Money is one of the strangest topics in the world. It’s fictional, but we depend on it. People die over money. It governs many of the decisions we make, a number of which we would insist have nothing to do with money even when it’s not true. Money dictates who gets health care, which children get a good education, where we can live, what we wear, where we go, and who we get to talk with. Money shouldn’t change everything but often does.
My monetary aspirations have always been to have just enough that I
have the freedom not to think about it very often. When you don’t have
any it can dominate your life. My winning-the-lottery-fantasies all
involve paying off the student loans in my family and setting up college
accounts and funding school orchestra programs. I have everything I
need and much more. Unexpected millions would be exciting to give away
or do something meaningful with, but not necessary for any of the things
I want for myself. (I think it would be really cool, for instance, to
have a pool table. But honestly, if I had a place to put it and
desperately wanted to make that happen, we could figure out how to do it
without the lottery. So it’s a matter of will, not money.)
Our own situation with money at the moment is strangely ambiguous. We
had nothing for a long time. We weren’t in debt but we had almost no
savings. Ian and I were used to breaking even when we combined our
resources and expenses. We couldn’t afford health insurance and paid
for the birth of our first child out of pocket. We were one medical
emergency from complete ruin. State aid in the form of Badger Care
(which provided health coverage for me and our children) gave us peace
of mind when we had our second baby, but we still roughly broke even
with most of our living expenses and that was okay. We didn’t need
Then Ian got deployed, and suddenly there was money. Many of the
military families I read about suffer financial hardship when the
breadwinner gets called up because the combat pay is often a pay cut
compared to what they earn in the civilian world, but for us it was a
significant step up. It was weird for me because there was money in the
bank but no husband to share it with. I kept thinking of things Ian
and I could suddenly afford to do together, but then remember he was in
Iraq so it didn’t matter anyway. Then Ian came home and we used the
deployment money to open our own business, so there were lots of expenses and much less income. Then he got deployed again and I used that money to buy a bigger house.
Now he’s back. I currently have no idea how much we make and how much
we spend. The fluctuations in our expenditures and income have been so
extreme and there have been so many changes in the past few years it’s
hard to have a sense of where we are now. We suspect the violin store
is doing well enough that we could live on what we earn there without
the Army money, but we aren’t sure. Fortunately we have just enough of a
financial cushion that it’s not crucial that we know that immediately.
Sometime soon when Ian and I have a block of time to sit together
we’re going to figure all that out. It would help to know what a
reasonable budget is for trips to the grocery store and Target. I’m not
a crazy spender, but if the kids want to buy a DVD for movie night instead of trying to find it at the library, can we afford it? I’m not sure anymore and that makes me uneasy.
In any case, I told Ian that when we do sit down and make a list of
hard numbers of what we make and what we spend, I want to show it to
Aden. I never really had a clue about what it cost to run our home when
I was a kid, and I think it’s important. Aden is old enough I think it
would be enlightening for her to see all the places our money goes.
I’m sure she doesn’t associate the gas in the stove with an expense or
know how much it costs to keep the phone working, or that leaving the
water running is another way of spending money.
For the most part my children all have only vague concepts about
money. For her last birthday Mona received cards from relatives that
she opened along with her other gifts, and one had a one dollar bill in
it, and another had a fifty dollar bill in it. She was equally thrilled
with both, and said, “Oh! This will go great with my bank account!”
All my kids know they have bank accounts that we put their money into,
but none of them knows how much is in there. Quinn likes to have bills
to save in his wallet, even though the wallet never leaves his room.
When the weather is warm Aden and Mona like to run a lemonade stand
outside my violin store. They sell lemonade and give away business
cards and handmade fans. It’s exciting for them to be able to attract
people to where they are and interact, but the money is only a barometer
of activity. Most of the the time when they close the stand down they
just hand me the money when they come inside. I’m always surprised and
ask, “Don’t you want it?” and they shrug and say not really. My kids
don’t get an allowance. They point out things they think they want when
we’re in stores, but they don’t whine or beg for anything.
Occasionally if they want something inexpensive or useful I’ll ask if
they’d like me to buy it for them, and that makes them happy. They know
they have a lot, and they aren’t greedy.
But money is still interesting to children, even if they don’t
understand it or know it’s value. They know the lemonade stand should
involve money, even if they don’t care about it. They talk about
earning money raking leaves or shoveling snow, even though they can’t
answer the question about what they would use the money for. A thousand
dollars sounds the same as a million dollars to them. My goal with
their financial education is to make sure by the time they go out in the
world they understand the hidden costs of credit cards, know how a
checking account works, and have a realistic sense of how to budget.
Luckily we have time to get there.
In the meantime, Quinn has come up with his own system for making money. It involves paper, scissors, and markers.
I’m very thankful that at this moment in time that money is not a
stressful point for us as it is for many people. That can change in an
instant because life is unpredictable like that, but right now we are
okay and I’m glad. Having enough money means freedom from it in my
book. My kids know just enough to know it’s not something to take
lightly, but they aren’t worried about it, which is quite a luxury.
I think it’s fascinating that Quinn is interested in making money in
his own fashion. But you know what else Quinn makes? Rainbows.