My sixteen-year-old son’s obsession for the past few years is music – listening, composing and playing, so I think of his current incarnation as being a Rock Star. However, as is the case for all of us, his interests have evolved over the years – a much earlier nickname was Mr. Pennybags, after the old man in a top hat on the Monopoly game board, which was his favorite pastime (beating the rest of us, that is). I’m not sure exactly how he figured it out, but my trusty excuse for having to end an interminable game (“So sorry, I don’t have enough money to pay rent – we’ll have to stop now”) was lost when he suddenly understood the small print on the back of the property cards. “Mom!!” he said (cue the eye rolls), “all you need to do is mortgage some property.” (He was eight at the time – I don’t know how old I was when I finally figured mortgages out, but I’m pretty sure I was an adult.)
The vicarious thrill of erecting plastic hotels on cardboard streets soon paled in comparison to the satisfaction to be gotten from spending money on something real, something like… a new pack of Pokemon cards. Pennybags came home from an outing with a friend one afternoon, crowing “Look what I bought!” I admired his new cards, then asked, “Where’d you get the money?”
“From the credit union,” was his matter-of-fact reply.
I was dumbfounded – he and his brother both have accounts there, in which we would occasionally deposit a little money (from birthdays, etc), but never in a million years would I have suspected either of them would try to withdraw any of it, especially on their own (remember, he was eight at the time). Well, I certainly misjudged my scheming little businessman. I didn’t get angry at him (after all, it is his money, and I’d never told him he couldn’t use it — who knew?!); however, I did tell him that he could not do that anymore without my permission. He promptly threw a small fit, but relented when I mentioned the concept of “interest” – how he could earn more money just by leaving his funds in the bank. (I didn’t bother telling him what a paltry return it would be.) That got him, at least for a while.
A few days later, my sister Pegeen gave me the backstory. “Did Pennybags tell you I saw him in the credit union Saturday?” I told her I knew he’d been there, though he hadn’t mentioned anything about her. So she recounted the whole episode.
She was waiting in line for service, when in walked Pennybags with his friend and the friend’s mom. When he spied Peg, he sauntered over and asked if he could borrow some money from her. “How much do you need?” she asked.
Way overestimating the price of a pack of Pokemon cards, he said he guessed about twelve or thirteen dollars. A little shocked, and knowing that he had an account at the credit union, Peg suggested that perhaps he could take out a little money.
So he obligingly sat down in front of one of the tellers and said, “I’d like to withdraw some money, please.” Either she was bowled over by his nerve, or she thought my sister was me, because the teller simply asked him his name and address and how much he wanted to withdraw.
After pausing a few moments to consider, he queried, “How much do I have?” (Peg said she nearly fell over at that one.) The teller, presumably used to such questions, merely glanced at his record and answered, “One hundred and eight dollars.”
At this, Pennybags rolled his head back and gazed at the ceiling, looking like he was calculating how many packs of Pokemon cards he could purchase with such vast resources. The teller leaned forward, interrupting his reverie with this motherly admonition, “You can have ten dollars.”
While she was entering the information into the computer and counting out his money, Pennybags leaned over to his little friend and marveled, “Can you believe I have one hundred and eight dollars??!!”
But as the wise teller handed him his money, she smiled and said, “Not anymore!”
I couldn’t have taught him a better lesson myself!