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Burning A HOLE In Her Pocket

Sunday marked another milestone for Cora: she began receiving allowance. Maddie’s been quietly getting it for two years now, and with Cora in first grade it was time to give her more responsibility.

So I sat down with the girls and explained how the system works here. They each get a dollar a week, which we give them at the first of the month and calculate by Sundays. With five Sundays in September, they got five dollars for the month.

You should have seen Cora’s eyes pop out of her head at all the bounty.

Then I explained the rest: they can do whatever they want with their money, but SOMETHING has to go to the church. They choose the amount. And whatever they put in a savings account or give to charity, we will double.

Pretty much every month Maddie banks every penny she doesn’t give away; she has saved probably 98% of what she’s gotten (minus charity) over the past two years, and always cackles gleefully at the thought of her $4/month being magically turned into $8. This being Cora’s first time around, I told her I’d hold onto her cash until she decided what she wanted to do with it.

So we had this conversation after church, over a Sunday lunch out. We headed back to the church for a quick moment before getting ready to head home for the day. Across the parking lot there’s an antique mall we’ve been to a few times; the prices are reasonable and we will hit it for things like old hankies to use as napkins in school lunches, or fun scarves for dress-up. As we pass by it, I mention that I need to go there soon to start looking for a desk for the girls.

Casually, Cora says, “I want to go to the antique mall today. Now.”

I stare at her. “Why?”

Cora: “No reason – I just think it’s good to see what they have.” We’re not on a schedule, so I shrug and walk over with her.

Once we got inside, Cora began moving through the first booth, examining EACH AND EVERY item in detail. “This is pretty! How much is this?” After answering that question four times in sixty seconds, I taught Cora how to read a hand-written price tag, including how to round up from $3.95 to figure it’s actually $4.

“Huh - $4. That’s less than $5, isn’t it?” Cora asked nonchalantly.

Which is when I realized – the kid had her allowance burning a hole in her pocket. She came in there with a big wad of cash, and was determined to spend it.

Thus began one of the looongest two hours of my life, as we moved at a snail’s pace through every. Single. Booth. Cora examined every tchotcke, every figurine, every garish throw pillow from the 1970’s. And when she began to realize that her five dollars wasn’t really as much money as she’d originally thought – since NOTHING was costing five dollars or less – Cora got a hard lesson in economics, and what it is to want things you can’t afford.

We did find a few things under five dollars, and I gently talked her through her desire to buy each and every one of those mismatched earring pairs or over-priced recent-edition of Disney’s Aladdin picture book. I left it completely up to Cora as to whether or not she really needed a 1970’s ash tray, but carefully pointed out that it would take all her money for the entire month.

In the end we left with Cora’s money bundle intact. My sanity, I can proudly say, was also intact, but barely.

And as we drove home we had a chance to discuss another lesson Cora had learned, as we talked through the entire event.

“Baby, did you go in there needing anything in particular?” I asked. Cora said no, she’d just wanted to see what there was she might be able to buy.

“And do you remember any of the nice things you saw that you couldn’t afford?” I continued.

Cora’s eyes shone. “Yes, I do! There was the old dolly oven that REALLY WORKS, and the BEAUTIFUL purse made out of gum wrappers, and the REAL FAKE FUR pillow, and lots of other things!” Her face grew sad. “I just really wish I could have at least some of those things.”

I smiled sympathetically in the rear-view mirror, and we talked about how sometimes we don’t know what we covet until we see it, and that doing this kind of aimless shopping doesn’t really help. Cora walked into the house older, wiser, and with her five dollars still in her possession. And when she went to bed that night, she confessed she was happy she hadn’t spent any of her money.

And that? Is a good day’s work.


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