Economics According to Emma

Emma tore a perfume sample out of a Younkers ad a few weeks ago, and asked me to smell.  “Do you love it?”  she asked.

“Ummm….That does smell good!” I replied.

“Well,” she continued, “If you love it and I love it, that means buy it!”

A few days later, as I was withdrawing cash from a drive-up ATM, Emma informed me that she couldn’t wait to get a credit card and buy things for all of her friends.  Shoes, toys, pillow pets, you name it – she was going to buy it.

I thought that Emma understood, and that Joel and I had explained fairly well, that our credit card is a way for the computers in the stores to talk to the computers in the bank.  We can only buy things from the store if we have money in our bank account, otherwise our credit card will say, “Sorry.  You can’t buy that.”

I realize that isn’t always how it works in real life.  But, that is how Joel and I shop, and that is something we want our kids to know about credit cards as they mature: you can only use them if you  have the actual money to pay for the purchases.

Around the same time, on a rare night when I was alone in a car, I happened to be listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio.  A parent of a tween called in to say they were following Dave’s envelope program, but the child had suddenly decided they didn’t care about earning money and they weren’t going to do any chores.  The envelope idea intrigued me; essentially children earn money and place it (equally, I think) into three envelopes – spending, saving and giving.  Children earn their money by doing household chores.

Emma (and Aedan) already have household chores, but they aren’t compensated financially.  So I talked to Emma about whether she would like to accept some additional chore responsibility with her Kindergarten status, and have the opportunity to earn money.

Discussing money always brings up a heated discussion with Emma.  Once when she had cash for Christmas or her birthday, I let her keep part of the money for spending and had her deposit the rest in her savings account.  She is still sore about having to deposit her funds, and feels that I duped her into the situation.

Anyhow, she was excited.  She started working right away on decorating the three tags I had made for her money jars.  While she was coloring, we talked about what type of things would qualify for spending, saving or giving.  The giving jar really interested her, as she always gets emotionally entangled in disasters around the world and tries to persuade me to donate my life savings to their plight.

To assist with chores, I made a little note to tape to Emma’s bedroom door.  These are the three bedroom chores she has to do at night, or whenever her room is too messy to stand anymore.

We also talked about her other daily/weekly chores (carrying her dishes to the sink/dishwasher, sorting laundry, delivering toilet paper, doing her dance exercises, etc.)  I also shared with her some of the chores I attempt to complete daily or weekly.

Sometimes we forget, and sometmes Emma doesn’t care to do her chores, but for the most part our system has been working.  I match whatever she wants to take from her giving jar for church on Sundays, and she is looking forward to earning enough money to buy a pillow pet – the unicorn one.  Emma is learning the value and names of coins, and I have an honest and direct answer for whenever she asks, “Can I have a…?”

And Aedan?  He has his own jar – just one though – and his own opportunities to earn money.  When he becomes more aware of the world around him, we will split his funds into saving, spending and giving.

And someday when I grow old my children will remember all the coins I poured into their money jars, and return the favor when choosing my nursing home…


  1. Aunt Traci says:

    A girlfriend practices the 3 envelope program with her children. Her 10 year old son has randlomly given enough money to the DesMoines Zoo that he is a donor and gets invited to special exhibits and lunches along with his family. The saving program allows them double pleasure.

  2. I hadn’t thought about zoos and museums and such as a recipient for her giving jar – that’s a great idea! Emma would love seeing her dollars in action!