Apr 04 2009

For The Price Of A Cup Of Coffee – Money Lessons From A 6-Year Old

Published by at 9:59 pm under Children

I haven’t posted here for a while … I have been extremely busy these past few months.

Now that all my kids are at school 5 days a week, I have decided to start taking on some outside work to help improve the family finances, so in addition to looking after the kids, the house and my online businesses, I am now dealing with a few new clients and the additional demands of doing work for them.

This is all good, except for one thing … I’ve started drinking coffee again!

I stopped drinking coffee about 14 or 15 years ago and switched to green tea (after a year or two of drinking chamomile tea). Now that I’ve started networking with people once again and accepting their offers of a fresh cup of coffee, I’m back on it with a furious vengeance, sometimes drinking 4 or 5 cups a day. If I don’t stop soon I’ll probably go back to smoking cigarrettes again, which I haven’t done for a good 10 years or so.

Anyway, lots of things have been happening here at home with the kids.

Destructo turned 5 years old at the end of March and we decided to throw a little party for him yesterday at a nearby park. The best children’s birthday party has to be one like the one we had yesterday. The kids just ran around inventing their own adventures for hours on end and only came to the table to eat lunch (Corporate Babe cooked organic sausages for everyone), then later on to sing happy birthday around the cake, and finally, to get their little treat bags before going home. The grown ups were pretty much left alone to chat among themselves and we didn’t have to invent any activities to keep them entertained.

I only had to intervene once when Destructo and his friends decided to jump off a high wall and pretend they were all “dead” when they landed on the grass below, and one of the kids wanted to jump with his scooter, which probably could have ended up with him looking dead for real when he landed on the grass. The other incident was when Corporate Babe left the sausages cooking on the portable camping grill and dashed off to an unseen corner of the park, returning a few moments later with a bawling Exacto (my middle son), who had gone down the hill too fast on his scooter and had to make a forced decision to abandon his ride with a flying dive when it became obvious that the bottom of the hill came to a complete dead-end.

Other than that, we had a terrific day, despite the weather prediction that we were going to be in for heavy showers (it never rained the entire time we were in the park – both my wife and I know that Destructo was born under a golden rainbow and that good luck and great fortune will always follow him!)

I am smiling right now, just remembering a conversation the kids were having in the back of the car after school a few days ago, when Destructo was recounting to his brothers that his friend Ollie couldn’t come to his party because he was going to a wedding.

Exacto asked him if Ollie was getting married, and Destructo replied “no one is getting married … it’s a wedding, silly!”

Exacto, who is 6 and will turn 7 end of next month, is currently undergoing profound and very exciting changes. Not only is he learning to whistle, but he is also starting to read. It’s so exciting to see your child’s world transform once they begin to recognize letters and words. The other day, I saw him click on a menu selection for an online game that he and his brothers were playing and when I remarked that he had pressed the right button to start the game, he simply looked at me as if I was an idiot and said “Dad … ‘G’ – ‘O’ means ‘Go’!). Yesterday, just as we were taking off for Destructo’s birthday party, I called Corporate Babe over before she closed the garage door and said “Do you think we should bring the ess – see – oh – oh – tee – ee – ar – esses?” Exacto the quickly jumped out of the car yelling “I’ll get the scooters!”

Not only is Exacto’s world opening up now thanks to his growing ability to read, write, spell and count, but he has also started experimenting with the concept of money.

A couple of weeks ago, Exacto and his class went for a day excursion to the beach. I had already signed his permission note and given him the $3 his teacher had asked us to send along with each child for a surprise treat at the beach (an ice cream) a couple of days earlier. The night before the day trip, Exacto came to me and said “Daddy … I am going to ask you to give me $4 but you can’t ask me why, ok?”

In bringing up our children, my wife and I place special emphasis on values such as being honest, telling the truth and being trustworthy, and so I gave Exacto the $4 dollars he asked without asking him “why”, just as he had requested.

The following day, after picking up all the kids from school, Exacto sat in the front passenger seat. After telling me that he had had a really great day at the beach, he thanked me for having given him the $4.

I told him that I was really glad to hear that he had enjoyed himself at the beach and that I hoped he had gotten something worthwhile for his money.

Exacto then told me that he didn’t get something for the money. Assuming he hadn’t spent the $4 I gave him, I then said that if he hadn’t spent the money he might want to give it back to me. He then replied that he couldn’t, because he didn’t have it.

Sensing my confusion, he then told me what had happened. Apparently, he and his best friend at school had decided that they were going to “trade” money. The deal was to ask their parents for $4, then my son was to give his friend his $4 and his friend would give my son his $4. What had happened, however, was that when my son’s friend asked his mom for $4, she told him “no”. Even though he did not have the money, he still asked my son to “trade”. So my son took out his coins from his pocket and handed them over to his buddy, but his friend had nothing to give him in return, and so my son walked away from the “deal” with nothing.

I didn’t really know how to respond to this, so I kind of started lecturing my 6-year old son, even though I could feel I was really just making things worse. I felt unclear myself about the issues I was lecturing to him about and only stopped after he told me that I could take the money out of his piggy bank. I told him that wasn’t the right outcome, because I had given him the money not expecting it back and if he paid me the money back from his piggy bank, he would have lost the amount twice … once for giving it to his friend, and then for giving it to me. So I told him we were just going to drop the subject.

I felt bad after going home and so I didn’t drop the subject as I had told him I would. Instead, I waited until my wife came home from work and we were having dinner, and then told her that she, Exacto and myself had to have an important talk that night.

We did talk about the issue at the dinner table. I asked Exacto to repeat to his mom what had happened and we were then able to work through things together. We explained that it was unfair of his friend to ask him for the money when he did not have something of equal value to give in return, we reassured him that he did not have to repay me the money back, that he had done the right thing as per his end of the deal and that he should not feel like he had to let his friend keep the money, and a few other issues that this entire event brought up.

Afterwards, my wife thanked me for not just letting the matter drop, as this was important for all of us. It is not only the beginning of my son’s exploration into the world of “money”, “negotiating fair deals”, communicating to others about value, etc … but we also had to make him aware that, even if he didn’t pursue this particular incident further, that we supported his initiative and that wanted to be part of his process of discovery and learning.

It was also very good for me too, as I realized that the reason I was so unclear about the issues when he first raised them with me in the car on our way home from school, was because I hadn’t been giving proper guidance myself as a child about these matters, and so had subsequently experienced many uncomfortable situations around the issue of money, especially in business transactions and negotiations where I had walked away with the feeling that I had been taken advantage of, but not really knowing how to respond.

So, for the price of a cup of coffee, I feel I have paid not so much for my son to learn a valuable lesson about friends and money, but for me to learn it as well, especially how to communicate with my children about money.

And now, if you will excuse me, I need a coffee break …

The Lazy HouseHusband


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