Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Time is Money

Miriam has been working hard at understanding how time works. She knows the months of the year, she knows the days of the week, she knows her birthday comes last every year. September has been a tough month for her to get through. She's been counting down to October since the very first day of September because September is of no value to her. It's only in the way of her birthday month and she can't wait to start celebrating Miriam!

She also knows that her grandparents live in a different time zone, which only complicates things for her. Andrew and I will often use the phrase "our time or theirs?" while trying to coordinate Skype calls on Sunday afternoons. We'll also say things like, "I guess it's pretty early for you," or "I guess we should hang up and put the kids to bed so you can go eat dinner" and other things along those lines.

While we were Skyping with my parents on Sunday, Miriam asked, "Is it still September for you?"

I guess she was hoping that it was October somewhere!

Rachel, on the other hand, has been trying to figure out how money works. She still isn't quite sure which coin is worth what (and would probably figure this out sooner if she would handle money but she hates touching metal (she hates touching pie tins and cookie sheets (and buttons and hair elastics, even though those aren't always metal))) but at least they all look different so she understands that one kind of coin is intrinsically worth more or less than any other given kind of coin. Paper money is a little more difficult to understand because—let's be honest—it's all just paper.

Right now her school is having a book fair and she desperately wanted to buy a book, so on Tuesday morning when I took her to school for "grand-friend day" (the magical day when you invite a grandparent (or other your mom) to tour your classroom and then hopefully visit the book fair and spoil you rotten) I said she could take some of her birthday money with her.

She had a $5 bill from Grandma and Grandpa and a $5 bill from Naanii and Bumpa.

"I only have these two dollars," she said, "So I guess I can't get much. Do you think I need the rest of my money?"

"Probably not," I said. "These two dollar bills are worth five dollars each so altogether you have ten dollars and that's quite a lot to spend."

"But I have more money in my room!" she said and she ran off to find all the coins she's collected (either by finding them in the street or by trading in her baby teeth to the tooth fairy). She came out of her room carrying a kleenex. Inside were all her coins. "I hate touching these things!" she said.

I made her put them back in her room and we just took her $10.

Once at the fair she wandered around in awe, unsure of what to buy. I showed her where to find the price on the back of the books and she checked a few of them before seeing the "special value" table. Her eyes lit up with a knowing kind of look and she rushed over to the table and picked up a book marked $1.99.

When I married Andrew I took a vow of poverty so my children are very familiar with "special value" tables and are apparently drawn to them innately. We just went to Old Navy this weekend because on Tuesday my flip flops (that I got at Old Navy two years ago) finally broke and I had to wear shoes for almost an entire week. I was dying! So we went to Old Navy to buy some more "2 pairs for $5" flip flops (but then I found some that were on sale for $1.30 (score!) so I got those ones, of course). Andrew's on his last pair of flip flops so he figured he should pick up a back-up pair for himself while we were there (nothing more tragic than going without flip flops, folks).

While he was looking at the flip flops (trying to find a plain black pair which they were completely out of in both men's and women's—sheesh) I took the kids over to the clearance section to see if anything jumped out of us and something did: A swimming suit, size 5T, on sale for $1.47.

I told Miriam she could get it. She was so elated she danced around the store, twirling that bathing suit along with her. "You know how to find a good deal," the cashier told her. Miriam beamed back.

I've been pinching pennies since I was born. I grew up pinching pennies. I've spent my entire married life pinching pennies. I'm frugal to a fault. And it drives Andrew crazy because he's not the same way. I wouldn't say he's careless with money, he's just a more liberal spender than I am. I have to rationalize every single purchase because I feel guilty for spending any money. He can just spend money and feel fine, which is a completely foreign idea to me.

Anyway, the point of all that was to explain that my kids recognize sales and are drawn to them almost magnetically.

"$1.99," Rachel read. "Can I afford that?"

"Yes, you can," I said. "That's like two dollars. You have ten, remember?"

"Yeah," she said. "I'll just get this."

"Are you sure that's all you want?" I asked. "You still have eight dollars left."

"No," she said, shaking her head and looking a little confused. "I'll just spend my two dollars. I'll just want this book. It's what I can afford."

"Okay," I said, thinking she was smart for saving some of her money for the future. "Let's get in line."

When it was her turn at the cash register I handed her one of her five dollar bills so she could pay herself.

"Mom," she whispered, "I need the other one."

"You don't," I said. "That's five dollars. The book is only two. You're good to go."

"Are you sure?" she asked nervously.

"Yes, go on," I said, giving her nudge.

She went up to the cashier and handed him her book and her five dollar bill.

"Here's your change," he said, giving her back three one dollar bills and a penny (no tax because non-profit).

"Mom," she said, running up to me with a huge grin on her face. "I have more money! I don't even know how that happened! I gave him my dollar and he gave me back three!"

"Sweetie, you still have less money than you had before," I tried to explain. "The dollar bill you had was worth five dollars. You can tell because it says so." I brought out her other five dollar bill to show her. "See this five right there? That means it's worth five dollars. The dollar bills you got back are all worth one dollar—see the one? So you used to have one five dollar bill that was worth five dollars but now you have three one dollar bills that are worth one dollar each, or three dollars all together. Understand?"

"But they're all just...paper..." Rachel said.

Obviously we need to spend more time playing Monopoly with her (and by "we" I mean "Andrew" because I hate that game).


  1. "But they're all just...paper..." Rachel said.
    So true.

  2. great stories!

    I pinch pennies pretty hard, too. Glad you found some good sales at Old Navy!

  3. Kids not understanding how many works is definitely one of the challenges of book fair. I had a kid last week walking around with a good stack of things. "I hope you brought enough money for all that!" I chirped, knowing that lots of kids have to take an item or two away to afford all the things they want. "Oh I have lots!" When she finally checked out, I rang up over $50 worth. Her lots? $15. At least she still ended up with two books!