Declan's Money“You know what today is?” I asked the boy. I was sitting at the computer. Declan looked over my shoulder.

“What?” he asked.

“Payday. That’s the day I give away all my money and pay the bills.”

“Don’t give away your money, Mom!” I told him I enjoyed paying bills. Paying bills a blessing. It means we have what we need.

I’ve always liked paying the “good bills.” Those are the ones where I feel I’ve gotten something necessary out of the deal–heat, shelter, food…an equal exchange.

I remember my first checkbook. It had duplicate checks since I’d forget to record transactions or not carry the one. That caused errors of epic proportions. I needed carbon copies to keep things straight.

Every two weeks, I’d get paid. Every month, I’d write out checks. I’d put them in envelopes. I’d mail them to The Man.

“I come to collect the rent on the first of the month,” said my slumlord. It was my first solo apartment.

“I won’t be home. I work.” I’d asked for her address so I could mail the rent check. She didn’t want to give it to a tenant. Most of her tenants were Section 8. We might go to her house and rob her.

“Um…” She didn’t have a solution. She wasn’t used to dealing with people who had jobs.

“How about you give me your mailing address? I’ll mail you a check. I’ll be at work on the first of the month.” I assured her I paid bills the pay period before they were due.

“You pay early?” she asked. “Nobody does that…”  She gave me a post box. It’s hard to rob a post box. I mailed my check.

I’m glad I have a job so I can pay bills.

My first real job paid $23,800. It was 1993. Sometimes I’d go into debt because the 90’s gave easy credit. There was always a gift to be bought, a holiday, or some reason to spend money and pay it back later.

My first year teaching I my base pay was $29,700. Since I had a master’s degree, I got a $3200 stipend. I used some of my financial aid to clear up debt. Using debt to pay debt with a teaching salary of $32,900 is pretty dumb.  That’s why I teach Financial Literacy now–so my student’s won’t grow up half as dumb as me.

That was 2001. I kept my old job on the weekends. Every two weeks I got approximately $900 from the weekend corporate job and $900 from the teaching job. Five days teaching equaled two days corporate–everything has a value.

Every month, I paid bills.

“Mommy, do you want to be rich?” Declan asked as he watched me push the buttons on the online banking page that sent my accounts right. Truth is, paying bills is mostly automated these days, but I like to take a peek on payday, partly out of gratitude, and partly because it’s a good idea to know who’s taking how much.

“What’s rich?” I asked.

“Rich is if you have a lot of money.”

“I don’t need a lot of money. I just like to pay the bills.” I’m not greedy. Declan’s too young to understand juggling finances or that if I could pay “all the bills” I’d pay off big ones–the house, car, student loan debt. Debt free is the new American dream.

If I were really “rich,” I’d be like Oprah. I’d give money away. “You get a car! You get $100.” That’s the pipe dream–to walk around giving money to people who really need it.

But I’ll have to leave “professional philanthropist” for another day. Today, I am blessed. My bills are paid. I feel happy when I see black instead of red.

Declan thinks I’m rich already. I remember when my grandparents would come to visit. They’d give me five dollars each time. I thought they were rich, too. It’s part of the magic of childhood. Kids turn to adults the moment that bubble bursts.

“Mom, you have plenty of money. Buy me a movie on Amazon.” The ability to buy things on Amazon is the only economic indicator a seven-year old needs.

Declan suddenly got angry.

“Well, I’d be rich, but I’m NOT!” he said. He loves money.

“Why?” I ask.

“Because you TOOK all my MONEY and put it in the bank!” Out of sight, out of circulation. I explained I put it in the bank to save it. He was piling it up, tossing it in the air, reciting Scrooge, and losing it under couch cushions and in vacuums.

I said putting money in the bank makes people a little bit richer until they’re old enough to invest, and it’s certainly better than throwing it in the air.

“The money’s in the bank, it’s safe.” I said. He was still mad. Since I have no credibility in my own home–I’ve stolen his money–I offered to get a venture capitalist on the phone to explain it better.

“No,” he said, “Just give me my money back.”

“You can have it when  you need a car or some money for your first company,” I said.

“I want it now.” He reminded me I was supposed to pay for his first company–the lemonade stand we didn’t do last summer, another reason, he said, he wasn’t rich. It was all my fault.

I handed him some pennies and told him I wasn’t a qualified investor. “Go get a job,” I said.

He gave me back the pennies. “Here. You pay a bill.” He walked away, but not for long.

“Can I have my pennies back, Mom?”

I gave him the pennies. “Why? You told me to pay a bill.”

“Because I need to be rich,” he said. He put the pennies in a jar, clinked them around, and went on his way, a little Warren Buffett in the making, having negotiated yet another successful deal.


%d bloggers like this: