Yesterday I volunteered at the book fair at Raisin’s school. It. Was. Awful.
Well, no. The whole thing wasn’t awful. Exhausting, but not awful. The kids were pretty polite, the other moms were nice. Kids love overpriced High School Musical books and cheap and pointless toys like a big pointy hand on a stick, so it was busy, but — you know. I lived.
One part WAS truly awful. I spent at least 15 minutes with this fourth-grade boy. He came up to the counter with a bag full of change, 3 books, and a color-changing pen that somehow the retail world valued at $4.99. (Brief aside – send money with your kids for these fairs only if you’re content being gouged in the hope the school will benefit. OMG, there has GOT to be a better way.)
Anyway. I added up the prices for my young friend and informed him that his total was $14.97. He handed me the bag of change and claimed it contained $13. As it was mostly pennies, I was a little skeptical, but I decided to count it for myself. He’d have to put something back in any case; might as well make an accurate assessment of the damage.
Counting 1300 pennies (well, OK, maybe 1000 considering the other change he had) would be a lot of work. I should know, I counted 519 cents at least 3 times.
Because that’s what he had. $5.19. He could afford exactly one (1) of the books he’d chosen. Or the pen. I explained this sorry state of affairs as gently as I could. He handed me the book and the pen. I said he’d have to put one back. He considered for a minute and seemed satisfied, so I handed him his $0.20 of change and waited for him to leave.
He didn’t. I asked if he wanted to change his mind. He asked if he could “sell” me one of the books in order to get the pen. I explained (still ever-so-gently) again, emphasizing that he couldn’t exactly sell me anything that he did not own.
We did this maybe three or four times while the other volunteer mom helped 7 or 8 other kids by herself. He finally gave up and left, but I think he was still convinced that I was stealing that frickin’ pen from him.
So. Dear Parents Of That Fourth-Grade Kid,
Please know that I helped your son to the best of my ability. I hope he enjoys his book, because we sure paid a lot for it in time and frustration.
Please also know that I really wanted him to have that pen. My motives might not have been that pure by the end, but in any case I would’ve liked to let him have it. I might even have considered slipping a couple of bucks into the till myself just to get him to leave — I mean, make him feel better.
Finally, I think it’s great that you’re teaching your son the value of money by encouraging him to save up his pennies and decide how to spend them. Know what is also a really neat idea? Taking him to the bank (or the Bank of Mom and Dad) and letting him exchange those pennies for dollars or other coins before he spends them. He’ll get practice in remembering the value of different coins, and he won’t make some poor cashier (or worse, a lovely volunteer at his school) go ABSOLUTELY INSANE counting 519 mother-loving cents. Also, you will be able to verify for him how much money he has, perhaps saving him and said lovely volunteer some serious trauma.