February 29th, 2016
Miss Mouse is diligently saving her weekly allowance to buy a $70 mermaid costume. She stumbled across it in a high-end Halloween catalog that somehow infiltrated our mailbox this fall and she was instantly smitten. The costume is a vibrant pink, with a shimmering tail, a star-shaped, ribbon-bedecked wand, and a fluffy pink feather boa.
I think it’s completely ridiculous.
And it’s not just the price tag that has me shaking my head ($70 for a mermaid costume?!?), it’s the fact that she even wants it. Miss Mouse has a closet full of dress up clothes she doesn’t wear. If you were to excavate the heap of clothes on the floor, you’d discover apparel for Tinkerbell, Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel, along with witches robes, a Cleopatra ensemble, a UK cheerleader costume, and an assortment of hats, crowns, and costume jewelry.
The last thing on earth that child needs is a pink mermaid costume.
And yet, I’m supporting her mermaid dreams because it’s not about me. This is HER dream, and it’s also an important learning opportunity.
Horror stories about the woeful state of young people’s financial literacy populate the pages of most major newspapers with alarming regularity. It seems that an entire generation of children is stumbling into adulthood underprepared to balance checkbooks or resist the urge to rack up huge credit card bills.
I want my kids to learn how to manage their own money, and we’re starting early. As a proud first-grader, Miss Mouse receives an allowance of $5 per week. One dollar is designated for her “share” jar and she’s free to divvy up the rest between “spend” and “save” as she sees fit. The only rule of the “share” jar is that she has to spend it on someone other than herself. At Christmas, she emptied the jar to support her Sunday school class’s sponsorship of a child from the local Angel Tree and talked for weeks about the doll they were able to buy, thanks to her contribution.
Her “spend” jar is for small, impulse buys. If she sees a book she’s like at the store or wants to stock up at the church sweet sale, she is expected to use her own money. Ditto for clothing purchases above and beyond the budget I give her. This winter she forked over $15 from the spend jar to buy new leggings, having decided that none of the seven pairs she already owned were acceptable.
And then there’s the “save” jar. The mermaid jar. She cut out a picture of the costume and taped it to the outside so she can be inspired every time she looks at it. She’s been saving since September and she’s getting closer to her goal. There have been a few setbacks along the way, but she’s got about $50 saved up.
I’m not sure what will happen when she reaches her goal. I’m secretly hoping she’ll decide to set a new goal that doesn’t involve a sequin-bedazzled tail, but if she goes for the costume, that’s fine too. The act of purchasing it will thrill her, and if buyer’s remorse sets in later, well, that’s a good lesson too.