“Look. That’s real money.” Big Geek whispers. Chip isn’t impressed. He peeks at the stocky Mexican guy pulling money from his wallet and carefully counting cash to pay for the groceries. Chip is perched on the sales counter trying to swipe his “credit card” though the credit card machine. “No that paisa (money).” He grumbles. “I want Chip paisa” The credit card machine comes alive with an error, Chip signs on gleefully, holds out his hand for a receipt. “Thanks” he smiles triumphantly. The checkout girl is a cute African-American teenager who opens her eyes wide in mock surprise. “But I still have to scan these.” She scans the items swiftly and bags them. Chip gives her a shy “Hi” and grins. BigGeek pays for the groceries amidst Chip’s attempts to pay for it himself and we step out of the store.
Chip has not seen cold cash. We rarely carry more than $20 in cash and for most purchases we pay with our cards, so to Chip, paying for something essentially means swiping a card and signing. He knows he can’t simply pick up stuff and walk out of a store. So now he takes [insert object of momentary desire], runs towards the checkout counter and says, “Aie, paisa dey (Give me paisa)." "Chip, I have no paisa. Paisa sampla.(money is all finished)” “No, no!” Chip runs towards me and grabs my handbag. “Ithe paisa (It’s here)”. I twist the [said object] from Chip’s hands, apologize to the nice lady behind the counter, grab Chip and lead him out of the store. “Aie, I want paisa.” “Chip”, I answer, “Paisa doesn’t grow on trees.” That puzzles him and he drops the subject. So this line is working, for now at least.
But how do I explain money management to Chip? By telling him “Paisa is finished?” But the cards are always sitting in the wallet. By switching to cash-only transactions, at least in his presence so that he can ‘see’ when the money is actually being handed out? And loose the lucrative credit card cash-back offers at the end of the year? How will he learn how to handle credit responsibly if we become a no credit card household? Money is easier made than kept.
Chip has a piggy bank. He dutifully collects the loose change lying around and saves it in his piggy bank. It had just been a rainy day activity, but now he is slowly making a connection between ‘paisa’ and the change he collects which he calls ‘Chuck E. Cheese paisa’, since he thinks change is tokens, or the other way around. He has been begging to open the piggy bank for paisa when he wants things and I have been feigning ineptitude.
Growing up, we were never given an allowance. As terrific as my parents are, I think that was an error on their part. They told my brother and me how much our household income was; we knew the expenditures, the savings, the investments, but it never pinched us because my brother and I personally, were never broke. That did not mean we could go out and buy whatever we wanted. We were (and still are) middle class, so obviously as a family there were things we could and could not afford. But there was no personal responsibility, so to speak. I never had to plan ahead and save for a friend’s birthday gift or a special outfit for me, my mother would do that. She meant well, but I think we lost invaluable life lessons.
Money management is not taught in schools and I have no idea why. Perhaps, because to the teachers it is too banal, or even crass. Or perhaps because they feel it has no place in the life of mind they want their students to lead. But it is such an important part of how we do in our lives. So maybe, I will start giving Chip an allowance. A nickel a week. So that he understands how many nickels it takes to buy a stuffed bear, a book, a DVD, a lollipop or whatever it is he wants. To get broke a few times and learn to save and invest responsibly. To understand the rewards of delayed gratification. To discover the joy of bargain hunting. To appreciate the value of money. To realize that money is a means, not an end in itself. To know its true value. And the value of the objects he desires. As Thoreau once said, the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
But Chip is only two. He is just beginning to understand what money is. May be I should wait another year before I start on Chiponomics 101.
Friday, August 24, 2007