Saturday, May 26, 2007

My little saving grace

We took a family trip to the bookstore today to prepare for our trip to Prague, which we will be embarking on early tomorrow morning (translation: don't expect a blog post from me for a while). I was in search of a guidebook (what I was really looking for was something with a title like "What To Do In Prague When It's Raining from The Second You Arrive Until The Moment You Depart" but alas, I found nothing of the sort -- perhaps this is an opening in the market which some enterprising travel writer ought to pursue). Paul wanted a new novel for the plane (apparently, the last book I bought him, while entertaining, is "too damn big" to go anywhere with). And Julia and Evan, well trained in the art of travel by now, were keen to select the "can't open until we're on the plane" books that they know I always purchase to ensure that they are cheerful participants in the airport transfer and security checkpoint processes (it works like a charm every time).

Before we left, I warned Julia that I would not be buying her a Rainbow Magic book today and that she would need to come up with a different selection. I have nothing against the Rainbow Magic fairies (with which Julia is totally and utterly obsessed right now) in theory; they are the subject of a gazillion sweet, if slightly insipid, books which, while certainly not fine literature, are guaranteed to be harmless and entertaining independent reads. Julia has almost a dozen of the books in her own personal collection and has checked dozens more out of the library, and there's no question that they've been instrumental in fostering her love of reading. She can finish a whole damn Rainbow Magic book in 20 minutes flat, however, and I was looking for something that would entertain her through a bit more of the flight. "But I want a Rainbow Magic book," she whined. "Then you can have one," I cheerfully replied. "But you'll have to buy it with your allowance money."

The allowance card is the best tool in my parenting bag of tricks right now. We started Julia, as I'm sure many families do, on an allowance when she reached the age of 5. The 50 pence a week that she receives from us (when we remember, which I must confess is not yet a weekly happening) was supposed to instill a sense of personal responsibility and teach her about money management. In practice, it's not only done both of those things, but it's also had the unexpected benefit of releasing me from playing the heavy every time she spots a trinket she'd like to own or a little kiddie ride she'd like to try out. "Sure," I answer each time she begs for this kind of impulse purchase. "I'll lend you the money until we get home and then you can pay me back with the allowance money in your piggy bank." The first few times, Julia gave the matter careful consideration. Now she barely even pauses to think any more. "No thanks," she'll invariably answer. "I don't want it that badly." Beautiful. I'm not the heavy and yet I'm not stuck buying bracelets that will turn her arm green or feeding coins into big Thomas the Tank Engines that lurch and sing for 35 seconds before screeching to a halt.

Generally, I love the allowance because it makes Julia think about the value of money and it keeps me from ever having to face the "spend foolishly or deal with the ensuing tantrum" dilemma. Today, however, I actually wanted Julia to consider breaking into the piggy bank to make a purchase. She's not spent a single pence of her allowance money to date and while I appreciate and value her natural instinct to save, I also wanted her to see the pleasurable side of spending her own money on a thoughtful and valuable purchase. So I suggested that we get out the piggy bank and see what she's saved.

It took over an hour for Julia to count out all of the coins and work out all of the math equations necessary to calculate her net worth. Once we'd determined how much she had (and I'd realized just how many weeks we've forgotten to pay her and guiltily made a private vow to get better at remembering such things), she wanted to know how much a Rainbow Magic book would cost and what she'd have left if she bought one. We worked out those equations, too, and she sat staring at the piles for a bit. Then she swept up all of the coins and fed them back into the bank. I wasn't sure what exactly that meant, but I decided to wait and see.

At the bookstore, Julia read the back of every Rainbow Magic book on the shelf. She admired the dresses of some of the new fairies we've not seen before and told me the back story behind others she'd seen allusions to in the books she's already read. And then she picked out a new book in the Princess Mirror-Belle series for me to purchase for her to read on the plane. "Are you going to buy a fairy book, too?" I asked. She shook her head. "Nope," she replied, walking easily away from a display that generally inspires long involved discussions of want and need and must have. "Not today."

I'm not sure where she came from, this daughter of mine. In the hour or so that we were shopping today, Paul and I probably managed to drop upwards of a hundred quid; first there were the bedside reading lamps we've been needing that were a good price at Woolies and then they necessitated light bulbs and a new power cord, we were out of printer paper, Julia needed new school socks, I had no raincoat for our wash-out trip to Prague, and the bookstore meant a book apiece. All reasonably priced, necessary purchases, of course, but they added up (as they always do) and we shelled out the cash easily (as we always do). We're all for saving in theory, but we're all about spending in practice. Julia, it appears, might turn out to be the polar opposite. She seems to have an innate need to sock her cash away which wins out over any desire she might have to spend it. And while that throws me a bit, as such revelations about how different my daughter and I are often do, it also pleases me. At least at the rate she's going, she'll be comfortable enough that she'll easily be able to care for me in my old age... provided, that is, that I can somehow convince her that I'm worth it.


Blogger Gina said...

How many of those fairy books are there? Gracious!! They've not yet made it here that I've noticed. Good for Julia to save her money. As for reminding yourself to pay her weekly, what about a reminder in your Outlook calendar (assuming you're using full-blown Outlook)?

3:51 PM  

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