Enter the Book Fair. My daughter was in first grade when she went to her first book fair. The school masterfully allows the children to “pre-shop” the book fair, so they can see all that will be offered, and they can preplan what they will buy. My daughter diligently wrote down the list of books she wanted, five in all, along with a poster she couldn’t live without. The total for the things she wanted was over thirty dollars and so we sat down and had a good talk about money. She agreed she could live without a couple things on her list and we negotiated to a reasonable fifteen-dollar purchase.
The morning of the book fair came, and I only had a twenty-dollar bill. I stuck the money into an envelope and wrote her name on the front. When I picked her up later that afternoon, I noticed a poster next to her backpack. She was so excited to show me how cute the puppies were, wouldn’t this look so cute in her room! When we got home she proudly showed me her purchases, which included a couple small things we hadn’t talked about. I found the envelope I had sent with her and when I opened it up, it was empty. I asked her where the left-over money was, and she innocently said, there was no money left over.
What a naïve parent I was. I had no idea the power of the book fair. They strategically have erasers, pencils, bookmarks and irresistible toys priced at a dollar or two or three. Instead of putting the left-over money back in the envelope, these items make it so easy to spend the last little bit of money on one last treasure. My daughter was proud she had maximized the money by purchasing several things. When young kids have the chance to purchase something on their own, I’ve found their instinct is to buy a lot of little things. They enjoy feeling old enough to make their own decisions and the more they have to show for it the better.
It’s been a few years since that story took place and for the last few years I’ve been working as a volunteer at the book fair. I love seeing the kids pick out a new favorite book and pulling out their envelope of money. I watch their eyes light up when I hand then a dollar or two in change as they realize they have enough to buy one more thing. I laugh to myself wondering if the mom or dad on the other end will be surprised when the envelope comes home empty. I hope they realize teaching kids about money doesn’t happen in the experience of one book fair. It’s a process, over many years. Resist the urge to let one book fair, where their budget was maxed out, lead you to the conclusion they’ll be terrible with money their whole life.
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