Category Archives: Kids and Money

How To Help Your Teen Be A Successful Babysitter

Now that my 13-year-old, Emmie, is a bona fide, certified, babysitter (she took a course at a local rec center in May), she’s been trying to build her business and get jobs (saving for an iPhone can be a powerful incentive…).  After she created a flier, gathered email addresses and sent out the flier, she has started to get calls. So I thought it was time to pass on to her what my childhood friend, Trisha, passed on to me and what I’d already passed on to Allison: the secret to successful babysitting. Trisha was a very successful babysitter; I took her advice and was booked solid almost every weekend evening (at least a Friday or Saturday night) during my junior high and early high school years , and in summer, some weekdays and evenings as well. 

So what’s the secret?  Bring your own “stuff”.  Yes, that’s it in a nutshell—bring a bag with toys, games and books that you used to play with. And if you have enough stuff, you can bring something different each time, for awhile.    It’s a wonderful thing, and the kids you are babysitting LOVE it. And so do the parents.  It sets you apart from other babysitters, especially the gum-smacking, I-really-don’t-want-to-do-this, I’d-rather-text-or- watch-TV bunch of babysitters.  ‘You care enough to pick out special books and toys from your own closet and bring them along?’ marvel the parents. ‘You’ll share your toys with me and I don’t have to play with the same old stuff?’ marvel the kids. The kids will rave about you to their parents and the parents will call you again.  It happened for me, it happened for Allison and it has already happened for Emmie.

Which is why we parents shouldn’t throw (or give) all of our kids’ childhood stuff away as they get older. Do you have a potential babysitter among your children? I was already saving a few of my kids’ toys for my great-nieces and nephew to play with when they come for a visit, so I saved a little bit extra just in case my kids were babysitters:  some toy cars and a plastic play mat emblazoned with a town and roads; classic board games like Chutes and Ladders; Colorforms; wooden puzzles; some dress-up clothes; lots of books; a tabletop puppet theatre…

There’s also a lot of kidstuff still in the house that I meant to get rid of but haven’t gotten around to purging, that has turned out to be great for babysitting…when Emmie got a job the other day as a mother’s helper and needed to accompany a parent and two kids to a doctor visit, she looked in our old “road trip” cabinet and hit the mother lode of all kinds of magnetic toys– Magnadoodles, magnetic “paper dolls”, and a game called Tickle Bee, to name a few. They were perfect for her to entertain the kids during the long car ride to the doctor’s as well as the waiting room…When she got a job watching a child at a baby pool (while the parent was nearby watching another child), I climbed a ladder in our garage just before she was to leave for the job and found a bag of our old tub toys on the shelf, which thankfully hadn’t been put in a recent garage sale.  Emmie picked out several things which the child (and every other kid in the pool) thoroughly enjoyed: a small inflatable fish, a “whale pitcher” with a “strainer hat”, an empty plastic “Mr. Bubble” bottle that doubles as a boat…

Though one might think that the novelty of “someone else’s toys” wears off, I don’t remember that ever happening, since the toys aren’t stored at the kids’ homes.  You just rotate them to keep things fresh.  Kids start requesting certain favorites. And, hopefully their positive feedback will inspire your teen to find even more creative ways to entertain kids, such as food art (like pepperoni pizza “faces” and cutting lunchmeat and cheese with fun-shaped cookie cutters for open-faced sandwiches), throwing a birthday party for a doll or pet, and photography.  One family still remembers the time I dressed up their kids in wigs and western wear and tried to snap a frowning “tintype” style of Old West photo… It didn’t look so great taken with a Kodak Pocket Instamatic, but it was the thought that counted…

Many Happy Returns: Some Post Tax Day Humor and Ways to Teach Your Kids About Money

Whew- so glad to be done with the taxes! Yep, that’s where I’ve been over the past few days—glued to Turbo Tax and barely coming up for air. I HATE DOING TAXES because I always wait until the last minute.  I used to do them all by myself, but I think Andy was tired of driving to the post office at 11 p.m. on April 15 in a panic (but hey, the postal employees always made it so festive and welcoming and would be standing out there waving signs and holding baskets and you could just drive up and throw in your envelope…) and so a couple years ago we started splitting the tax prep responsibility, so he does half and then hands the file over to me, usually in February or March.  But I’ve always got a million other pressing things to do that keep me from opening that file, and so there I sat on Tax Day, finishing up “under the gun”.  I’m so sick of hearing, “Did you make any progress?” I could scream. (Please God make me do 10 minutes a day of taxes starting Feb. 1 next year!)

But it’s been an interesting tax prep this year.  First off, let me share a laugh with you (and I think everyone needs a laugh after Tax Day, right?) I was sitting here going through “It’s Deductible”, an online service for putting a value on charitable donations, and I was searching for all the stuff we’d donated to Goodwill over the past year…you’re supposed to be able to type in your items, one by one, and it gives you the “value as calculated by ebay” for the “most frequently donated items”.  At first it was a breeze—Girls jeans? It had the value. Women’s sun dress?  Ditto.   Belts?  Yep.  And many other items.  Only it didn’t have flip flops.  (The only thing that came close was “leather sandals”, and we all know flip flops, no matter how blinged up or designer they may be, are not always made of leather.) And, “It’s Deductible” didn’t have tights.  (Hey, ours were in good condition!) And it didn’t have a listing for sheet music.  (Or “piano book”, “fake book” or anything close.)  But it did show a listing for…DANCING HULA GIRL? No, that wasn’t an item I was trying to value, but it kept popping up as a choice every time I typed in the word “Girls”, with a “high value” listed at $7, from the “Automotive” category…huh? Is it some kind of air freshener? I vaguely remembered that it’s one of those bobble heads that sits on a dashboard…or I guess this kind has a “bobble waist”…but who knew there was such a demand to write them off as a charitable donation?!  But a quick online search for “images of dancing dashboard hula girl” came up with a ton of pictures of the wobbly car accessory, with many variations: fat, skinny, with ukelele and without; hula monkeys, turtles, bears, pigs and hippos; skeleton hula dancer; smiley face hula dancer; something that looked like a “Precious Moments” hula dancer; alien hula dancer; and many male versions, including Hula Homer Simpson and one that looked eerily like a certain President… (hmm, I’m thinking any one of those might be the perfect accessory for the aravan, so maybe someday I really will be asking It’s Deductible for the value of my “dashboard hula dancer”!)

Second, it was also a more interesting tax prep this year because we had to deal with, for the first time, a W-2 form from OUR CHILD’s summer job.  Unfortunately for Allison, she didn’t have to declare any of it because it wasn’t much (the threshold for needing to file is $5,800).  But fortunately for her, it got her asking about taxes for the first time and gave me the opportunity to explain why we do this and what some of the tax forms involve.  Sure wish that was still taught in school so that all kids would know what to do (when I was in high school, we did a mock 1040 form as a “Consumer Economics” assignment, so it was very easy and not-scary-at-all the first time I had to fill out a real tax form.  It was a no-brainer, really, at that stage in life.  I felt very prepared, unlike the 20-something intern I once saw crying at one of my past workplaces, because she didn’t like having to do such “grown-up” things like taxes…). 

Once our taxes were finished yesterday (hooray for e-filing!), I did a little web surfing and discovered lots of online resources for teaching kids about, not only taxes, but also how to fill out a W-4, how to write a check and balance a checking account, and how to figure sales tax.  A site called even has a worksheet for figuring how to pay taxes—on money earned doing chores!  (And by the way, if you want to access that worksheet, you can do it for free with their “limited membership”—don’t let that “full membership only” sentence fool you.) Any of these resources would be great for kids just starting in the work world or even those who are starting to make more purchases on their own.

For younger kids, I think another good “money teacher” is to give them one of those blank check ledgers that come in a box of checks (I usually always have an extra one or two left in the box when the checks are gone). It’s a good way for kids to keep up with the cash they may be stashing in a box, purse or “piggy bank”, and record how they spend it, not to mention practice math skills.  I recently gave one to Emmie and she reminded me that she did get a little practice in this at Enterprise City, a very cool, 6,000 square-foot mock city sponsored by our school district and housed in our neighborhood elementary school, where 6th grade kids from all over the district (and other districts) get to spend at least one day living, working, and earning “paychecks”, and getting “breaks” to spend their checks at Enterprise City shops (where the kids are the shopkeepers), like the T-shirt shop, the gift shop, the cafe’ and the newspaper.  (At the end of the day, the kids who aren’t in the negative and who have balanced their checkbooks correctly are recognized, as well as the businesses who turn a profit.  Those kids that have overspent? Well, they have to give back that Chinese yo-yo or mood ring they purchased… see Enterprise City in action and read more about it here).

But, I digress—there was a third reason this year’s tax prep was more interesting: TWO extra days! ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?’ I thought, when I found out the good news last Friday night. ‘SUH-WEET!’ It was 11 p.m. and I realized I didn’t have to stay up until 3 a.m. that night finishing most of it, like I originally thought!  What a gift! The tax gods must have heard my bleary-eyed cry of “how am I going to do this?”!  Yeah, I know the change of date had to do with April 15th being on a Sunday, and Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C. on Monday—but I’d like to think it was done as a fitting way to end National Procrastination Week. 

Yeah, I know that illustrious week happens each year in early March, but true procrastinators know we don’t celebrate it until mid-April.  

A Scary Lesson in Door-to-Door Sales

NO SOLICITORS. Those are two words my Girl Scout troop doesn’t like to see when they go door-to-door selling cookies, but I’m finally going to print them out on my label maker and post them by my own doorbell today, and hope that in the future, the football players, Scouts, Campfire Girls and other well-meaning kids will simply email me, as some already do, when they want to sell me something.  Because there’s just been too many not-so-well meaning door-to-door salespeople in our area lately, and I’ve had enough.

You’d think I’d have had enough long ago, since I’ve hung up on probably thousands of telemarketers (or fought with them– remember the Gay Marriage telemarketer?) and I’ve had every nut in the candy dish knock on my door since I’ve been a work-at-home mom for almost 15 years.  One memorable snaggle-toothed saleswoman slurped her bottle of miracle cleaning product in front of me after she demonstrated it on my front door handle, to prove to me that the product was non-toxic; another salesperson told me that I, pregnant with Emmie, was abusing my unborn child if I didn’t buy his water purifying system.  And even though I think I’m a savvy consumer and can easily say no after all this practice, several times my heartstrings have been tugged and I’ve been “suckered” into buying something I don’t really need, especially when it’s an older teen or twentysomething who says they are in the area raising funds for college, “and just need to close two more sales to get that scholarship”.  But really, it’s time to say “no more”, for our family’s safety as well as to teach our kids the right thing to do in the future when they are on their own.

I should have had the “No Solicitors” sign out a couple months ago, after two muscular guys came to our door saying they were raising funds for a select LaCrosse team.  These were not teens or college students, these guys looked like they were in their late 20s or early 30s. They didn’t have anything that made them look official, I don’t even think they had a clipboard.  (Of course I never open a door to a stranger– I talk to them through the glass/screen door or even a window, and my kids have seen that and we’ve talked about that.)  I said I couldn’t donate anything at this time and wished them well.  But I was definitely suspicious.  Things didn’t add up. Why would older guys need to go door to door for a sports team? If they’re working adults playing a sport on the side, what would they need to raise funds for, anyway? I concluded they were casing the neighborhood, trying to find out who was home and who wasn’t, so they could go around back and break in, and I let Karl, our neighborhood crime watch captain (and the police) know about them, and Karl alerted our neighbors.

This past Saturday afternoon, the dogs started barking as a large, tall, 20-something young man began walking up our front walk.  Andy was out back doing yardwork and as I watched the young man approach, I asked Emmie to please go lock the front door, as she was closer to it.  I failed to tell her “screen door” and as he got to the doorstep, she proceeded to look at him and shut the main door in his face. Not wanting her to be THAT rude, I was apologetic when I went to see what he wanted, talking to him through the glass.  Not a good way to start.  Fifteen minutes later, I had purchased a $40 magazine subscription.  His soft-spoken spiel about growing up in a tough New Jersey neighborhood and how he had only been in Texas a couple days and was part of an organization trying to help kids stay on the right track– well, it got to me. I wanted to help him.  He said he got extra points because I chose to donate the magazine subscription to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  When we were finished with the transaction, he asked if he could buy a bottle of water from me, that he was thirsty, and (with the door still locked of course and him on the front porch) I brought him one, but didn’t charge him anything for it.  Emmie stood next to me and witnessed the whole thing.  As he walked away, I had a feeling, that even if I’d helped him out in some small way, that most of that money was probably going to a not-so-great organization, and that the Boys and Girls Clubs of America would never see those magazines… 

The next day, with receipt in hand, I checked out the organization’s website and Googled to find its other websites and mentions as well.  All of the websites were poorly put together and half-finished, but from what I could tell, it’s an “entertainment” company based in Detroit, that brings in kids from tough neighborhoods with the promise they are going to give them an opportunity in the rap music and film/TV industries, build their self esteem, and give them a chance to turn their lives around.  It says nothing about how these kids will be brought to other cities to sell magazines…when I clicked on one of the workable links to see the company’s “music videos”, there was one finished video, called something like (I’m not kidding) “Ax Murderer”, featuring two black rappers and showing a fat guy in a welder’s suit and mask tying up young white women and acting like he was attacking them with an ax, and also attacking a young white couple sitting in a car.  Gulp.

I don’t know how he knew, but…last night, Andy asked me if I’d bought a magazine subscription from a door-to-door salesman over the weekend. “Yes,” I admitted, and before I could tell him about my folly, he showed me breaking news online from a local TV station– a resident of a nice neighborhood about 8 miles away from us had been stabbed in the face when he refused to buy magazines from a door-to-door salesman “who said he was with an organization”, and around the same time, a door-to-door saleswoman named Tontanisha was arrested for threatening a homeowner in the same neighborhood when they also refused to buy magazines.   I made sure to tell Emmie, and Allison, and I’m alerting Captain Karl, once again.  

Like Andy says, door-to-door sales wouldn’t exist if people would just quit buying in that way, just like panhandling for booze money will stop if people quit enabling.  But because there’s always a soft heart and a fool around every corner, it all continues… apparently at a frenzied pace now that spring has sprung and north Texas is in the midst of a narrow window of decent weather…

Just this morning, I heard the young, married, bright, mother-of-two manager of a local coffee shop excitedly tell a customer about the vacuum cleaner she had just bought from a door-to-door salesperson.  “My husband didn’t want to listen to the presentation, but I talked him into it,” she said.  “When the salesman vacuumed our mattress and we saw all the dust and crud that came off of it, my husband and I were amazed, and so we bought one,” she said.  The customer’s jaw dropped as she told him the price.  “We had to take out a loan in order to afford it,” the manager continued, “but at least it will last a lifetime.”

Putting the Fun Back Into Kids’ Fundraisers

A lot has been written and debated about kids and fundraisers (I once wrote a section cover story for the Dallas Morning News about the topic eight or nine years ago), but things don’t seem to change much over the years– basically, as kids add more activities to their schedules and a family’s life gets busier, not only do they/we have to think about practices, team photos, physicals, release forms, concerts/games/tournaments, private lessons, parent meetings, parent volunteering (Who wants to be the Snack Mom? Um, how about The Prop Pop?), “buttons”/car decals/yard signs, and possibly traveling to out of town events, a lot of activities come with fundraisers.  Either the school hardly funds the activity and the organization must raise funds in order to do what they want/need, or they’re independent and don’t get any school funding, or the group’s wants/needs are so lavish and/or numerous that a school couldn’t possibly help meet those needs– and the kids (and parents) must hit up friends, relatives, neighbors and anyone else under the sun to “pony up” and help them out. Don’t get me wrong– fundraisers can be great lessons for kids in salesmanship and economics, not to mention marketing. We’ve had some positive experiences with them in our household.  But often these opportunities can get lost due to the fact that a lot of the time, several fundraisers are happening at once. How can our kids possibly do well at any of them when that’s the case?

If they’re already burdened down with homework overload, lack of sleep, and too many extracurriculars, do we dare expect them to keep up with numerous order forms and sales goals? How can an organization itself do the best it can to meet its goals when it’s scheduling a fundraiser at the same time as every other club/group/team? Do these organizations not ever think that, with the power of the Internet, there might be a way to set up a local calendar where they could all check in and space their fundraisers? Schools constantly send the message to kids during orientations that “yes, you can be in more than one activity”– so why don’t they make it easier to do that? Is it right to ask grandmother to buy raffle tickets, popcorn, overpriced giftwrap, and candy bars all at the same time, following it up with a letter that asks her to “just write a check” for yet another organization?

No, of course not, and so in our house, some fundraisers we flat out refuse to encourage our kids to do, while others we support.  But sometimes, they feel like losers when they return a blank order form–  the teacher or coach (or overhyped fundraiser salesperson) goes spaz over awarding Joe Blow and Suzy Doe their trip to Six Flags, while your child doesn’t even qualify for the light-up yo-yo… and sometimes, if no sales are made, parents are required to write a check for a minimum amount or your child cannot participate on the team or is given some other type of “punishment” (no joke!).

I like the fundraisers that are “events”– car washes, carnivals, auctions, bazaars…a genious one I’d never heard of before is coming up soon for us: a shred-a-thon, where the area school band booster clubs are teaming with a document shredding company. Neighbors and friends are encouraged to bring their old files, etc. to a parking lot on a Saturday, and for around $5 a box (or something like that), they can have their documents shredded in front of them. What a win-win situation– everyone has old files they need to clean out and don’t want to just put in the trash, the kids need to raise money…and if people are allowed to then use their shreds as cushioning when shipping holiday packages (or dump them into the school’s recycling bin, where they earn money per pound recycled) , it will be even better… 

Another good idea is to have a bazaar or farmer’s market type event to bring together all the groups that are selling things by order form– how great would it be for a mall or shopping center to offer space, free of charge, for kids to do this sometime, maybe near the holidays? People would already be in a shopping mood, and they can stop by your table to see what you’ve got and help out kids at the same time. That chocolate would look so much better on display than in a box! And, they’d be bringing all those fundraising kids and their families to that place of business, families who would most likely do some shopping there themselves

Yes, fundraisers can be good experiences if the adults in charge look at the bigger picture, that our kids’ world is not the same world as the one in which we grew up, and come up with new, less-stressful ways of raising money.  But of course, you have to be prepared to volunteer, possibly even be the one in charge, if you decide you want to help your kids’ group make that change!

A Tale of Two Phones

Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today? Can I get my phone today???

More than we heard, “Are we there yet?” on our recent road trips, the question/pleading/mantra/broken record of “Can I get my phone today?” has been heard daily around our house, and in stereo, since Cleo went back to France on Monday.  We were able to get a new, free phone from our cell phone plan when Cleo arrived last summer (she paid us monthly for calls/texting), and both Emmie and Allison were hoping it might become theirs when she left.  Emmie has never had her own phone but was told she could get one when she entered Jr. High this fall; Allison threw her own phone in anger a few months ago (it shattered) and she’s gone without ever since.

Even though Allison had purchased her phone with her own money when she was Emmie’s age, I think somehow they’d both forgotten that fact, and had come to believe that having a phone was their God-given right as teenage (and soon to be teenage) girls, rather than being a privilege to be earned–  so they were surprised later this week when Andy and I made the announcement that, though we wouldn’t charge them monthly for phone service, it would cost them each $60 if they wanted a phone.  We told them that the first one to pay us would get Cleo’s phone, and the next would get a new, similar version.  Luckily for Emmie, she’d been carefully saving for awhile, earning allowance and doing odd jobs (including a killer job of washing the aravan last week), so she was able to purchase Cleo’s phone last night. We figured perennially cash-strapped Allison would have to a.) do weeks of jobs around the house and earning allowance in order to pay for anything or b.) get one of the retail jobs for which she’s been turning in applications– but darn it if she didn’t “slide by” once again…Thanks to Target’s generous “no receipts needed” and no-questions-asked return policy, she decided she could take back a few things recently purchased there to come up with most of the money.

Should I celebrate the fact that my prodigal daughter is a creative thinker? Maybe, but what she didn’t figure into the equation is that she needs transportation to get to Target to do those returns, and she’d been with Andy when she’d made her recent purchases there and they’d been put on his credit card, so…

The yard sure is looking overgrown these days…and Andy says he sure could use some mowing help since he injured his knee playing softball a few nights ago…and it sure is a big yard…

Beyond Babysitting and Lawn Mowing: An Easy Way for Kids to Earn Big Money

Have you ever gotten a phone call from someone who wants your opinion about products or services? Next time, you might not want to hang up.  Legitimate, professional market research companies will pay you and your kids to come to their offices and give your opinions on all kinds of things–and usually, they pay you cash on the spot and not a check that’s mailed later.  Over the last several years, everyone in my family has been a market research participant, and it’s not only a great way to earn money, it’s fun.  I’ve taste-tested tortilla chips, frozen dinners, and orange juice, given my opinions on a local park, and ranked refrigerated biscuit ads, among other things;  my husband has participated in focus groups on oil filters, lawn fertilizer and electric companies, to name a few.  Emmie earned $100 in a kids’ focus group on dolls; Allison did the same in a teen group on cell phone apps.  Together, Emmie and I once earned even more by taste-testing applesauce. 

The How-To-Do-It is simple– just sign up online to be a part of a market research firm’s database (and they’re always looking for more people) and they’ll call and/or email when they have a study or focus group for which you might qualify. After you answer a few questions, you’re given the times/days for the study and if you qualify, you pick a date. (Sometimes, you don’t qualify, for a variety of reasons– you might not be familiar with the product they’re testing or don’t buy it enough even if you are.  Usually, you’re always disqualified if you or a close relative works for an ad agency or market research firm.)  On the designated day, you go to their offices (which, at least for the firms we’ve visited in the Dallas area, are in very nice office buildings) and spend about an hour, sometimes more or less depending on the study.  Some even give bonuses if you arrive early to your appointment (and yes, shockingly, we actually have, at least once!!).

The firms we’ve worked with are Focus Pointe Global, Peryam and Kroll, and Savitz Field and Focus.  Focus Pointe has locations in 11 U.S. cities (; Peryam and Kroll ( is in four– Chicago, Dallas (Plano), Santa Ana, CA and White Plains, NY; and Savitz ( has more than 25 locations, including Phoenix, Des Moines and Boston.  A friend recommends Bryles Research (– they’re in Dallas, Chicago, and Springfield, Missouri. While smaller towns don’t have these companies, they just might have their own local or regional version, and it’s worth web surfing to find out. 

For kids, it’s worth it because the pay is good for a minimal amount of effort and time (not to mention that paid jobs for kids are often hard to come by), and it’s also worth it because they get a bit of knowledge about the world of market research, something they’ll probably be coming into contact with again if they major in business, marketing, advertising, communications– even law.   If they get to preview a product that hasn’t hit the market yet, they also get some satisfaction when they eventually see it in stores and in ads: “Hey, look, Mom– I helped make that happen!”

The Thought That Counts

As some of you already know, my kids have the ability to earn a set amount of allowance each week, but come “pay day”, it may not all get paid to them, depending on infractions during the week.  For example, $1 off if you leave your plate on the table, $1 off if you leave shoes in the living room, $1 off if you don’t do your chore-of the-day—we keep a white board on the side of the refrigerator to keep track.  My youngest child does pretty well with this and carefully saves her allowance each week in a plastic bank with a combination lock; my oldest child rarely earns much allowance and quickly spends anything she manages to get. There is also a list of “paid jobs” posted on the refrigerator, extra tasks like yard work, and she doesn’t usually do those, either.  For a long time, I’ve been wondering, “Why do I do this allowance system at all?” for her, since I put more effort into keeping track of infractions than she puts into helping out. But Love and Logic thought keeps going through my head: the natural consequences will teach her a life lesson.  In other words, when she really needs money, she’ll be sorry that she didn’t earn and save, and maybe she will do things differently in the future. 


It hasn’t quite worked out that way.  Because whenever she’s gotten to the point of really needing money, somehow she always manages to get by.  A friend pays her admission to a show; a grandparent’s birthday card, with cash inside, arrives in the mail; a lucrative babysitting job comes along…She once sold her American Girl doll—to her sister—in order to finance a shopping spree. ‘Drats! Foiled Again!’ I think to myself, like some cartoon character. 


Finally, a week ago, it didn’t look like things were going to go her way. She was flat broke, but really wanted to buy Christmas gifts for everyone.  “So you really won’t buy gifts for me to give, like you did a couple years ago?” she asked. “No way,” I said, reminding her she’d had plenty of opportunities to earn allowance, and added that I didn’t know why she was concerned, that we’d celebrated all the family birthdays this year without presents from her and she hadn’t seemed to mind. “But this is Christmas, “she said.  “Everyone else has put gifts under the tree, and there are gifts for me.  That would be bad if there’s nothing there from me,” she said.

“Well, maybe you can plan better for next year,” I said.


Not to be stymied, she announced she was going to tackle The Paid Jobs List.  With a week off school before Christmas and unseasonably warm weather in North Texas, working in the yard didn’t seem so far-fetched.  She had it all planned out. “I’ll do a few things each day and by Thursday afternoon, I’ll have enough money to get something for everyone,” she said. While I don’t like her habit of waiting until the last minute to accomplish things, I did like the thought of having that yard work done before Christmas visitors came…and the fact that she wanted to earn money to buy gifts for others.


Unfortunately, her teenage habit of staying up late and sleeping late kicked into high gear once the holiday break began, making productive daylight hours slim to none.  Raking leaves and scrubbing the bottom of her bathtub were deemed too difficult by her and were left half done; the only thing she’d finished by Thursday was to spread a bag of bark mulch on a small flower bed.  “How about if I wake up early tomorrow morning and get everything else done?” she asked on Thursday evening.  “Can someone take me shopping then?”
“It depends on if someone is available,” I replied, reminding her that stores closed early on Christmas Eve and that in order to go out anywhere, her bedroom also had to be clean.  So, as it turned out, she decided to watch movies and TV with Cleo (our foreign exchange student) until the wee hours of the morning, then decided to clean her room. By the time daylight came on Christmas Eve day, her room was spotless, she was sleeping soundly, the weather had turned cold, and rain was imminent. “I think you’re going to have to scale back your Christmas list,” I told her several hours later when she woke up,  “but it’s the thought that counts.  Just get everyone something small.” 


She would have nothing of that idea.  Still determined to earn enough money to buy what she wanted, she headed out around lunchtime in the cold rain, shovel in hand, to dig weeds in our vacant vegetable garden and trim down Lantana bushes. She wore a hooded sweatsuit, but no raincoat and no gloves.  (Was she trying to earn more by getting the sympathy vote?)  I reminded her again, as I left to run my own last-minute shopping errands, that no one may be available to take her anywhere even if she got everything done.


When I returned, I was surprised to see her still working in her soaked sweatsuit. The bushes looked great, and the garden was almost all dug up.  The leaf piles had been put into bags.  By 2:45 p.m. as I headed to the grocery store, she was finished, and managed to talk her dad (amidst his protests) into taking her out to shop, just before the stores closed.  (She also managed to badger him into kicking in an extra $15…)

Yes, she did do some needed work, she did earn money, and she was happy to have presents under the tree for everyone in the family…but were any “lessons” really learned, or values instilled?


I’m not sure…my head is spinning from the cartoon thought bubbles trying to crowd their way inside…

Whose Fundraiser Is It, Anyway?

I got out of bed this morning with feet that ached so badly, I had to “hobble” across the bedroom floor. Was it age finally setting in? No, just fundraiser burnout.  I worked 3 ½ hours yesterday morning at a drill team bake sale, 4 ½ hours in the afternoon at the elementary school carnival/auction, and an hour and a half selling “latecomer” tickets at a high school choir concert. I definitely wore the wrong shoes.


I’ve been thinking a lot about fundraisers lately, and not just because my feet are screaming at me. In fact, every year, most parents mull the pros and cons of fundraising if they have children involved in anything outside of the family. Scouts, sports teams, bands, church youth, public school, private school- every group associated with kids is raising money, fall and spring, all over America, usually at the same time.  Just this month, the Boy Scouts have been selling popcorn; football players are selling coupon books; the high school band had a march-a–thon; there’s a fundraising car wash and garage sale just about every weekend; and numerous groups have been having fundraising nights at local eateries—in addition to carnivals, auctions, bazaars, home tours, and bake sales. Each girl on Allison’s drill team was recently required to sell 50 $1 sweepstakes tickets; each family was responsible for soliciting three $10 gift card/certificate donations for the sweepstakes; each family had to bake (and I mean bake—no store-bought items allowed) six large items for the bake sale (and we were given a sheet of instructions as to what the definition of “large” is) and each parent and drill team member was required to work two three-hour shifts at this weekend’s arts and crafts bazaar/bake sale (Andy is grateful one of his shifts involved doing something “manly”, marking off vendor booth space with electrical tape.) Oh, and each family was required to shop for, and donate, 72 bottles/cans of water and soda.  If parents don’t do their part, their daughter receives a demerit (a.k.a. point deduction that can eventually lead to the girl getting kicked off the team.)  When I asked someone in charge what happens if the child doesn’t sell 50 sweepstakes tickets (Allison only sold 6), I was told we had to write a check for the difference.  “But make sure to put your name on all those ticket stubs if you do!” I had to smile as I turned in my baked goods and the bake sale chairperson said, “Great! That will be one merit for your daughter.” Drill team members earn merits (points added) when they do something good. Um, I took off a whole day of work to bake those 36 chocolate chunk cookies, 12 blueberry-flax muffins, 12 giant peanut butter cups, 2 pans of Banana Nut Cheerios bars and 1 chocolate chip cookie pie…don’t I get a merit, too?


I’ve got to honestly admit that it never occurred to me to ask Allison, or require Allison, to help me bake those items.  I’ve always looked at most fundraisers as something kids don’t have time to do any more—with homework and extracurriculars, if my kids have extra time, I want them to be cleaning their rooms or doing something else to help around the house.  Also, I figure funds for drill team uniforms and choir trips are going to eventually come out of my pocket, so what’s wrong with me doing most of the fundraising work in order to save a buck?


Plenty, I’m starting to realize.  It just worsens that sense of entitlement so many teens have these days, which is crippling to their future adulthood, and hurts their character.  And I’ve been feeling a “teen entitlement wave” coming at me from Allison a lot lately.  There’s been a lot of “do this-buy that-drive me here-take me there” attitude without much in return.

Chores are being half-done, if at all; clothes from vacation are still mounded in a pile on her bedroom floor three weeks later; grades in science and math are dismal; sass and back talk have reached new levels of cut-to-the-core viciousness.  Meanwhile, her school choir is planning an optional trip to Disney World for April and they recently had an Innisbrook gift sale…her one customer was me, and it took me a half hour just to input the order online.


As luck would have it, I just happened to be talking to a wise parent last weekend, a seasoned AFS host mom, also with two girls of her own, who long ago got fed up and decided that if her kids expected to go on expensive band or choir trips, they would be required to earn a certain percentage of the cost through the fundraisers provided and through doing odd jobs. Wow– why didn’t no-nonsense anti-helicopter me think of that?  Suddenly, all those magazine and cookie dough fundraisers I used to despise looked a whole lot better.  Because it doesn’t matter if you like what they’re selling or if your kid is “too busy to sell”.  If they really want to go, they’ll find a way to “move the product”, if it’s a requirement.  And in the age of modern technology, it’s not that time-consuming for them to send a mass e-mail to friends and family, a mass text, or (No way, Mom!) personal phone calls.  Just like with any sale, they just might learn something about goal setting, marketing and promotions.  And if the kid doesn’t want to put forth the effort toward raising part of the cost, then they really don’t want to go that badly, and the parents can save money. (And, if the product doesn’t sell, then the organization needs to re-think its fundraising efforts—with input from the kids!!)


At first I thought this newfound strategy would be wasted regarding the choir trip, since the Innisbrook fundraiser has ended (and we don’t have many lucrative “odd jobs” for Allison to do). But, God bless ‘em, the choir booster club moms just announced another fundraiser—fresh poinsettias.  And I’ve already told Allison that she has to sell 15 in order to go on the Disney trip. 


So far, no effort has been made on her part, and the orders are due Friday.  I don’t think she thinks I’m serious.  But I am.  Because if anyone in this family should be “entitled” to something right now, it’s not her– it’s me.

The Dreaded “B” Word

In an effort to help my husband and I “see the big picture” better and help my teenager realize that money truly doesn’t grow on trees, I spent most of Friday afternoon and evening with an old software version of Quicken (I didn’t like the new fancier versions) and I set up (gasp!) a budget.  Yep, one in which I set up yearly allotments for everything—food, clothes, even school supplies and dog grooming. And while I think I did a pretty good job, Allison was not happy with it one bit.  Oh, I don’t think I’m going to let her see the whole thing, because she’d get even madder if she saw that other “stupid” things like UTILITIES got more than she did.  (Wait…then again, maybe it would make her turn off more lights and quit taking 30 minute showers, if she thought it would mean more money in her pocket!)  But I did let her know the amount she’s been “allotted” for spring clothes, since she’s been chomping at the bit to go shopping for weeks, and according to her, the amount she’s been given will “barely cover underwear and one pair of shoes” (not true, unless maybe you’re Paris Hilton). 


With her tastes, she is going to have to either learn the joys of bargain hunting or get creative in coming up with ways to earn money.  And, she’s going to have to stop getting upset with what she’s given— because she got so mad about the new budget, she threw papers around my office and clothes all over the front hall.  And as a result,  she now has no one to take her shopping this weekend, anyway!


Growing a Giver

I know some families who, when giving their kids allowance, or birthday money, or money earned from jobs, or all three, make them divide it up: the kids have to put some aside for savings, some for charity, and the rest they can choose to use how they like.  While I do understand the reasons/values behind this (one of which is the hope that they’ll get in the habit of doing that all their life), I haven’t been of the mindset to want to force giving—I’ve wanted to encourage giving and saving, and hope my kids will do both, but give them freedom and see how the chips fall.  At my house, it didn’t take long to see the chips falling on two very opposite sides.  One child has been saving money and showing concern for the world’s less fortunate almost since she could talk, and has been giving her saved allowance to all sorts of charitable causes (last Christmas we began sponsoring a child from Africa for her from ChildFund International and she’s covered a couple of the $25 monthly payments completely on her own); my other child spends money almost as fast as she receives it, usually spending hours planning how she’s going to spend it before she receives it.  When Christmas comes around, Emmie buys gifts for many people with her own money, but for Allison, well, let’s just say that there’s not a whole lot under the tree from her. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong—she still has a giving heart.  She has a special concern for disabled people, especially those with brain injuries and Downs Syndrome.  Last year, she spent an hour every day helping a special needs student in art class at her junior high—sometimes she’d get yelled at by the student, but she’d take it all in stride (imagine that!!).  She’s spent many hours helping out at Special Olympics events, and last summer, she spent about 40 hours helping out at a day camp for special needs children and adults.  Again, she got yelled at and had to deal with some difficult kids, but she just laughed when she recounted the week’s events—“They are so funny and fun to be with,” she’d say.  She wants to work there as much as possible next summer.

But when it comes to giving gifts at Christmas, it’s not high on her list of priorities.  And it’s hard for me to relate… I remember around age 12 or 13, I was so excited and proud to be old enough to buy gifts for my family on my own, with money I’d earned babysitting.  No more gifts with tags on them that say they’re from me, when they really weren’t! I was old enough to finally be a discerning consumer.  I remember going into Woolworth’s with a friend and buying a “spoon rest” for my mom, and a heated “hunting cushion” for my dad, to sit on when he went hunting…and wrapping them myself…

I asked Allison why she never buys gifts for anyone and she said it’s because she has to pay for so much stuff on her own, like makeup and jewelry and movie tickets, that she never has anything left.  (Sorry, but a teensy weensy makeup sponge for TEN DOLLARS is not my idea of a good buy…) No, violins are not playing a sympathy symphony for her.   So this year, I decided to change my stance on “no forced giving” and try “suggested giving”.  Last week, I gave her a small empty Christmas cookie tin, and told her she should start putting aside some money in it now so that on some upcoming given date, I’m going to drop her and a friend at Target so she can buy presents for everyone in the family.  I saw a glimmer of hope—she didn’t throw the cookie tin back at me!!! But I just checked this morning, and it’s still empty…
Maybe I should stand next to it and start ringing a bell…