Earlier this year, I paid my 8- and 6-year-old kids $20 each to give up sugar for a month. It was agonizing for them to pass up sweets at every turn, but they were motivated by what they thought was a crazy amount of money.
Then one day, my older son’s friend said this:
“Twenty dollars is a total rip-off. You should have asked for $40.”
Up to that point, my boys had no idea they were getting ripped off. As you can imagine, they were outraged.
On one hand, I admired the young friend’s negotiating skills. On the other hand, I wanted to put him in timeout. Just for a little bit. Just until he recanted about $20 being a rip-off.
We had a similar meltdown this summer when my boys found out that other kids actually get an allowance for chores. In our family, there are chores you do every day just because you are part of the family. When those chores are done, we have extra chores you can do to earn money.
Don’t worry, the unpaid chores are ridiculous:
- Sort of pull the blanket up on your bed so it looks like you tried to make it.
- Kick the dirty clothes on your floor 10 feet down the hall to the laundry chute.
- Occasionally unload a dishwasher by stacking 40 cups together and shoving them in a cupboard. Dump all silverware in a drawer without bothering to sort it.
The paid chores are equally unchallenging:
- Clean about 1 inch of baseboard before giving up and crying your eyes out that houses have too many baseboards. (In fairness, I do the same.)
- Scrub the bathroom so it somehow looks dirtier than when you picked up the toilet brush.
I’m terrible about actually remembering to pay out for chores, so my boys keep a running total using some very, very fuzzy math. I constantly owe them hundreds of dollars, despite the fact that they generally refuse to do any chores beyond kicking their clothes down the hallway.
At the rate we are going, my children are going to need careers that involve high pay and little work. I’d say foot model, if only they didn’t have such warty feet.
I was raised by a father who was inspiringly cheap and who hated waste. At a drive-thru all 11 kids shared two hamburgers, and he’s still wearing clothes my mom bought him decades ago at Costco when it was called The Price Club. He once made my sister-in-law Heather test dozens of old AA batteries to see if any had a charge left. And no matter how disgusting the leftover food, he’ll eat it and lick the plate clean. Three-day-old meat, macaroni that’s probably been in a child’s mouth: There’s no need for a garbage disposal when my dad’s around.
I’m trying to pass a little bit of that thrift to the rising generation, but I feel like I’m swimming against a tide of entitlement. For example, what mom decided it was OK to spend $14 on purple “elite” socks for her son? Never mind that the colors are weird and that they match nothing. They are $14 dollars a pair! Do we really need our socks to be elitist? (My boys will insist, in tears, that we do.)
My first job was washing lettuce in a deli. While it gave me no useable skills, it did make me think about how I wanted to spend my hard-earned $5.25/per hour. Even better, my brother-in-law had a job where he had to collect dead deer on the side of Utah roads that had been hit by traffic. It was smelly, nasty, miserable work. I’m hoping that job will still be available when my boys get older.
That way, after a long day of handling rotting deer carcasses in the hot sun, they can decide whether it’s still worth it to spend $14 on a pair of purple socks.
If they choose to do so, I’ll keep my mouth shut.
Heaven forbid they learn they are getting ripped off.