Mommy, Does Money Grow on Trees?

Yesterday, at the farmers market in Santa Monica, Calif., I saw a young, beautiful mother shopping with her adorable 5-year-old daughter. The daughter reached into her purse, pulled out a $5 bill and paid the vendor for a basket of organic strawberries.

The vendor was smiling ear to ear, and said, "Wow! You buy your own strawberries?"

The young girl glowed as she nodded and pulled out a strawberry for a bite.

"She earns her own money, too, by making her bed and helping with the dishes," the mother responded. As they walked away, the mother said, "Aren't these strawberries delicious? Better than candy!"

There are so many great lessons here, almost too many to count. But, here are just a few.

1. Money doesn't grow on trees.
2. Experiences teach more than words.
3. "Yes" is more powerful than "No."
4. Money grows on deeds.
5. Pay for grades.
6. Life math.
7. A pocket full of change.
8. Be charitable.

And here are the details...

Money doesn't grow on trees. We've all seen a tired 5-year-old screaming for candy in a store and an exasperated parent screaming, "No! I said, No!" When the child carries her own purse, the question can be, "Do you have enough money to buy it?" Putting your kid in charge of her own purse can be a real lifesaver when your cranky child is at the grocery store, and later on when she becomes a teen.

Experiences teach more than words. There's no candy on sale at the farmers market, but any candy lover can be seduced by the smell of ripe strawberries. Create experiences where your children can make good choices, and then compliment them to build self-esteem, good health and a healthy relationship with money.

"Yes" is more powerful than "No." The strawberry experience was even more profound because before shopping at the farmers market, I had breakfast at my favorite Mexican restaurant. There, an exasperated, tired-looking mother must have repeated, "I need you to stop doing ___ (fill in the blank)" to her two young boys a million times. The befuddled and deflated boys weren't eating fast enough, were fidgeting too much. Everything they did was wrong. The meal was a horrible experience for everyone (including me).

In the same circumstance, my own parents would have given me a $20 bill and told me to go pay the bill. (I was the fourth child, and they had learned a thing or two by then.) That task, for a kid, can eat up a good 10 minutes of parental feasting time. The waiters and owners knew the family and would have been delighted to assist. Your dining experience can be a lot more fun if you remember to bring the crayons, blank paper and a few $20s for the tab (not just the credit card).

Money grows on deeds. An allowance reinforces the myth that money grows on trees, whereas "jobs around the house" reinforce the truth that money grows on deeds.

Pay for grades. Education is the highest correlating factor with income. Surgeons are paid more than day laborers. The better your child performs academically in kindergarten, the more "money" she will earn as an adult. If your kid isn't "making the grade," then it's time to get creative about the best match for your child's talents and passion. It might be sports, or the arts, or digging in the dirt. My parents paid me to practice the piano for an hour every morning (before school). For a 5-year-old, an A might be worth a $1; a B, 75 cents; a C, 50 cents; a D, 25 cents; while the F is worth only a nickel. Give them something to aspire to, assistance in achieving the goal, and reward them for the effort as well.

Life math. College students get credit cards that they don't know how to use and by the time they graduate are already embroiled in a cycle of debt that could take decades to untangle. Giving your 5-year-old life math is a 1-2-3 leg-up that will multiply over a lifetime.

A pocket full of change. Dump your pocket change into a jar and then, once or twice a month, have the kids stack and roll the coins. Let this "found money" buy a family movie night or save up the change for a trip to Yosemite. Have fun with your money!

Be charitable. Charity creates compassion and also confidence. Ten percent is both sustainable and doable. Your 5-year-old might be saving up nickels and dimes, which by Christmas could be a toy for a child in need.

Once we get trapped in debt or the daily grind, we lose sight of the fact that Money Grows on Deeds. But one young mother and daughter on a sunny morning in southern California, armed with only five bucks and a basket of strawberries, were sowing the seeds of prosperity for a lifetime, and enjoying the path along the way.

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