Ah, 4-Year Olds

Four-year olds are adorable in so many ways. Especially the way they think about the world. Because they haven’t had enough “life” experiences, yet, their understanding of things is limited.

Take for example, the four-year old granddaughter of a friend. Her six-year old sister’s piggy bank fell and broke. All the coins and bills scattered on the floor. She set about helping her sister pick up the money, starting with all the bills. She handed them to her grandmother saying, “We don’t need these.”

“Why not?” asked her grandmother.

“They’re just pieces of paper,” the four-year old replied. Apparently, if it wasn’t round and shiny, it wasn’t money.

Not long after that, the six-year old accidentally (how does that happen?) ripped a twenty dollar bill. She handed the pieces to her grandmother saying, “We can throw these in the garbage, they aren’t good anymore.”

I love these kinds of stories because they’re examples of the perfect teachable moments. Although the 4-year old may not be ready to fully understand that bills are actually money and therefore worth something, beginning the conversation is important.

And how cool is it to know that even though a twenty dollar bill is ripped, if you have both pieces, it’s still a twenty dollar bill.

These are the moments when kids learn most about money. It’s relevant, it’s meaningful, it’s interesting. Let’s keep on the lookout for the priceless (!) opportunities.

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Spend to Make? But, of course!

I hung out in a second grade classroom last week to talk about saving money and then have the students make their own Money Jar.  It was a fun lesson and the Money Jars turned out unbelievable.  Kids and their creativity never ceases to amaze me.

While we were discussing money issues, I asked the students how they got money. Of course, the usual answers came up…allowance, chores, birthday money.  Then one little guy raised his hand and volunteered, “You have to spend money to get money.” 

Wow.  It took me a second to let his comment sink in.  If I was with a group of adults, I probably wouldn’t have skipped a beat.  Adults spend money on investments all the time in the hopes of making that money grow.  But I was in second-grade-mode, and the thought of a second grader coming up with this took me by surprise.

But he’s absolutely right…even on a second grade level.  Think about the good old fashioned lemonade stand.  Before you can make a profit, you first need to purchase all the supplies.  The same goes for making and selling crafts which a lot of kids like to do. 

I am always impressed with the kind of thinking that kids do if we allow them the opportunity to share their thoughts and reasons.  Who’d have thunk that a seven-year-old would get the concept that, yes, sometimes to make money you need to spend it.  Sheesh…with this kind of thinking, it’s hard to be smarter than a second grader.  🙂

Girls = $

We were driving home from Nathan and Ryan’s basketball game yesterday when I asked Nathan what he planned on giving his girlfriend, Shea, for Valentine’s Day.  “I bought her a rose,”  he said. 

“My math teacher did an equation in class the other day where he proved girls were evil,”  said Ryan.

Ryan often throws out what I think are non sequiturs, but which actually turn out to fit in with the conversation.  It just takes a few additional questions to get there.  I wasn’t sure where Ryan was going with this one, however, and I would have been pretty surprised if his math teacher really believed it, so I asked him to explain.

“Mr. Williams did an equation where he said that girls equals time times money.”  Okay, I was with him so far.  “Then he said that time was equal to money so that makes girls equal to money squared.”  Hmmmm…. “Then he said that greed is the root of all evil so that makes girls equal to the square root of evil.  Cancel out the square and square root and you end up with girls equal evil.”  Double hmmmm.  And apart from the early reference to money, I think this was actually a non sequitur.  And I was a little concerned about the impact of his “equation”, especially on girls. 

“He’s only kidding, mom.”  I’m sure he was, but his equation was implying that girls were expensive and things that are expensive are evil.  But let’s focus on the expensive part for a moment.

I have to take issue with the perception that girls are expensive; I know plenty of girls who are much more frugal than their male partners.  That said, I do feel that high school is the time when boys are exposed to the cost of females.  That’s because it’s typically the time when boys and girls start dating and along with that comes expenses.  And from listening to the stories Nathan and his friends share about girls and their expectations (i.e. money spent on them), girls expect a lot.   Nathan is finding this out as he had to put out for last week’s Valentine’s dance ticket and dinner.   I know Nathan, and my guess is that he compares these expenses to a tank of gas.  The dance cost him two tanks of gas.

“I’ve decided that instead of going out to dinner and spending lots of money for Valentine’s, I’m going to take Shea to a little pond that Ronnie, Jimmy, and I discovered on one of our bike trails.  We can have a little picnic and then I have two movie ticket gift cards so we can go to the movies after that.  It won’t cost me a penny,”  he said with a pretty wide grin.  No, it’ll cost me money since it’s my food he’ll be using.  But that’s perfectly fine with me.  He’s learning some important lessons.

Then Ryan pipes up again.  “My friend is waiting until after Valentine’s to ask one of his friends to be his girlfriend.  He says he’ll save a lot of money that way.”  No non sequitur here.  That message came in loud and clear and made perfect sense…in a frugal, money-saving kind of way.  I wonder if his friend is in Mr. William’s class…

The Rubber Trees

Nathan and Ryan had a “job” over the holidays watching the neighbor Tom’s two cats and taking care of the plants.  They’ve done this job before, apparently well enough to get asked back.  Actually, they take the job seriously.  I know, because the rubber tree plants gave them quite a scare.

About two weeks into the three week stint, Nathan and Ryan came back from Tom’s house looking a little worried.  It had been unusually cold in our little town of Rocklin.  So much so that it actually snowed.  Enough for Ryan to run out that white morning and make a decent snowman.

Two days before the snow, however, the boys ran over to Tom’s to cover the plants.  Part of the job description included checking the weather forecast for temperature drops.  They were instructed to cover a section of the garden with plastic if it dropped below freezing.  I was proud that I didn’t have to remind them to do this; teaching kids how to be responsible is often difficult and, as a parent, you may not know if they’re learning this life skill until you see them running over to the neighbor’s house to cover the plants.

This particular day, the boys returned from feeding the cats and checking on the plants with definite concern in their eyes.  The rubber trees in Tom’s back yard were looking pretty “brown and droopy”.  Tom had asked that they water the trees every four days unless it rained.  Well it had rained so the boys figured the trees were fine.  Until they saw them that morning.

“You did what he asked you to do,”  I told the boys.  “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Yes, but we don’t want Tom to think we’re not responsible because their trees died,”  Nathan said.

It’s nice to see that kids actually care about things like whether or not the neighbor’s trees die…on their watch.  That’s what I love about having kids do small “jobs” such as this.  Jobs that don’t involve mom or dad, where someone else is boss.  And it’s been my experience that kids really like the responsibility.  They like knowing that someone trusts them to do the job and do it well.  Money aside, the confidence-building alone is worth it.

And the rubber trees?  Turns out each winter they turn brown and droopy.  They perk up in the spring.  Who knew?

Splurge. It’s Okay.

Nathan was headed out to Kragen’s the other day to buy some items for his car.  He loves his car and spends a lot of time…and money…on it.  I don’t know where this kid came from.  The rest of us look at cars as a tool to get us from point A to point B.

I asked Nathan why he didn’t get his supplies at Walmart which I was sure would be cheaper.  “Yeah, I know Walmart is cheaper.  But I love talking about my car to the people in Kragen’s.  They’re extremely helpful and know what I’m talking about.  They even installed my new windshield wipers the last time I was there.  For free.”

I’ve always taught my kids to be savvy shoppers.  Shop sales, I tell them.  Compare prices, I add.  Getting value for your dollar is important, I stress. 

But my little conversation with Nathan reminded me that sometimes spending a little extra in order to receive a little extra, is not a bad thing.  In fact, it’s a good thing.  We should splurge a little on the things that are important to us, as long as we don’t overdo it.  And most of us know where that line is.

Before Nathan walked away with his coveted car supplies he added, “Oh, and I love drooling over all the other stuff they have in the store.”  Made me think his (eventual) girlfriend is going to have to be a little understanding.

Enjoy the Ride

I had the pleasure of sitting in the passenger seat while Nathan drove me and Ryan into Sacramento.   We were headed for a tour of the Capitol as something to do while John’s parents were visiting.  Since we sold the Suburban last year, taking two cars has come up a number of times.

I noticed how smoothly Nathan accelerated each time the light turned green.  So smooth I had to look out the window to make sure we were actually moving.  I wondered if he was doing that because mom was sitting next to him.

“Notice how I don’t peel out when the light turns green?” he asked.  “That’s because the car uses less gas that way.” 

And there you have it.  It had nothing to do with impressing me with his new driving skills.  It had to do with saving money.  Money he is responsible for.

“Of course,” he admitted, “Sometimes it’s nice to take off a little faster.  Like if I’m at school.” 

I smiled to myself as I thought of him “peeling” out of the school parking lot in an attempt to impress whoever was around.  I’m pretty confident he doesn’t burn rubber.  Nathan is a safe driver.  Besides, Ryan is always with him and he would tell me.

It never ceases to amaze me that when kids are in charge of their spending, they often make the right choices.  And when it comes to one particular teenage boy and his car, as a mom, that’s a relief.

Inside Out

So I’ve noticed the last several times I’ve done a load of laundry, that Nathan’s shirts are always turned inside out.  I have this thing about reversing clothes and socks.  I don’t do it.  If either the boys or John take off their socks inside out, they get washed inside out and folded inside out.  Same with shirts, underwear, shorts… They don’t like it when I do that, so they’re careful about how they take off their clothes.

But having to hang Nathan’s shirts inside out hasn’t happened in a long, long time.  So I asked him why, all of a sudden, he was taking off his shirts inside out.

“So the designs on the front last longer,” was his reply.

Most of Nathan’s shirts have printed designs on the front and, apparently he had noticed that they were beginning to fade.  Somehow in conversation with one of his friend,s he found out that by washing the shirts inside out, the design on the front could last longer.

Nathan buys all of his own clothes.  He gets a clothing allowance at the beginning of the school year that needs to last until spring when he’ll get another, smaller, allowance to take him through summer.  The money he doesn’t spend is his to keep.   The deal is, he makes a list of needed items that I approve, and then he goes out and buys the items.  That way he’s not wearing shirts with holes in them just to save the money.

So I found it interesting that since he is responsible for buying his clothes, he wants them to last as long as possible – designs and all.  And it made me wonder that, without this responsibility, would his shirts have ended up in the laundry inside out?