The Red Ink Flows

With absolute seriousness, Ryan glanced up from the kitchen table and wanted to know what ‘red ink’ they were talking about.  After all, he said, he has only ever seen the morning paper covered in black ink.

On his quest to find the comic section this morning Ryan stumbled across the title of an article on the front page, The Red Ink Flows, from which came his query.  Even if he had read the words that followed…deficit could hit $21.3 billion… it probably wouldn’t have made a difference.   How could he know that red ink (in the red) refers to a loss?  It’s not exactly intuitive.

Which made me think about other money phrases, or idioms.  Things like money doesn’t grow on trees, saving for a rainy day, made of money, penny pinching...  As adults, we’ve been saying them so long we tend not to think too much about the literal meaning.  But taken literally, they’re hilarious.

Which then gave me an idea for a fun lesson to do with my money students…having them represent a money idiom of their choice through a drawing.  Not only will it be fun to draw something ridiculous, but it’s the perfect opportunity to introduce the meaning behind the phrases.  There’s wisdom, or at the very least some interesting conversation, to be found in those words. 

See if you can guess some of these “illustrations”:

  1. a pot cooking on the stove filled with books
  2. fingers squeezing a penny
  3. a nicely dressed penny
  4. a lady at the checkout counter handing over an arm and a leg (okay…maybe this one won’t make the list…)
  5. a baby with a spoon in it’s mouth
  6. a mouth filled with bills and coins

Did you figure them out?

  1. cooking the books
  2. penny pinching
  3. pretty penny
  4. costs an arm and a leg
  5. born with a silver spoon in his mouth
  6. put your money where your mouth is

 Do you have any favorites?

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.

Flashback: Bounced Check

I was going through my binder of story ideas for my monthly Kidnexions Connection newsletter and found a post-it with a story about Nathan.  It’s a good thing I took the time to write the story down because I had forgotten all about it.  So here’s the first in a series I’m calling ‘Flashback’ as I remember or find things my kids did when they were growing up that relates to learning about money.

Sometimes we adults use vocabulary words that don’t always make sense to kids.  It’s hard to do it any other way, though,  since kids  arrive on this planet with little understanding of any words.

But as our kids get older it’s easy to forget that something that makes perfect sense to us makes absolutely no sense to them.  Take the words ‘bounced checks’.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve bounced a check, and that happened because a roommate of mine handed me her rent check without the funds to back it up.   My VERY FIRST mortgage payment in my entire life bounced because of that.  Lesson learned:  just because someone has a full-time job doesn’t mean they have any rent money.  And there’s a reason people collect first and last month’s rent.

But back to Nathan.  I’m not sure what the context was, but apparently I had used the words ‘bounced check’ while he was listening.  It was probably something like, “I can’t believe my VERY FIRST mortgage check bounced because she didn’t have the money to pay for rent and never told me…”  But whatever it was, he realized that bouncing checks was not a very smart thing to do.  

Apparently he’d been giving this some thought because he finally came up to me and asked,  “Is it okay to bend checks?”  (He does know what checks are.)  And honestly, I had no idea what he was talking about until he told me that he heard me say that bouncing checks was a bad idea.  It made me wonder what visuals went through his head when he thought of checks bouncing.

Freudian Slip

I was working with a group of 4th and 5th graders on Pet Project, a project where kids get to take care of a pet for a year.  Part of the project requires kids to go through catalogs and buy things for their pet.  They need to fill in a real order form and write a check using some old checks I saved when I closed an account (with all important information blacked out).

They love this project because they get to make their own choices. They also love it because they get to learn how to write real checks and keep a running balance simulating what adults do.  As they were flipping through the catalogs, I overheard one of the girls say to her friend, “Why don’t you just bring it to work tomorrow?”  in reference to something she wanted to see.  Then she started laughing and said, “I can’t believe I just said ‘work’.  I meant to say ‘school’ but we’ve been sitting here doing all this adult stuff, it just slipped out.”

I love it!  That’s exactly what they’re doing…adult stuff.  One day they’re going to be adults and now is the time to get them ready. And what better way to learn than through a fun project that allows them the flexibility to make their own choices.  Because learning how to make good choices, well that’s another skill they’re going to need when they grow up!

The Vodka Bottle

I was working with a group of second graders last week.  The topic was needs vs. wants.  All of my money classes begin with this discussion as knowing the difference is the beginning of effectively managing money.

So when we got to the activity part of the lesson, kids were cutting out pictures from magazines and pasting them on their mini-poster.  The poster was divided into two sections…needs and wants. 

It’s fun for me to walk around the room and talk with them about their choices.  The first few times I did this I noticed that a lot of the girls were cutting out pictures of babies and pasting them on the ‘want’ side.   This was interesting to me on a variety of levels, but taught me to make my instructions more clear:  only cut out things that we use money to buy.

But back to the second graders.  We were wrapping up the activity and I was having kids clean up and get ready to go.  That’s when I noticed the poster of one of the little boys.  Taking up half of his ‘want’ category was a huge bottle of vodka.  Yikes!  After pulling him aside and talking to him about the appropriateness of this we yanked that bottle off. 

Note to self…only use parent and kid magazines.   And always check their posters before leaving.

The Mysterious Dollars

Every Monday I pop $5 into a special pocket of both my boys’ backpacks.  The money is to cover two days of eating lunch in the school cafeteria.  They could pick any two days but need to let me know in advance because, yes it’s true, I still pack their bag lunches on non-cafeteria days. 

One Monday I noticed that there were two dollar bills in Ryan’s special pocket.  If there had been two dollars and fifty cents I wouldn’t have thought much about it.  Each lunch costs $2.50 so that would have meant, for whatever reason, he skipped a lunch.  But two dollar bills confused me. 

So I asked him why he had two dollars in his backpack and no quarters.  “Oh,” he replied, “That’s the money I had left over after I paid my library fine.”   He said it pretty matter-of-factly, grabbed the two dollars and left.

My favorite part of this story is the matter-of-factly part.  It’s long been known in our family that we each have responsibilities.  I am responsible for making sure there is a nutritious dinner on the table each night.  I’m also responsible for making their bag lunches on non-cafeteria days!  The boys put away the dishes every night, no reminders…at least not now that they’re trained.  John fights with the sprinklers every weekend in the summer to minimize patchy dry spots.   These are things we just do because we each have a responsibility in running an efficient household.  We all know our roles and there’s no confusion.

It’s the same with kids and money management.  It never once occurred to Ryan that he should ask me for money to pay his library fine.  He was the one who forgot to turn in the book.  Just like we set up rules for completing household chores, we set up rules for who is financially responsible for what.  Obviously as parents we pay for food, shelter, and clothing.  But the extras, like going to the movies, video games, and cell phones…well, that’s up to them.  Oh yeah, and library fines.