The Children Learn to Budget

The Children Learn to Budget


School lasted two hours and a half today. It was a tough lesson for all of us, me included.

Some days are a breeze, while some others must be learned through gritted teeth. Today was one that made me wonder if all three of Bombie’s loose milk teeth would fall out right there in Target for all to see.

What’s that you say? You can’t count Target as school? Oh, I beg to differ. In fact, I’m willing to call it two days of school. Alas, tears and emotional scarring don’t buy educational credits for three, five and under, or I would make it much farther in my counting.

Counting, after all, is the easy part.

I remember starting the day with a bright idea. My husband had decided just this week to begin giving the older children an allowance of sorts. They had to learn to tithe some, save some and spend the rest. He called a family meeting and told them what they would earn for helping out around the house and I had the ability to take away their allowance for noncompliance. No other details were mentioned.

As a result, I have some extremely cheap labor around here. They require a fair amount of hand-holding and there’s tons of potty humor to deal with but you can’t beat the price and the way they hug me and say they love me.

To get back to our school day today: since we had already been working on math, we first sat around the dinner table counting quarters, understanding how they relate to pennies and dollars. The four year old skipped 13 and 15 while counting to 20, the five year old was distracted after about ten minutes by the baby trying to eat a quarter: you know, the usual. Except the money. You should have seen the smiles all around as their quarters jingled in Ziploc bags.

“We have money!” they were thinking, I’m pretty sure. “We’re going to buy the ENTIRE store! We’re going to buy ONE of EVERYTHING!”

I recognize that thought pattern, know the smile it brings. I recognize it because that’s pretty much in line with my own thinking before I head to Target, too. And then I remember to check the balance in our checking account. Ah, the cog in the wonderful wheel that is Target. The cog that, of course, was the real lesson today, the truth that would set them free but that would first make them sulk and pout and throw an all-out tantrum.

Ah, the cog, first encountered by my daughter.

This was the source of the tantrum, then, that ensued in the sparkly hair clips aisle with a ridiculous black and white cat face inches away from my face, my daughter’s hot tears wetting my hair. This was also the tantrum that met me in the candy aisle where inflation has clearly hit the hardest. Not a single bag of candy for under a dollar. She had three quarters left, or seventy-five pennies, as I explained.

How much more was I going to ask her to sacrifice? She seemed to cry. She had already put a shiny purple hairband back because she wouldn’t have been able to buy both that and candy but she would not, ever, not in a million years, give up her beloved Hello Kitty bracelet for sugar!

Money, after all, has to be appropriated carefully to fashion as well as food. I was tempted to cover the difference to make her happy, let her buy all she wanted.

“Why you only say one, mom?” she asked over and over, her tears angry, her face sad. She hugged me.

And there, in Target, I repeated for the umpteenth time that this was how we managed money, too.

Of course I had told them this before, told them how we have to pay to live in our house with the money my husband makes in exchange for all the time he’s gone away from us, how we have to make sure there’s enough for food, for clothes, entertainment and some luxuries. But perhaps this was the first time it truly stuck.

“It’s only a quarter more,” I thought more than once, half wanting to end the lesson right there. But I didn’t because the cost of giving in was much higher than a quarter. The cost, I reminded myself, was her future family’s future.

In less than two decades, she will be managing her family’s budget and, going by the prices in the candy aisle in Target, there will be way more than just a quarter at stake. These were important lessons in money and budgeting, issues I grapple with even as an adult, issues she will have to learn discipline to address when she grew up, so you, yes, you reader, and your children, won’t have to work to support her fashion and candy expenses. Yes, I know you’re thanking me. You’re welcome.

Her brother, on the other hand, was quite happy to pick out things and replace them when he found something better in an endless game of White Elephant. He came away with two bags of candy to beat her measly bag and bracelet. Baby Carver, still unable to help out with chores, was our economic dependent today. I bought him a ball and left him at the mercy of his older siblings to fight it out or beg for candy.

So in the end, I’m happy to report, it all worked itself out.

Both children shared with each other and Carver and not because I coerced them. All the candy is gone and Bombie has her beloved bracelet, whose cat’s magic spell on little girls I will never completely understand. And my resistance to bailing them out at Target ensures, at for now, at least in my own mind, that our retirement will not be spent paying their rent.

For a quarter dollar lesson in wisdom, this one came almost dirt-cheap.
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Author: Purva Brown

Writer / blogger at – unapologetically blending two seeming opposites.

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