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Learning the Value of a Dollar Over Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

“Mommy what is taxes?” And my little four-year-old said this in such a way, wide-eyed and apprehensive, that I knew he must have overheard an adult conversation. I was picking up various sizes of shoes and socks at the time of his question, none of these items were mine, why were my arms full of shoes and socks? I dropped them in a heap, right where I stood.
“Could you give mommy an hour or so and we will talk about taxes?”

He smiled, a smile that lit up his innocent face and the room he was in.

“Okay,” he said.

“Oh and honey, would you go through this pile, pick out your shoes, put them away and throw your socks in the hamper, please?”

He looked down at the shoes and socks, then at me and did as he was told, because at four, they almost always do, listen to you I mean. I left him to go find his two older brothers. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Doo were outside with their friends trying to hit tennis balls with a baseball bat over the neighbor’s houses.

A mother of young boys can compile a list of lectures the length of her arm every single day of the week, every single day.

“Hey guys!” I yelled. “Get over here.” Another disaster thwarted. I saw the oldest give the baseball bat to the middle one and they made their way over to the front door. Once I explained the laws of physics to my boys and their buddies, I sent them into house to sort through their shoes and socks as I had with Smiley, the four year old. I assured them it would take one minute and they would be back outside to play. But I would need them back in one hour for an early lunch. With three young boys, meeting opposition was an hourly occurrence so their protests went unheard.

“I will call you for lunch in one hour,” I said this as the older two ran to the pile grabbing shoes and socks with reckless abandon while the youngest, taking the job given to him seriously, was still there holding up a sock, studying it and trying to decide if it was his or not.

“Are we going to talk about taxes now Mommy?” He had blonde hair that bounced up and down when he ran after the ice cream truck, they grow up too fast.

“Well, I have a great idea and you can help me with it. We can talk taxes while we get stuff ready.”

I had an idea to teach my children the value of a dollar so while we gathered a few items and started to make lunch I explained to my little one about taxes. Taking into consideration his age, four, I told him that when someone has a job, they earn money, when they get paid some of the money that they earned goes to pay our firemen, policemen, teachers and the President. I didn’t lie to him I just simplified things.

The morning progressed and the lunch/meeting was called to order. I had my three boys around the kitchen table and handed each one an envelope with their name on it. I also produced an empty coffee can and placed it in the middle of the table.

“Gentlemen,” I said, “Things are going to change around here.”

I had their attention, because I had visuals.

“The three of you and I are going to come up with a list of jobs. Jobs for around the house for all of you to do.” I let their declaration of disapproval fall on deaf ears for about thirty seconds then I shushed them.

“It isn’t like you don’t have little jobs now, it’s just that I have to tell you to do them all the time, day after day. And to tell you the truth, I think you can remember some of this stuff. We are going to make a list for each of you and guess what the best part is? You’re going to get an allowance.”

A round of applause went around the table starting with the leader, my oldest; he knew of what I spoke, he had broached the allowance subject before. But I had been anti-allowance for some time. My reasoning, we provide them with a roof over their heads, food and clothing why pay them for that?

“And,” I said, “Your allowance will be based on your age, a dollar a week for each year old you are.”

The cheering rang through the house, the leader, being nine was ready to cash in and quick. I’m certain the other two, six and four, were just following his lead, they always did. They knew something good was going on because of the fist pumping at the table.

“Every Friday is payday, if you’ve checked off all of your jobs each day and have shown me, because I’m not only your mom but your boss now, you will get paid.”

“Money?” It was starting to sink in with the middle one.

“Yes, money. But one third of your money goes in that envelope with your name on it, one third goes in the coffee can and you keep the other third to do whatever you want with it.”

“Huh?” In unison.

“What it comes down to is you have to pay taxes just like everyone else that earns their pay after a week of work.”

My angel’s eyes widened. “Do we have to give the President our money mommy?”

Right then I knew I was making the right decision. I was teaching them a lesson in life. They would learn to save money, spend money wisely and give money to those in need.

“You will have plenty of time to give the President your money but right now the money in your envelope is going into your savings account and the money in the coffee can will be called the Family Tax. We will all decide, with dad too, a place to go as a family or maybe donate to a charity. The movies, out to eat, out for ice cream and that money will pay for it.”

We discussed jobs and taxes over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and lemonade that afternoon. During the years my boys paid their family taxes we went to the movies, minor league baseball games, ice cream and on September 12, 2001 when the local fireman were collecting money in their boots at the end of our street my boys came to me with that family tax can almost full and asked if they could take it down to the fireman. I taught them the value of a dollar, taught them to work hard and take care of those in need. I take comfort in knowing my little boys grew up to be hard working young men. And it all started with a pile of shoes and smelly socks. Did I forget to mention the smell?

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