Sunday, April 27, 2008

Back off, ice cream man!

Published April 27, 2008
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

As we head toward the beginning of May, I look forward to my first paycheck and my 5th installment of our new monthly tradition. Payday for me means payday for the kids. That’s right, folks, allowances have made their debut in the Wilson home. (And there was much rejoicing.)

The allowance thing has been a long time coming. I wouldn’t say I was ever dead set against giving my kids spending money each month. I plead ignorance more than anything. Prior to a few months ago, what I knew about allowances consisted of what I’d seen portrayed in TV and on film. Kid gets allowance…kid asks for raise in allowance…kid breaks neighbor’s window…kid must pay back window from allowance…kid seems to do fine despite being saddled with a nickname like Beaver. No offense to Ward, but there had to be more to it than that.

I had questions that needed answering, and I wasn’t sure I could trust a fictional father who couldn’t even remember his own kid’s name. I turned instead to the man in our lives…the very person who encouraged me to institute an allowance (he did get an allowance as a kid but was never referred to as a woodland mammal of any kind). After some much needed info, I felt confident enough to give this allowance business a try.

The kids and I agreed on a system of graduated allowance amounts based on age. I have no idea if they’re meager, fair, or exorbitant (I’ve had all three reactions from friends), but the good news about kids who’ve never gotten an allowance is that they’re happy with whatever you put into their deprived little hands.

We took the plunge on my first payday in January. I remembered to ask for cash back at the bank, changed that cash into smaller bills, placed it into waiting palms with a smile, and then turned them loose.

And then the ice cream man came. In January. In the cold. They can smell allowances, I think.
After three consecutive visits by the ice cream man, and the dwindling funds his appearances produced, I decided to be proactive and called a meeting to discuss a little money management. We talked about impulse shopping, budgeting, planning ahead, and the principal of supply and demand. We thought of fun and durable items each child could set money aside to buy. We talked about the ice cream man. “As long as he knows you have money,” I admonished, “he’s going to keep coming back. You don’t have to spend your money on ice cream every day just because he comes here every day.”

My newly taught pupils nodded their heads, solemn eyes conveying their understanding. I was very proud of myself. Then, the tinkling strains of “It’s a Small World, After All” could be heard outside. Five pairs of solemn eyes flew wide, and five pairs of excited feet raced for the Tootsie Roll banks.

“HOLD IT!” I hollered over the jingles and shouts, throwing my arms up to block their way out the door. “THERE WILL BE NO BUYING ICE CREAM TODAY!” I did the same the next two days, much to the consternation of my independently wealthy crew, until the persistent ice cream man got a hint and stopped coming. I have no idea if this is within the rules of allowance giving. Did I cross the line between teaching and controlling? Would they be better off learning the hard way that blowing their allowance money the first day means no money for a month? I’m giving it some thought. I may ask around. I’m not to the point of asking, “What would Ward do, but I’m close.

I’m trying to remind myself that we’re only 5 months into this new way of doing things. I’m sure some amount of crazy spending is to be expected from kids who’ve never had their own money before. (Actually, I’m sure a large amount of crazy spending is to be expected of kids, period.) As with all things, it’s a process. We have several years to perfect it.

That’s good news for one of my kids. He’s borrowed so much ice cream money from his sisters, it will take at least five years to pay it all back.