Saturday, June 23, 2012

Headlights, Guitars, and Mommy Dollars

This is a post about death and destruction.

The "death" part (just so I don't worry people unnecessarily) is the slow-yet-seemingly-inevitable demise of Mommy Dollars.  I started this system two years ago as a way of rewarding N-son and J-son for household chores, for practicing some much-needed arithmetic, and for occasionally penalizing undesirable behavior.  And Mommy Dollars have worked great for much longer than I thought they would.

But structurally, the Mommy Dollar system is losing its effectiveness.  One important aspect was quick feedback -- immediate reinforcement.  Back when, I paid the boys each night and they bought TV times or bedtime snacks on a daily basis.  But now, they're staying up late amusing themselves and so the bedtime routine leaves little time for tallying money.  The less often we do this, the less important this money seems.

There is also the matter of their "real" allowance.  For about a year, the boys have also gotten an incredibly stingy allowance -- $4 per week -- in true U.S. currency.  And as they grow older, this money has come to seem more real to them than the orange, pink, and purple bills I'd been doling out.  (Go figure).

The real money comes with strings attached.  They don't get the allowance if they lied or stole anything during the week -- I won't go into many details, except to say that that has been a helpful rule in our household.  They're expected to give some of their money elsewhere (to church or a charity) and also to put some into savings, so the weekly "take home" allowance is truly pitifully small.  What can I say?  There's a reason I call myself "Miser Mom".

The other important rule attached to their allowance is that each boy has to keep a minimum of $100 in his savings account to cover "emergencies".  If they don't meet this minimum, then I deposit the entire amount of the allowance in the savings account, and they can't spend any of it, not even the usual pitifully small amount.  The Emergency Fund is mandatory.

The purpose of the Emergency Fund is to cover destruction and loss.  When N-son smashed the ping pong paddles at my father's home, he bought new ones out of his own account.  When J-son used his umbrella as a snow shovel (and surprisingly, it broke), he bought a new umbrella out of his own savings.  The brother who has not recently destroyed or lost things gets to spend his allowance; the brother who has recently been irresponsible suffers several weeks of financial abstinence until his debt is paid.  This system seemed to work very well, even if (or maybe even because) it is taking over the place of Mommy Dollars.

But lately, we have run into careless destruction, completely accidental, on grander scales.  N-son swerved his bicycle into a friend's parked car and broke a headlight: $154 for the parts to replace it.  C-son was carrying his sister's guitar by the strap (not by the body), and the strap popped off, and the guitar smashed into the ground, snapping the head off:  $320 to replace it.  The Emergency Fund is no longer adequate.

The short term solution is that N-son and C-son each paid a portion of the damages while their dad and I paid the rest.  But these instances, I think, are part of a long term trend.  My boys will have access to more-and-more expensive things.  I have upped their allowance to a whopping $5 per week (are your kids jealous?), but their Emergency Fund minimum will rise by $2 per week for the foreseeable future.  The boys will be saving more money, but they'll also have more money to lose.  

A new financial era in our lives begins.  The phoenix, perhaps, rising from the ashes.
Mommy Dollars, RIP.


  1. Would you let them take jobs outside of your house? They're probably old enough to offer their weeding or mowing skills to the neighbors, and they could bulk up their emergency funds.

    1. Oh, absolutely! The boys are very much interested in becoming entrepreneurs this summer. They've made a little bit of money from helping others, and will undoubtedly be searching for more such work in the future. I think this is as much for the joy of feeling useful (!) as it is for getting money. Well, maybe money is a bit higher on the satisfaction scale. - MM