August 5, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
We have a family friend who has been sending gifts to the kids for years. She’s an older lady and full of love and affection for our family, but her mobility has also become somewhat limited. At one point I gently suggested in a thank you note that she need not go running to shop for gifts; she could just send a gift card.
Earlier this summer we received two separate envelopes around Ten and Eight’s birthdays with a twenty-dollar bill tucked into a birthday card full of hearty wishes. Within minutes of receiving the money, the girls made plans. They wanted to bring the money to South Carolina when they came here to visit their grandparents and spend it.
I have to admit, I wavered at first. I wasn’t sure if letting the kids spend their money was a good idea. It’s the saver in me, I guess. I watched my parents save for years so they could have more than enough to afford the larger necessities in life, and I’ve done the same since getting married.
After thinking about it, though, I realized this might be a good opportunity for the kids to learn about money in the most practical of ways: standing at the checkout line.
We made a deal: they could bring their $20 and an extra $5 each from their piggy banks and spend it when we came to Myrtle Beach. The deal actually took a little bit of negotiation. We started with $50 each, and I had to talk them down a bit. Learning about money doesn’t mean blowing it all.
From the time we landed in town in late July, the girls have been antsy to go shopping on their own. Earlier this week I got the chance to take them to Target. When we walked in I reminded them of a few basic rules of shopping: they didn’t have to spend all of their money in that trip; if they didn’t find anything to buy, they didn’t have to buy something just to say they got to shop; and they needed to keep in mind that anything they picked up would have tax added to the amount.
After a quick explanation of what tax meant, we set off in the store. I had to pick up a couple of necessities—floss and face wash—and then we made our way to the children’s side of the store. We moved up and down the aisles of toys and games. I wanted to buy a few toys for gifts for a friend’s kids, so Ten, Eight, and I meandered up and down the aisles in a loose triangle looking at a variety of things.
The girls spotted first one thing and then the other, exclaiming over toys and completely impractical items, stuff that was too expensive and items that made me roll my eyes when they weren’t looking. Ten finally picked up a Rubik’s Cube, one with only two rows across instead of three, and exclaimed that she’d always wanted to try one. Eight dithered over two or three things but couldn’t make up her mind.
In the end—because we couldn’t stay away from it too long—we made our way to the books section. I let the girls linger a little longer there. Let’s face it, for someone who is drawn to books like I am, it’s like letting a kid…well, like letting a kid go shopping with their own money.
Ten found a book for herself. Eight picked up a book about Max, a German shepherd, and then she came across a movie that she’d seen at a friend’s house. The movie was really good, she said, and she wanted to share it with her sister.
“There’s nothing inappropriate in it,” she reassured me, before I could even say anything.
I asked the kids if they really wanted to buy the items they’d chosen. There was a moment of excitement when the price of the Rubik’s Cube wasn’t immediately obvious, and Ten had to take it to the price scanner and scan the barcode. She announced the price to us, and I let her do the mental math on how much she’d theoretically spent so far.
After one last check—did we really want to buy these things?—I walked with the kids to the registers.
I took out the kids’ money and handed them each their $25. I sent Ten into the lane first, and she clutched the money and approached the register a little tentatively. The cashier smiled; she was an older woman and probably had figured out what I was up to, and because the store wasn’t busy at all she waited patiently for Ten to put her items on the belt.
She totaled Ten’s purchases, which came to about $14 and some change, and Ten just stood there for a moment unsure of what to do.
“You give me the twenty-dollar bill,” the cashier said in a kind voice. Ten handed it to her.
“Mamma, here,” she said, waving the five-dollar bill in my direction.
I took it from her and put it in the wallet I’d brought for the kids’ money. Eight watched her big sister with interest, clearly wanting to prep herself for her own turn. The cashier handed Ten her change and then her bag. Ten accepted it with her excitement warring with her sense of wanting to show how grown up and nonchalant she could be about the whole transaction.
Eight gave the woman the book and the movie she’d chosen and went through the same steps as her big sister. Her displeasure at getting less change back than Ten did clearly superseded her excitement at making her own purchase for the first time in her life.
I paid for my own things, and we all went back to the car. As we drove, the girls discussed the trip.
“Di-Di, how much was the Rubik’s Cube?” Eight asked.
“It was seven ninety-nine,” Ten said. “It was so expensive.”
“Wow, that is expensive,” Eight said, her voice exuding sympathy.
“Yeah, it felt so weird to be giving the money,” Ten said. “I’ve never done that before. This is the first time.”
They kept talking about what they bought, about how they would share their purchases, what order they would share them in—“I bought the book, so I get to read it first”—and the relative success of their shopping trip. They discussed how much change they had left and what they could do with it. It didn’t surprise me that Ten elected to buy two items that cost much less than her $25 and Eight decided to go for broke, bringing back just over a dollar in change. Their personalities often fall along these lines, Ten the more cautious child who ponders her options and Eight the one who wants to live each moment now and bounce her way—literally—through her day.
I enjoyed watching them, helping them, and engaging with them during this first shopping trip. It makes me wonder what we’ll see from each of them in the future.