My daughter is one of a kind. She has an admirable free spirit. She’s advocated for herself since age 2. She also writes her letters backwards. It’s all part of her charm.
Two days ago, she happily came downstairs to tell me her first tooth fell out while brushing her teeth. I gave her a hug, congratulated her and told her to put it under her pillow for the tooth fairy.
She spent the entire day focused on the tooth fairy’s arrival. When would she come? What would she give her?
“The standing rate is $20 for your first tooth,” my son told her. She smiled thinking about all the things she could buy with $20.
That night when the dreaded what’s for dinner question came up, my husband and I announced our plans of homemade chicken noodle soup. My daughter made a face and asked for sushi. Sushi is her favorite food. I have never seen such a young child devour a salmon and avocado roll the way she does. Forget the chopsticks, she picks the roll up with her fingers, dips it in soy sauce and shoves it in her mouth smiling. Remember that first bite of spaghetti, chocolate, marshmallows and candy canes that Will Farrell ate on the Elf? Remember his smile? That’s the same smile we get from Leela when she eats sushi.
The chicken noodle soup didn’t cut it. She wanted sushi. We gave her the same lecture we do every time she asks for it. It’s expensive.
Armed with her earned but not given $20, my daughter proudly announced she would give us her $20 for sushi. We explained if she went during lunch, she could get two rolls for $10.
“I’ll waste my $20 for $10 of sushi!” she couldn’t believe it.
My husband further explained she would give the restaurant her $20 and get $10 back. She could use the $10 on other things.
Hours later, she came to me and announced she wanted to use her tooth fairy money on a sushi lunch. When they gave her the $10 back, she would use that for a toy. She had her eye on a $5 squishy pen so she would have $5 left to save.
I’ve spent time discussing money with the children so they understand the importance of saving and spending money on memories rather than material things. I’ve learned some hard lessons and had debt myself. I don’t want my children to make the same mistakes.
A year ago, I put a piece of paper on the fridge with both children’s names on it. They earned money for chores. Emptying the dishwasher paid 50 cents. Helping their father with lawn work paid $1. They earned 10 cents here and there for smaller tasks. At the beginning, they were excited. They happily did chores and saw their total rise.
I gave them financial targets. If you earn $10, you can spend $5 and save $5. Another option was to spend $5, save $2.50 and give $2.50 to charity. I wanted them to think about how they spent their money.
It’s amazing how quickly they realized toys are not cheap. They complained about not being able to afford the things they want. They did more chores. When I saw them work hard, I rewarded them. I wanted them to understand the value of a dollar, the value of saving money and the reward of giving to those less fortunate.
The chore list didn’t last very long. Eventually they grew tired of emptying the dishwasher. The list was taken down.
When the sushi conversation happened, it was clear some things were not forgotten. My daughter spending half her money on a lunch with her family while saving $5 made me proud. She didn’t want to blow the entire $20 on a toy. She spent the time to figure out how to make the most of her budget with what she truly wanted — which was sushi in her case.
The morning of the tooth fairy’s arrival, she ran downstairs with the $20 and smiled to let me know it was sushi lunch day. We went out for lunch and I paid. The lesson was enough. She can keep the $20 for another sushi lunch.