was just day one. Needless-to-say, I’m still exhausted.
I had planned for this trip to be just me, Big, and the city. What I didn’t plan was the extra beast that joined us: The Benjamin. The $100 bill the Huz gave to Big the night before we left. Big was so proud of that $100. He tucked it into a special pocket in his backpack and proclaimed it to be his money that he could spend on whatever he wanted to spend it on.
Big’s never had an allowance. We reward our children in prizes (and sometimes giftcards) and if they need or want something, we generally discuss it and, as parents, make an executive decision about the item. When we have change in our pockets we split that among the kids’ piggy banks. The $5 they receive from Grandparents in holiday cards is usually also put in the piggy banks, though larger amounts are deposited in their bank accounts. Never had Big had control over such a large, untangible being as a $100 bill.
10 minutes into our train ride, as I was charging our tickets, Big pulled out his $100 to show to the conductor. 2 hours later, as we checked into the hotel, he told Alba, front desk attendant at the Westin, “my Dad gave me $100 to get anything I want!” As we put our luggage in our hotel room, I requested that I be the holder of his money, in a special pocket just for him.
$100, to a child, is overwhelming. It was a great lesson, really. At first, he looked for all the big ticket items he could buy. Should he get a camera? An ipod? (We did go to the Apple Store where he quickly learned you can’t buy everything for $100.) At the LEGO store he found that a dream set he’s been eyeing up cost more than our night in the hotel!
At every store, he wanted nothing more than to buy, buy, buy. At one store there was a mini-breakdown as he admitted to being overwhelmed with choices. Later, he passed on buying a bottle of water, “I’m so thirsty, Mom! But that costs a dollar. And I need that dollar for candy at Dylan’s Candy Bar!” (Dylan’s Candy Bar is a hot Upper East Side candy shoppe.) (Of course I bought a bottle of water for us!)
About halfway through the afternoon, I texted the Huz: never, ever, ever give $100 to a 7 year old. He can’t handle it.
He couldn’t . And, really, neither could I. I spent so much time talking him down from random purchases, all the while standing by the “but, its your money so you have the final decision.” At Toys R Us we argued over the purchase of yet another toy that he was going to have to carry through NYC, where he told me, “Mom, its my money. You can’t tell me what to do with my money.” (He’s right, I couldn’t.)
It was about then that I received a reply from my husband, suggesting that I offer an alternative: every dollar that Big brings home, unspent, we would double and put it in his savings account for later.
Suddenly, saving was desireable. Suddenly, there was value to this money that, previously, was only there to spend spend spend. The rest of the night, he never asked to buy anything else. The next day, he spent a total of $4.27. $1 on a bottle of water and $3.27 on Statue of Liberty sunglasses (the perfect, fun, inexpensive souvenir.)
For a few months, I have consulted with FamZoo, a virtual family bank that teaches kids about saving, spending, and choices they make with regards to their money. Without giving my children allowances, I didn’t see a need to use the program, though I had explored it often for work and have talked with the very passionate founder, Bill Dwight.
This weekend, I learned, first hand, about the importance of teaching children the value of money. I learned that kids need to recognize that these intangible numbers so fancifully displayed on piece of paper have more meaning than they seem. That money, when respected, is there when you need it for actual need, not necessarily want. And that saving is a good thing. Money isn’t meant to be spent, that’s not why we’re given it. Its meant to be saved for important use later, or donated to a cause (though this is another intangible factor to many children) or used, sparingly, when something is desired. But money is not meant to be given away.
I received a free 1-year-membership to FamZoo as a part of the Backpack Bloggers’ Fill the Backpack campaign, as did both of my winners. I haven’t signed on yet, as I was waiting for my kids to be of a ripe enough age to appreciate FamZoo. FamZoo offers graphs and charts to show the money you have, the money you’re saving and spending. It uses graphics to express how close kids are to their goals. FamZoo reaches kids on so many levels. It also allows room to track household chores and jobs.
Bottom line (yes, pun totally intended) children need to learn that money does have value. And they need to learn how to manage it, before they just start spending and spending and spending until its all gone.
This post is sponsored by Ziploc and 20th Century Fox as a part of the Fill the Backpack campaign run by the Backpack Bloggers. Thanks to all of our participanting sponsors, particularly FamZoo, which I plan to finally sign up for with Big.
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