Sunday, December 28, 2008

Money Matters: The Spirit of Giving

It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon, an hour and a half before Christmas Eve mass, when I called the girls to the kitchen to make envelopes for their church donations. I gave them each a piece of card stock folded in half which they could decorate before sealing their donation safely inside. One at a time, they retrieved their ceramic cat banks from the kitchen shelf, opened them and, with remarkably little assistance on my part, counted out their money.  Emma the Brave was expected to give 4 Francs and Might Mouse, 3F50.  Twenty minutes later, without a whimper or hint of a tear, the two slid their packets toward me to be taped shut. Emma the Brave had given an extra 2 Francs, bringing her total to 6. 

I was stunned by their generosity. After all, these were the girls that nine months ago fought over not having the same number of coins in their banks, regardless of their inherent value. One might argue that they are nine months older and, therefore, more capable. True. But here are a few other elements may have played a part: 

A Weekly Allowance
Receiving a small sum weekly provides a child not only a sense of monetary value, but also of time. A child learns that the amount and day the money is received is not negotiable. This discourages impulse purchases and, as credit is not an option, saving toward a goal.  

As you may recall, the girls' first purchases with their allowance were the first items they could afford: two junky plastic motorcycles. Within a day in their possession, both bikes had broken, leaving the girls to experience their first bout of buyer's remorse. As a result, their future purchases became increasingly more studied. They even pooled their funds on occasion, buying toys together and displaying a resourcefulness I hadn't anticipated. 

A Designated Bank
Having a fixed location where money is kept safe is essential. Money is not a toy, but a tool to be used with utmost discretion. 

Shortly after instating allowances, I presented the girls with two ceramic cat banks in different colours: green for Emma and blue for Mouse. Along with them were two small spiral-bound notebooks to keep track of their deposits and withdrawals.  The books and banks were thereafter kept in the kitchen where their use could be monitored.  Money could not get lost or be given as tokens of friendship or remorse. Also, by keeping a record of their purchases, it was easy to quell fears of inequity. ( "See, you bought your deck of cards, that's why you don't have as much money as Emma any more.")  

Quarterly Virtual Donations
We introduced the concept of giving money to charity as a condition to receiving an allowance. Every three months, a designated amount (in our case, 1 Franc) was deducted from the girls' balances and earmarked to be given at Christmas Eve Mass, the most tangible opportunity we could think of.  By deducting the amount slowly over the year, its potential negative effect was diffused. It also brought up the topic of giving on at least four separate occasions.  By the time Christmas Eve came about, the girls didn't question what they were giving or why.  And, given Emma's generosity beyond what was required, I believe underlying value had struck home. 

So what will 2009 bring in the topic of Money Matters? Not too much. I think the amount the girls receive as an allowance is adequate and its use is well controlled. The only significant change will be to introduce other possible non-for-profit organizations where their donations could be put to work. As I discover them, so will you, under a new label called 'Kid Power.'  I plan to uncover at least five different organizations that kids can get their minds and muscles around.  If you've ever watched kids attack a pinata, you know the kind of energy I'm talking about.  Move over Walter the Farting Dog. Make room for Kid Power!

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