I remember when I was a kid – I was certainly older than seven, more like nine or ten – my father would send me out to go buy the newspaper for him. He’d give me a dollar, and even though the Sunday paper cost seventy-five cents he would tell me I could keep the change.
It would take me a good five or ten minutes to decide what kind of candy I wanted to buy with that quarter. There was never a question of my saving that quarter – I would surely be buying a candy bar. Sure, if I had come into some sort of windfall, like a visit from the Tooth Fairy (or my grandmother), I might have enough for a Star Wars figure or a pack of baseball cards or some such. But still, that weekly quarter would never see the inside of my bank; and more often than not, what it purchased would be gone long before I arrived back home, newspaper in hand.
Now, at the age of seven, I might very well have had the same attitude towards my money as my son. After all, I didn’t really have the same opportunity to spend it at that tender age (pun intended). But somehow, I think it is different with my son.
First, since he’s been four or five, he’s just loved coins. He collected them from the piles on my dresser, sticking them into his bank excitedly, regardless of whether he found pennies, dollar coins or Yen. Even when he began, in Kindergarten, to differentiate between the coins, proudly sorting the denominations, they were just another plaything to him.
He’s in First Grade now, and the concept of money is taking a firmer hold. He knows about the role of money in our capitalistic society – I remember one school lesson about a boy who saved his money to buy a bicycle. We went on to my telling him how his mother and I saved all our money, but needed help from the bank to buy our house – how it would have taken us years and years to save enough to pay in cash.
And with money from the Tooth Fairy, and money earned from doing chores (we’re not doing an allowance, not yet), the whole topic has become much more personal to him. He actually gets to handle money now.
Wednesdays are Pretzel Days at his school, so I’ll send him with a dollar to get a snack for himself, maybe an extra to bring home for his brother. The School Store is open to kids on Thursdays, so I will there goes another buck for folders or pencils . And really, any time money needs to change hands, he is the one now carrying it, as I no longer see his teachers on a twice-daily basis.
What I began to realize, though, was that his bank was filling up very quickly. I noticed what was happening one day after giving him a dollar for pretzels.
Me: “Did you get a pretzel for your brother today?”
Him: “No, I forgot. I just got one for me.”
Me: “But those are a quarter each – where’s my change?”
Him: “In my bank!”
It was perfectly natural to him – the money had been for him to get something. He had “extra”, so why shouldn’t he put it in his bank?
This situation soon devolved though – change left around the house began disappearing. Once, a twenty-dollar bill my wife had left on the table for me appeared into his bank – twenty dollars I never knew existed, yet which my wife assumed I had taken.
So after sitting down and having a long talk about when it is and is not appropriate to put money into his bank, I asked him why he is saving his money. After all, over the past year we had offered several times to allow him to bring his money with him to the store to get himself that special toy he wanted, or an extra treat we just wouldn’t buy.
He just smiled at me, perhaps as big a smile I had as a kid after eating that candy bar.
My son just looked up at me and said, “I’m saving my money so I can buy my own house.”