We’ve been giving Ripken an allowance at our weekly family meetings since he was three, in order to start preparing him to have a positive relationship with money.   Our goal is to help him understand that there are essentially three things he can do with his money – spend it, save it, or give it away (not necessarily in that order).   We started him off at $3 a week when he was three, then $4 a week when he turned four, and now that he’s five, he’s up to $5 a week .   After he gets his allowance at each meeting, I try to get him to remember the three things that he can do with it.  While he can usually remember each of the categories, he’s clearly still focused on the “spend it” side of the equation.

One of the benefits of starting him on an allowance so early is that he learned very quickly that mommy and daddy weren’t going to buy him things at the store just because he asks for something.   Before the allowance, we’d go to Costco every week and almost always walk out with a kid’s book or small toy for Ripken to avoid a public meltdown.  After we started him on his allowance, though, our standard response to the book/toy request was “Sure, did you bring your money?”   It took some time for the concept to sink in for him, and we still  had to deal with public meltdowns for awhile, but the upside is that we  we now have a five-year old who knows that it’s not carte blanche for him when we go shopping, and if he wants something, he knows that he needs to pay for it with his own money.

Yesterday I had two separate opportunities to reinforce money management techniques with Ripken.  The first one went well; the second one not so great.   Rip and I were at Office Depot in the morning, and he became transfixed with a packet of colorful post-it notes.  He had no idea what they were actually for, but they had lots of cool colors and he decided that he really wanted them.   Unfortunately, he had spent his last $2 in the dollar store on Saturday, so he was out of money.   But he really wanted these post-it notes, and he was upset because he knew that he didn’t have any money to buy them.  Aha, I thought – what a great opportunity to teach him about the value of saving money for things that he really wants.   I started out by asking him if he remembered the three things he could do with his money.  He clearly was having trouble focusing, because he responded “spend it, give it away, and throw it away”.  I suppressed a laugh, and reminded him that the third thing he could do was save it – and then he would have extra money to buy things like the post-it notes.   He was still upset, but I could see him trying to process this  and then he asked when the next family meeting would be (so he could get his next allowance).  I told him it was in a couple of days, at which point he became extremely concerned that the store would run out of post-it notes before we could come back to buy them.   As I slowly guided him out to the car, I tried to explain the concept of how stores manage and replenish their inventory, using the grocery store and milk as an example, but I think my explanation was probably a little over his head 🙂

The second teaching opportunity didn’t go quite as well – but it was really my fault, not Ripken’s.   A few weeks ago, Rip apparently discovered how to make copies on our printer.  Up until now, I haven’t been around when he actually makes the copies, but yesterday I was in the office when he came in and started making a copy of one of his school worksheets – in full color.  Now I’m sure he doesn’t yet understand that printer ink is like liquid gold – all he know is that it’s fun to make copies.  He was about to make a second copy when, instead of trying to understand his point of view and have a meaningful dialogue with him about my concerns,  I told him that we should limit copies to one per day.  He informed me that mommy said he could make three per day.  Mommy wasn’t around, and I really didn’t want all of our ink going towards the same three copies of the Gage Gators Weekly Reader, so I told him again that the limit was one copy per day.  Well, that didn’t go over very well.  Lots of yelling and sticking his tongue out, until I finally had to leave the office and go play with Riley in the other room. 

An hour or so went by, and then he went back to the printer and started another copy.  Now this clearly is an activating event for me, not so much because I’m worried that he’ll grow up to be some kind if illegal copy-making kind of guy, but because I know how expensive those damn ink cartridges are.  Before I said anything, I went to talk to Kristin.  She could tell I was upset, and suggested that we explain to Ripken that if he wants to use the printer for copies, that it costs us money, and he would have to pay us each time he used it.  Sounded good to me, so I marched back into the office (unfortunately with my blood pressure still elevated) and gruffly told Ripken as he was standing in front of the copier  “Ok, I need you to pay me…”   Kristin quickly came over, gave me the time-out sign, and asked if she could talk to me in the bedroom.   She patiently explained to me that there was probably a better way to frame the discussion, perhaps in a less emotional and more rational way.  Of course, she was right – and she was also right in suggesting that I apologize to Ripken for the way I reacted and start again.   So we both headed back to the office, I sat down in front of my angry son and told him I was sorry about what I said.  Kristin and both tried to explain that while we know how much fun printing and copying can be, it’s also very expensive and costs us money every time we do it.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t in the mood to listen to us and stormed away to the playroom.  

Obviously, the second lesson didn’t go as well as the first, but it in hindsight, I can see how I clearly wasn’t parenting from my best.   I should have taken a couple of deep breaths, stepped back and assessed the situation, and then taken the time to have a meaningful, non-threatening conversation about how we can all use the copier in a way that makes everyone happy.    Looks like we’re all still learning…