Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Financial futility

With all the talk of the debt ceiling, the deficit and heart-stopping  days on the stock market, I thought I’d share with you the startling realization I have come to regarding myself as a mom trying to teach her son about money.

I am fiscally conservative. I am not in debt. I believe in only spending money that you have (radical – I know). I believe in buying a house that you can afford. I believe in working hard, pulling yourself up by the bootstraps, taking responsibility for your actions and capitalism.

When I espouse these beliefs to my son, he nods dutifully in agreement. He understands trickle down economics, why we don’t like taxes and why his single mommy has to work - hard. I have always felt that I have done a good job infusing him with my conservative views regarding money and spending.

 But lately I’m beginning to have my doubts. Three areas of concern:

My son has a great love of entitlements. As in “I am entitled to have pizza whenever I feel like it.” As in “I’m entitled to stay up as late as I want to.” As in “I’m entitled to sit on this couch and boss you around.” (When he was four, sitting on the couch and making his demands, he said – in a moment of clarity – “Hey, you’re kind of like my butler.” Nice.)

My son is a master at off-the-books accounting. It goes something like this:
C: Um, Mom, you owe me like $24.
Me: Like $24 or $24?
C: Well, here’s the thing. You haven’t paid me my allowance the past three weeks, and then we returned that video game you bought me on your credit card and then bought another video game that was $6 less than the one we returned.
Me: Yes, but then you owe me $3 because I let you borrow $3 to pay for the football card pack you wanted, remember?
C: Yes, um, let’s see, that means you owe me $20. But don’t forget that you said you would pay me $4 to throw out all the newspapers in the garage.
Me: OK, but you never took out the papers.
C: Hey, it was raining so I couldn’t but my plan was that I would.
Me: Well I’m not giving you money for work you didn’t do.
C: But here’s the thing, I know I will, so I already spent that four dollars on an ESPN magazine. And, hey, didn’t you borrow $25 from my wallet to pay the yard man a few weeks ago?
Me: Well, that was about two months ago and didn’t I pay you back already?
C: No, I don’t think you did, and there’s some interest on that, so let’s see, you owe me… $77.
Me: Wait a minute, what???

Enron has nothing on us.

My son does not believe in diversifying his investments. He has invested all of his money in one sector – football cards. Now, I know these cards do have value. Believe me, I have paged through those massive incredibly-hard-to-figure-out price guides to discover that a 2007 Topps Factory Set Rookie Bonus card of Ted Ginn (?) is worth 60 cents. And I do appreciate that his investments have gotten more sophisticated than his days of spending all his money on Hot Wheels and animal bones (don’t ask).

However, is he really ever going to sell that autographed Tony Dorsett rookie card and make more than the $60 he bought it for? Really? And are cards with a scrap of a jersey that a player supposedly wore at some point really worth $22?

And how do we know that autographed Tony Dorsett card wasn’t just signed by some poor 8-year-old Chinese girl whose parents sent her to the big city so she could work in a dark and dank Upper Deck factory to send money home to pay for the sick baby? Come on.

(Girl moms, see all the football card fun you are missing out on?)

Teaching my son about money seems to be an uphill battle, but I will continue to fight the good fight. I’m thinking this single momma is gonna need some entitlements in her old age – and someone’s going to have to pay for it.

Laura Johnson is a single mom and freelance communicator who lives in East Dallas with her 12-year-old son, dog, hamster and three fish.

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