My little boy, Joe, who recently turned 9 years old, was upset to discover that a gift card he received from his grandmother last Christmas did not work; he couldn’t buy anything with it. Actually, it had worked for a while, but it stopped working when he exhausted its balance by making a bunch of purchases so piddly he couldn’t even remember them.
“Sorry,” I told him, after typing the card numbers into a website transaction page for the third time in vain. “I guess you’re out of money.”
“I can’t buy anything?” he asked.
I was truly gratified by Joe’s quick grasp of a concept that very few citizens, politicians, or major corporations in our country seem to have come to terms with. He is obviously a brilliant child.
“That’s exactly right,” I confirmed. “You can’t buy anything. Not until you get some more money.”
“Unless you buy it for me,” he suggested.
Goodness! Now he’s even as smart as the head of Citibank — although this might indicate that he’s going downhill fast. But at least Joe’s in the league of all the financial institutions, government officials and manufacturing giants who understand that while they might not have any more money, it doesn’t mean they have to curb their spending. Because they can just get hold of someone else’s money and spend that. And when I say “someone else’s,” naturally, I’m talking about yours and mine.
But I don’t want Joe to think like General Motors apparently thinks, so I told him he couldn’t count on anything from me except the bare essentials which I was already providing: food, clothing and shelter. I might, from time to time, choose to treat him with an item or an activity that wasn’t strictly necessary, but that would be my choice. And it didn’t make his own pockets any less empty.
I decided to take this hard line with Joe because I want my kids to be responsible with their money.
Of course, I could have saved Joe from his predicament in the first place. I could’ve warned him that he’d be sorry, as he blew through the whole $50 on his Christmas gift card buying iPod games, a laser pointer (his third), and who knows what all else. I could’ve insisted that he save his money and wait until he had something really important he needed it for. But I decided to let him fritter it away so he could know what it feels like to be broke – the kind of broke you brought on yourself and could have avoided.
So now, Joe won’t have much in the way of spending money for quite a while, unless he’s willing to do some chores that aren’t on his regular list.
My kids don’t get paid for doing their regular chores, by the way. They’re expected, among other things, to get all their dirty clothes into the laundry room, to keep their rooms clean, to feed the dogs and cats and clean the cat box. So perhaps that would justify an allowance. But I’ve always told my kids I’m not paying them for doing this stuff because it’s not stuff I have them do for my benefit. The nature of a paying job is that you do something for someone else’s benefit, therefore they owe you. But I’ve been clear with Belle and Joe that they do these chores for themselves. We’re talking about their clothes, their rooms, their pets. Not mine.
So Joe might have to wait until his irrigating job starts this summer before he finds himself flush again. I hope between now and then he’ll have many occasions to regret the fact that he spent his Christmas money so quickly and carelessly.
And in the long run, I hope Belle and Joe will be just two people in a generation that will mind their money a bit better than ours has, and that they’ll avoid the situation we now find ourselves in. They’ll certainly need to be good with finances, because we’ll be expecting them to pay off one helluva debt.
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