I’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Cheeseburger Today (AKA Teaching Kids the Value of Money)

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The sticker chart which is traded in for coins at the end of the week. I personally like “Nomday” – is that when we get to eat something tasty??

My parents repeat the story over and over – the one about how my answer to everything money-related when I was my kids’ age, was, “Write a check because if you go to the bank with a check, they will give you money for free.”

Free money!!! Those magic checks…

What my parents didn’t realize was that the opportunity was the PERFECT chance to teach me more about the value of money and how it works: you work hard, you earn money, you save it up in a bank, then when you have enough, you can exchange it (via a check) for something else.

Last year, I stumbled on an opportunity to teach my kids about money quite by accident. My kids were in the thick of the F*cking Fours (the four-year-old version of the Terrible Twos), and I started a sticker chart to reward them for good behavior and/or penalize them for bad behavior. Each day, they would earn a sticker if they did the following: put their clothes in the hamper, brushed their teeth, and put their toys away before bed. IF they were naughty during the day, rather than put them in time out which was losing its effectiveness, they lost the chance to earn their sticker for the day. Simple cause and effect. Eventually, however, the novelty of stickers wore off.

And so, I decided to use money to target good behavior. They earned stickers in the same way as described above, but at the end of the week, we’d count stickers. 7 days of stickers earned them a quarter. Anything between 4 and 7 days of stickers earned them a dime. Anything less than 4 earned them nothing. Occasionally, they would earn dollar bills for something really extraordinary as an extra treat – for example, my son recently earned a dollar because he cleaned the entire playroom without being asked. Lesson Learnedmoney is earned, not given.

After a few weeks, my kids figured out that a quarter was worth more than a dime – they were extremely competitive with each other and would fight to see who earned more within a month. They also learned that four quarters = one “paper dollar” (they haven’t quite gotten the hang yet of ten dimes also being a dollar), and every few weeks, we would count up the coins and trade them in for dollar bills. Lesson Learned: You can save a little bit at a time and turn it into more money (also a good math lesson on adding up quarters).

We’ve let them spend their money twice. The first time, we were preparing to have friends over for a summer party and I let them each take $2 out of their money jar and spend it at the party store. Bubba spent it on a plastic dinosaur (which was actually about $3, but we pretended it was $2) – he was very deliberate about where he spent his precious $2 and thought about it long and hard. Lady B was just excited to spend money and blew it on a roll of random stickers that really had no sentimental or emotional value. When she returned home, stuck them all to her paper/drawings and realized that they had no lasting value, she threw a fit saying how unfair it was for Bubba to have gotten a better toy than she did.

“Think more carefully about where you spend your money…Bubba was really smart about how he spent his money.” Bubba gloated at that statement and lost his sticker for the day, but I think he felt it was worth it.

Lesson Learned: spending your money on something impractical is very unsatisfying.

The second time we let them spend their money was when we went to Disneyworld. They traded their money for “credit” which Mommy tracked. Bubba had $12.75 in his money jar that he traded for “Mommy Credit”; Little Lady B had $11.50. I told them they could spend it however they liked. THIS time, they both thought very carefully about what to buy, and each bought something for less than what they had brought with them (Bubba spent $11, Lady B spent $9) and came away with souvenirs that they both still love and use. At the end, they pooled their remaining change which totaled $3.75 and bought a giant ice cream to share.

Lesson Learned: if you think carefully about what you buy and spend less than you have, you will get more value out of what you buy and will have more leftover to spend on other things.

At the end of it all, I told them because they pooled their change to buy something to share with each other, they earned back what they spent on ice cream.

Lesson Learned: Mom is not such a hard@ss all the time…

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