It All Begins with the Garbage

Lauren got a raise.  I was walking on campus of one of the school’s where I teach when she came running up to me just as excited as the time she told me about getting her first job.

Lauren is in second grade.  After doing a lesson on ways for kids to make extra money, she came to class the following week with a job to take the garbage bin down to the curb and bring it back up.  She would earn $2 each week for doing this.

Apparently she’s been doing a great job because she got a raise.  She announced to me that she now earns $3 a week for doing the same thing.  That’s a 50% raise.  Nice.

It’s also a life lesson.  When we do good work, people notice, and often we get rewarded.  Maybe it’s a nice bonus, or a raise, or words of recognition.  

Taking down the garbage bin will probably not turn into a career for Lauren, but her work ethic will help her earn other jobs with more responsibility and more pay.  It’s already happening.  And although she may not discuss her bin-toting experience during her first “real” interview, she won’t need to.  By then she’ll have accumulated a lot of other experiences.   Some of which may result in raises not quite so significant as her taste of 50%.  And that’s another life lesson.

The Monopoly Game

One of the best ways to make a point with kids is to give them real-life examples of things other kids do that underscores your message.  So, once again, I find myself using my own kids as pawns.  I hang out with them a lot and, as a result, I end up with a bunch of stories perfect for use in my money classes.

Here’s one I use when I talk with kids about unwise things to do with our money.  It’s a lesson on gambling and this particular example has to do with the lottery.

Now you may be thinking that the kids I work with aren’t even old enough to gamble.  True.  But gambling comes in many forms.   

We had driven to Pleasanton, a town about two hours from our house.  Ryan had a cross country meet.   When we “travel” to these sports events, we usually eat out, a rarity for us, and a treat for the kids.

We were at McDonald’s ordering our “food”  when Ryan picked up the McDonald’s Monopoly Game Board.  This story took place last fall so the game is now over.  But if you didn’t see one of the boards when the game was out, it’s a mini version of the real Monopoly board and the idea was to collect properties in the form of game stamps.  

The game stamps were collected by buying stuff off of the McDonalds menu.  If you were lucky enough to collect all of one color, then you won a prize.

Kids haven’t been around long enough to know that these things are rigged.  And by rigged, I mean rigged in a mathematical way.  You and I know that the probability of winning both Boardwalk and Park Place and receiving a million dollars is slim to just about none.  But kids don’t.  And if they win a free McSomething, it gives them the “bug” to try it again.

So here’s what happened.  We were sitting at the table eating when Ryan said, “You don’t know how bad I want to buy a soda right now.”  Those are his exact words.  I know because I wrote them down on the Free Parking pass we got for the cross country meet which, as I was writing on it, I thought appropriately fit the Monopoly game.  

Ryan wanted to buy a soda because we got the Arches Avenue game stamp with lunch.   All we needed was Golden Avenue and, voila, we were winners.  100,000 dollar winners.

“Go ahead,”  I told him.  “But you have to buy the soda with your money.”

That made him stop and think.  That happens when you put kids in charge of their own money.  But a few minutes later he said the exact same thing, only this time with more inflection.  “You don’t know how bad I want to buy a soda right now.”

I repeated my exact words, as well, only minus any added inflection.

He didn’t buy the soda.  He was unwilling to part with his money for something he knew had a slim chance.  Being a math teacher, I get annoyed at things like the lottery.  And my kids know it; we’ve talked about this stuff before.  That said, you can give kids all the information you want, but at some point they end up on their own, and all we can do is hold our breath and hope they do the right thing.  I exhaled with relief as we walked out of McDonalds, short one soda.

Here’s a little exercise I do with my students:  Ask yourself where, on average, you would lose the most money:  gambling in a casino or playing the lottery.  Most kids, and adults, choose the casino.  But in reality, the casino takes an average of 5% of the money you initially gamble, while the lottery takes 50%.

Why do kids need to know this?  Because apparently, “legal” gambling begins early.  I consider the McDonald’s Monopoly game gambling.   Okay, so it’s not hard core gambling, but it is most definitely a form of gambling.  And one that we willingly allow our kids to participate in.  So they need to know.

It’s just about arming kids with information.   The odds of you getting struck by lightening?  1 in 9,000.  The odds of you winning the lottery?  1 in 7,000,000.  The odds of you winning the McDonald’s Monopoly game?  My guess…you’ll probably get struck by lightening first.

I Love a Good Coupon

Ryan walked in from the garage yesterday with four loosely bundled newspapers up to his chin, plopped them on the counter and started flipping through them.

“Left-overs?”  I said.  He had just gotten back from delivering papers from his once-weekly paper route.

“Yeah, and these have great coupons in them!”

I love it when kids act like good consumers.  It’s a learned skill; kids don’t usually automatically scour the paper for coupons.  But when they are responsible for buying their own stuff…well that helps teach the lesson pretty quickly.

He had totally scored on coupons this week.  A favorite hangout for Ryan and his friends is Sky Zone, an indoor dodgeball facility.  Dodgeball!  Who knew?

Ryan bought himself a year pass a few months ago but it only covers some of the cost.  He figured in six visits he would have “made” his money back.  It cost him $29.95 and he gets two free hours and free shoe rentals for a year.

He’s used his two free visits and has been working his way through the shoe rentals ($2).  But he now has to pay the $9/hour rate.  The coupons in the paper were for $2 off an hour jump session.

So now, instead of having to pay $11 for each session, with the membership and coupon, he only pays $7.  Not bad.

But the best part, he gave two of the coupons to Nathan.  Saving money is important.  But sharing with your brother is even better.

Ryan’s Geometry Book

Ryan’s geometry book has been sitting on top of the dryer for about two weeks.  I finally got tired of looking at it and asked him about it this morning.  “Oh yeah, that’s our book,”  he said.  I was a little confused.  I don’t remember buying a geometry book.

“They wouldn’t take it back because the edges are all frayed since it’s been in my backpack.”  Apparently the book is the first in a two part series and when the teacher collected them his fell in the ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, you think we’re going to take that thing back?‘ category.  It did look pretty bad.

“So did the book cost you any money since they won’t take it back?” I asked.

“Yeah, fifteen bucks.”  He did not look happy.

I had to chuckle at his next words, “I am so not going to use the other book.  It’s upstairs in the cupboard and I’m not touching it.  I’m going to use instead.  It’s going to be brand new when I return it.”  He was on a roll.  I started laughing.

I’ve written about Ryan and his late library book before.  I didn’t even know about the late book fee until I found some change in his backpack.  Same with the geometry book.  I didn’t even know he needed to replace the book until I got sick and tired of looking at it on top of the dryer.

That’s what happens when you put kids in charge of their own stuff.  Hey, it wasn’t my fault that he kept his geometry book in his backpack until it was falling apart.  I’m so not paying for that.  And considering the new book is hidden in the cupboard upstairs, well that just shows he learned a lesson.   And that’s what giving kids responsibility does.  At least when they’re held accountable.  But that’s another story.

It’s Beginning to Come Together

I just got back from my lunch meeting with the student council at one of the school’s where I teach money management.  They are helping put together Kidnexions’ first Kids’-Only Yard Sale.  I’ve been salivating to do one ever since Keshelle from Camp Millionaire Bahamas emailed me about the one she was doing.  What a totally cool idea!

So here’s how it works.  At least, this is what I’ve got so far.  We’ll be “renting” out spaces in the school parking lot.  We’re asking for a minimum $5 donation which we are giving to Kids for Wish Kids (part of the Make-A-Wish foundation).  In money management terms, the donation is tax-deductable…at least for their parents.  It would be a shame to have this yard sale without bringing in all that great money vocabulary we’ve been talking about.  

The donation also shows one of the things we can do with our money: share it.

And the goal of the yard sale?  To make a profit…another great money word…and to clean out our closets.

The very cool thing about this yard sale is that it’s for kids only. Parents aren’t allowed to drag their old lawnmowers or dressers.  It’s kids buying, selling, and trading their old stuff.  Some are even planning on having a lemonade stand or selling baked goods.

Little entrepreneurs…another money word.  I hope to see some homemade crafts.

So the student council was assigned sign-making and getting the word out.  I have check-off sheets and all kinds of notes that I plan on putting up on the website when all is said and done.  Along with tons of photos of the event.  I’ve already learned a lot.  Like maybe next time we should have a limit of how many slots we rent.  Flyers went home Thursday afternoon and this morning I already have 10 kids signed up…with two weeks to go.  Uh oh.

Slingback Chairs

Last semester Ryan took a Home Economics class.   His middle school offers a variety of elective classes so I was a little surprised that he decided on home ec.  “It’s the food,”  he explained when I asked about his decision.  And that makes sense; what growing teenage boy doesn’t think of food all the time.

But eating isn’t all they did in class.  There was a whole unit on sewing. Ryan made a really cool gym bag which he actually uses.  During back-to-school night, the teacher had mentioned that kids can bring stuff from home to work on, if they wanted.  Darning socks was the only thing I could think of and I was pretty sure Ryan wouldn’t be too interested.

Then one afternoon my very tall brother sat in one of the slingback chairs I have on the back patio.  The canvas material ripped and he fell through to the cement.  Ouch.

But that gave me the idea of having Ryan make me new ones.  To be truthful, I first looked in the catalog where I bought the chairs to see if I could purchase replacement “slings”.  No luck.  So that’s when I thought of Ryan.  But I was pretty sure, just like darning socks, it wouldn’t be something he’d want to do.  So I offered him money.  After all, one of the ways for kids to earn extra money is to do those “above-and-beyond” jobs.  I told him I’d give him $15 per sling and I wanted two slings.  I figure the other one is about to go soon so I might as well be prepared.

Over the course of about a month Ryan worked on the slings during his silent reading class.  Luckily his home ec teacher was also his silent reading teacher so it worked out well.  Otherwise, it would have been necessary to give up part of his lunch which pretty much guaranteed that it wouldn’t get done, money or not.

Not long ago he arrived home with both slings.  That’s when I realized I made a measurement error and the slings were too long.   Measure twice, cut once.  I was lucky I measured wrong in my favor.   

The slings are finally done and they’re awesome.  He did a great job.  Except for the fact that he sewed in all of the pins on the top of one of the slings.  Bummer.  But he’s learned a lot about sewing and, boy, can he make a killer omelete.

I Love a Happy Ending

Remember when I wrote about one of my students, Angie, who made flyers for her pet-sitting business?  She’s been working her tail off!   And her sister, Naomi, who was also in the class…well, I’ll just let you read the email I received from their mom:

Angie finished her weekend of dog sitting  this past weekend. 2 labs for 2 days.  On Saturday Naomi passed out fliers on her bathroom cleaning business. Half an hour before she came back she received her first call.  Monday was Day 1 for her business, 4 full baths that took 2 1/2 hrs.  Now she is scheduled to clean this house every other week.  as of today she has received 2 more calls and hopefully those will bring additional business.  Angie also has future dog sitting already on the calendar.

How cool is that?!

And to top it off, I received another email from a mom who’s kids were also in one of my classes.  Here’s what she had to say:

Josiah keeps getting jobs and that makes his brothers very jealous!  He just got a tutoring job for a boy down the street at $10.00/hour.  Can you believe that?!!  He’s not willing to follow a budget yet but he’s not spending it yet, either. 🙂

I love it when kids take the initiative and parents support their entreprenurial desires.  There’s money to be made.  It takes a little time and some hard work, but it’s there.  Go for it!

The Mall

I picked Ryan up from his day at the mall with his friend, Cody.  Ryan and his friends usually don’t hang out at the mall which is fine with me.  I find that when I go to the mall I always discover things that I didn’t think I needed but all of a sudden have a desire to buy.  I have pretty good self discipline and don’t often succumb to the temptations, but I can see where it would require a lot of effort to resist things if you’re not as stingy as me.

That said, spending money is not a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a necessary thing.  It sort of keeps our economy going.  But it’s all about spending wisely.  So I was pretty proud of Ryan when he plopped into the car saying, “Wow. Used is the only way to go, mom,” and showed me the two “new” games he bought for the PS2.  Together both games cost $18.38 and apparently that was a great deal.

He also mentioned that he would be sharing the expense with his other friend, Luke.  He and Luke would split the cost and come up with a fair way to share the games.  They’ve done this sort of thing before and it has always worked out fine.  I’m glad they can problem solve these things.

But then he mentioned that he wasn’t worried about Luke paying his half for the games.  I asked him why and he said, “‘Cause he has a job.”  It’s true.  Luke has a paper route just like Ryan does.  Ryan knows what it’s like to get the paychecks in the mail.  Real money in the form of a check.  Nice.

I thought it was pretty interesting that Ryan made the connection between ‘he has a job’ and ‘he’ll pay me back’.  Not that this always works as I’m sure he’ll find out in life.  But knowing that Luke has income made it an easier decision for him to put up his hard-earned cash.

One other thing.  Ryan had called me from the mall asking if I would pay for a $20 t-shirt.  Ryan will receive his first clothing allowance this summer as he enters high school and from then on will need to work within the limits of his twice-yearly clothing budget.  Until then, I will pay for all of his clothes.  And he doesn’t want much, so when he called, I told him that I’d pay.

In the car after he showed me the two PS2 games I asked about the t-shirt.  He had run just short of money after buying the two games so wasn’t able to get the shirt.  I asked if he wanted to go back in and get it.  “Nah.”  I think he just wanted to get home and play the games.  But the funny thing is he hasn’t mentioned the shirt or even seemed interested when I asked him about it again later.  And that’s my point about out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  If we could find some other place besides the mall to hang out with friends maybe we wouldn’t need as much as we do.