Monday, September 21, 2015

Economic Theory and Bad Parenting

The buckets are not actual buckets.

My kids are a little bit obsessed with money. Not in a terrible way, but it does make me a little bit uncomfortable. (This past month they have been talking about wanting to live "in a big fancy house." It's been kind of a bummer.) Ever since they were little we have tried to introduce the concepts of budgeting and smart shopping with them. This usually related to how they would spend Christmas money that came in from various family members.

We've been doing allowance with Buddy since he turned six a few months back. It's been going pretty well. We've done the three bucket approach where we expect him to put some amount of his money into buckets for spending, saving, and donating. It's been great actually. The spending money has allowed him to buy things that we wouldn't normally buy for him. His first big buy came when we were at Target and he realized he had enough money to buy a LEGO set he'd been pining over in his catalog.  A few weeks later he treated himself and his sister to treats at a baseball game.

The other buckets have come to have their own purposes as well. The saving bucket has mostly been used to replace things he loses or breaks carelessly. For example he was at a friend's house and broke the kid's piggy bank. So he used his savings to help replace it. Kind of like what his parents (us) did with their roof. It's been a good lesson on why saving is important. He has decided to use the donation bucket to give money to our church, and also to donate to causes we read about or discuss.

Buddy always knows how much money he has, and how much he needs for whatever thing it is he's got his eye on. He's also started to identify the types of things he thinks we won't shell out for and often says, "It's OK, I can get that if I save my money." We've even had a discussion of how credit works when he doesn't have his wallet and wants to pay me back for something.

Lou is also becoming more interested in money and often wishes she had as much as her brother does. She sometimes laments that she does not also have three buckets, but just a piggy bank, which is low on clank after she decided that her coins were pretty and repeatedly took them out to play with them, resulting in her losing most of them.

The kids are also aware that we have reached the maximum "stuff" limit in our little home. Since we moved we have one fewer room than we had at the previous house. The result has been a purging of toys and clothes that really should have happened previously. The kids have heard several times over the last year that if we ant any new things we have to figure out what old things we can donate or let go of. This has come into sharper focus recently as the kids have gotten deep into LEGOs and want to expand their collection.

All of these ideas coalesced into one case of bad parenting last weekend. On Saturday our neighbors held a yard sale. They were doing all at once what we had been doing piece by piece, paring down and getting rid of things. The kids loved it. They hadn't known that you could get rid of old items by selling them in front of the house. We had always just donated things or given them away on Freecycle. They bought a few things from the neighbors. I had no idea what was coming.

Sunday was a lazy day for us. We came home after church and fell into our various activities. The kids played, T tended to the baby and likely did something productive, I sat down to enjoy the first week of the NFL. At some point I pulled the classic dad move and fell asleep in front of the TV. As I drifted through a semi-conscious state I remember hearing Buddy declare, "Hey Lou, let's have a yard sale." I thought, "That's cute, they're going to play a game."

I woke up some time later to the sound of a barking dog and Buddy saying, "OK, well we'll be here all day if you want to buy some toys." I wandered out to the living room and peered out the door. Sure enough, there were the kids with toys strewn about the lawn, Buddy doing a half carnival barker, half Fox-from-Pinocchio act gently tossing coins in his hand and enjoying the weight of them.

"Scarcho Man" was once Ryu's very favorite toy. 

It wasn't a game. "Good job dad," I thought, "sleeping on the job. Today it was a yard sale, next time it'll be cooking meth or playing with firearms." I felt a bit conflicted. On the one hand I admired their drive. I was also happy that they had chosen things that they felt they didn't need and could do with out. On the other hand I was sad to see that some old favorites had been out for sale. It seemed to mark a transition from a sentimental age where everything you own is precious, to one where things are just things and are not imbued with any intrinsic value. It was a loss of a certain kind of innocence, the kind that makes us love the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. I also had a nagging feeling that I should have been part of the process. Not to reject any of their decisions, just to be there and be involved. But I wasn't. I was asleep.

"Hey guys," I said as I sauntered out of the house in bare feet, "this is cool, but you can't sell the baby's toys." I scooped up a few things that Yo wasn't finished chewing on yet. I marveled a bit at my little capitalists. I'm still not sure what they sold, or how they determined their pricing. Based on what was left my guess is that their love of Hot Wheels is on the wane. I haven't seen an Lightning McQueens around lately.

As surprising as their little endeavor was I was more surprised by the plan they had for their profits. A short time later they declared the yard sale over and came inside. "Here dad." Buddy said holding out his hand. He plunked 85 cents in assorted coins into my hand. "What's this? I asked. "Well," he replied, "I wanted everyone in the family have some money. We made some good sales, but if you have money you should share it with people around you." So my little salesmen were actually socialists. I don't think I'm a socialist, I don't know what I am, but I was happy to see the kids being generous.

I feel like there's supposed to be some kind of lesson here, I just can't think of what it is. I definitely think I need to be able to shake myself a little better when I overhear the kids planning something. Waking up to the aftermath wasn't a great feeling. Or maybe it's that I got an early glimpse into the fact that even though it sometimes feels like we're just telling kids things, they actually are listening and will eventually find a way to put our words into action.

Yeah. I like that second one.

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