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Keep Your Word to Children About Money

When I was much younger, about 10-years-old, my younger sister and I created our own little business. We called it a Paper and Mail Service and had a little rhyme that we wrote on our fliers, “We get your paper and mail each day while you’re away.”

It wasn’t a huge source of income since we didn’t market it outside our little neighborhood. But it helped us save up for periodic purchases of fun stuff like walkie-talkies and used books and it made us feel useful.

Our business lasted a couple years and for the most part I’d consider it a success. There’s still one incident, however, which stands out in my mind in stark contrast to the warm fuzzies I feel about the whole endeavor.

It was a pretty easy job, but a drawn-out one. Our neighbors directly across the street were embarking on a long tour of the British Isles. I can’t remember now exactly how long they were away, but I know it was a minimum of two weeks. I also remember expecting that they would pay us $10 each. I’m pretty sure this is what we’d worked out ahead of time.

By the time they got back, we’d each made plans for how we’d spend the money. I believe mine involved the used book store–$10 would buy at least 3 new used books!

The neighbors arrived home and came to pick up their papers & mail the next day. They told us that they had a special surprise for us. Oh yay, payment and souvenirs!? More money? No wait what? Tartan beret coin purses?

Tartan beret coin purses?!!!!!

Tartan coin purses, round and flat like berets, little pompoms on top. That was it. I’d post you a picture if I could find mine–I’ve carried it everywhere I’ve lived but can’t find it now that I actually want it for something. My sister’s has disintegrated from getting more use than mine did.

So back to tartan beret coin purses. If you ever renege on giving a child money, for the love of all that is holy do not give them a purse, wallet, coin purse, or any other reminder that they don’t have money. It was a cute coin purse and I would have appreciated it, had it not symbolized the loss of books.

It was a huge disappointment and a blow to our entreprenerial spirit. I felt utterly betrayed in the way that only a 10-year-old can feel betrayed. I shed a few tears on my own, though I was composed enough to thank them for thinking of me. It made me feel bitter about the work we’d done and for a while I mistrusted adults & customers.

It’s been about 13 years since the incident. I got over it. It hasn’t eaten me up inside, it didn’t warp my view of adults or money or work. Every once in a while, I find myself thinking “Tartan beret coin purses? WTF?”

When I do think about it, it makes me resolve one thing. If I ever hire a child or teen to help me around the house, pick up my paper & mail, or do anything, I will not assume that I can replace their promised payment (be it money or something else) with something I think is better.

As an adult, I have enough self-confidence to assert my need for the agreed-upon amount. I’ve even had to do that with clients who don’t pay up–it’s not fun, but I know where I stand. A child or even a teen does not stand as your equal in terms of social or financial power. And, as the cliché teaches us, with power comes responsibility. Use yours right and help children have positive financial experiences.

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Christine June 24, 2009 at 8:14 am

Tartan beret coin purses. Bwa ha. How cheerfully insulting.

Christine’s last blog post: Read More Canada

asandford June 24, 2009 at 9:14 am

I agree! I did a lot of cat sitting when I was a tween. The family also wanted me to spend time in the house so the kitties (4) wouldn’t get lonely, so I “clocked in” by writing down when I arrived and left. They were very generous.

I think it stands that you should always keep your word to kids, and if you can’t, then sit down and explain to them why. A few years ago I offered to take my niece to Hershey Park in PA. We live in MN so it would be quite a road trip. I wasn’t able to do it last year, and I’m barely going to be able to afford it this year, but I promised and I refuse to go back on my word. Now I’m having fun trying to do the trip as inexpensively as possible!

Miranda June 24, 2009 at 9:31 am

Just because they’re kids, doesn’t mean that it’s right to weasel out of promises. A promise is a promise. And, if circumstances change and you can’t fulfill the terms, you should explain why and try to make it up to them.

Miranda’s last blog post: Tax Break for Buying an Annuity?

JoeTaxpayer June 24, 2009 at 10:49 am

A few months ago, my 10 year old comes running to me screaming she just won $100 from her mother. My daughter mentioned something to mom that I had told her recently and when my wife doubted her she said “how much do you wanna bet”?

Lesson for my daughter? Always take the winning side of a sucker bet. Make the amount reasonable enough so you’ll collect.

Lesson for my wife, don’t bet with the kid, she’ll take you every time.

Yes, we paid up, it went in to her account, saving for a laptop when she turns 13.

JoeTaxpayer’s last blog post: Swapping Mutual Funds For ETFs

shadox June 24, 2009 at 9:54 pm

If something like that ever happened to my kids I hope they would get me involved so I could kick the ass of anyone who took advantage of them. What cheap idiots.

shadox’s last blog post: The Tangible (but Limited) Benefits of Positive Thinking

mrsmicah June 24, 2009 at 10:08 pm

@Christine I feel like you should have seen them at some point. Like your take on it. 🙂

@asandford sounds like you’re being a great aunt. I agree that circumstances may prevent us from fully keeping our word, but we should do our best.

@Miranda amen.

@Joe you’ve got a smart little girl there! 🙂 Sounds like you all made a good decision regarding the money too–both honoring your wife’s word but also making it practical.

@shadox lol, I hear ya!

mrsmicah’s last blog post: Keep Your Word to Children About Money

Dad June 25, 2009 at 12:43 pm

One thing we must not overlook. The clients weren’t trying to ‘weasel out of paying’. As MrsMicah accurately state in her resolve “I will not assume that I can replace their promised payment (be it money or something else) with something I think is better.” I’m sure they thought what they got was better. But the story tells us not to assume we know better in such deals. What the child values may be entirely different than what we value. The children in this case were cheated but the adults were unaware that it looked that way to the child.

J. Money June 25, 2009 at 4:58 pm

I’d just like to USE your service if at all possible 😉 Maybe you two should bring it back? I could pay in beer!

MLR June 26, 2009 at 2:51 am

I remember I shoveled a neighbors driveway in a blizzard. It took me and a friend 3 hours.

When we were done the neighbor came out, gave us a dollar, and said “Don’t spend it all in one place!”

Pft, that guy had snow back on his driveway later that night. /brat

MLR’s last blog post: Cash for Clunkers: Is It Worth It?

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