Life with Liz: Learning the value of every dollar
We all want to be the best parents we can be, and when it comes to creating responsible, thoughtful human beings, my kids check most of the boxes when it comes to manners, good grades, good teammates and most of the other things I hope that I’m getting through their thick little kid skulls.
But two recent incidents have made me worry greatly for my kids’ future and pointed out a big hole in my parenting abilities. A received a wallet for Christmas. Santa may have noticed that he was using a cubby hole on his bed as a temporary bank and thought that it was time for some actual financial organization.
A proceeded to put all his savings in the wallet, including his Christmas loot. Then, he went to the movies with his friends, and lost the wallet. A didn’t see a reason to mention this to me. Luckily, he has a little brother who was only too happy to rat him out. I immediately called the theater. Miracle of miracles, they had already found the wallet, and its contents and they agreed to hold it for me.
Now I played the parenting trick of knowing something that A knew that he didn’t know I knew. A few hours went by and he didn’t mention it at all. I couldn’t help myself, I broke down. “Where is your wallet?” I asked. At least he was honest when he responded that he lost it. I asked him what he intended to do about it. He informed me that there was nothing that could be done. It was lost. I’ll let you imagine the scene where my head exploded and the subsequent dragging of him back to the movie theater to claim it.
The next incident involved E and the annual yo-yo assembly that happens ever year at school. Parents of elementary school kids will know exactly what I mean, but for the rest of you, there is a group that comes to the school and performs all kinds of yo-yo tricks, and has a message about positivity, anti-bullying, and all the good stuff that goes along with being a kid these days. Of course, after the assembly is over, your kid is free to buy all the products that they demonstrated in the assembly. My kids do know better than to even ask me to support this purchase, but this year, E decided she would spend her own money to buy a case for the yo-yo that she bought herself last year.
A few hours after she left for school, I got a message from the teacher that $5 had been found and several students, including E, were claiming it as theirs. She just wanted to know if I had sent $5 to school with E. I explained that E had supposedly taken her own money, but I could not say for sure if she did, or if she took a $5 bill of five $1 bills, or any other denomination. I also told the teacher that if she did take it, and was careless with it, it would be a good lesson for her to learn.
Again, I played the parent that knew something they didn’t know I knew, and I asked E if she had gotten her $5 yo-yo case. I got a very convoluted story about how she thought she took $5, but then when she got to school, she didn’t have it, so she was just going to take $5 the next day to buy it. So, I proceeded to tell her that I knew the $5 was lost, and that if she had taken the care to put it in a change purse or a wallet, instead of just stuffing it in her pocket, she might not have lost it, or if she did, it would be in a case that she could identify as hers. I asked her if she was upset that she might have lost $5. She responded that “it was only $5.”
Clearly, I am failing my children greatly when it comes to making them understand the value of a dollar. I’ve tried allowing them to manage their own money. When they receive gifts over a certain amount, it gets banked for their college years. Smaller amounts are theirs to manage. They are pretty good about saving up for big purchases, particularly electronics, that they know I won’t buy for them, but their disregard for a dollar or five here or there, bothers me and I feel that I’ve failed them as a parent.
When I was little, a few times a week, during the summer, I would be granted a whole quarter to spend on penny candy at Kellett’s Ice Cream Stand. Kellett’s was just one of many little shops in the area where a kid could pig out on sugar for way less than a dollar. I am dating myself, but at that time, you could fill up a little brown bag almost to the rim if you budgeted carefully. These days, both the corner store and the penny candy are long gone, and with it, I think an appreciation for the power of a penny or a nickel, or an entire shopping trip that could be financed by a quarter. Nowadays, the Swedish fish come sanitarily prepacked by weight for $1.19 at the minimart.
Recently, we visited a candy store that claimed to be old-fashioned, and even though they allowed for the selection of a few red fish, a few gummy worms, and a few flying saucers, the result was paid for by the pound, so my kids didn’t really get the idea of how much a penny can buy.
There’s also a lesson to be learned in the portion control of buying five fish for a nickel, versus buying pounds of candy. I can’t help but wonder what our grandparents, who made it through the Great Depression on a shoestring, would think of this culture where a penny is practically useless, and a child has little regard for the power of a dollar.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing writer to the Times News. Her column appears weekly in our Saturday feature section.