Declan wants zombies. He loves the video game Plants vs. Zombies. “Mom, go to” rests somewhere between mind reading and magic, suggesting things I didn’t even know I needed. The mail carrier brings them with a smile. It’s like God gave me a personal shopper–a modern miracle.

Declan knows this. I push a button. Things appear. “Mom, go to I have to show you something!”  Translation: “Buy this for me.”

At first, he thought Santa was extending his reach throughout the year. Now he knows neither Amazon nor the mail carrier are related to Santa Claus, but he’s struggling with the concept of money.

For Declan, money is a one-way street. He takes my money and puts it in his jar. He states his primary source of income is “taking money from you, Mom,” “and finding it on the ground.” It’s what his 2013 tax return says anyway. He never spends money. He knows money is something to want, behold, collect, and marvel at. Today, he wants zombies on

What he’s going to get is an economics lesson. I show him the price of the zombies. I remind him things don’t appear, I buy them. I show him the opportunity cost of the zombies in terms of things he knows. He doesn’t care. “I just want zombies.” I tell him I don’t have money for zombies.

“Go to the ATM and get some.”

“The ATM doesn’t give people money,” I say. “It’s my money. The bank holds it for me.” It’s tough to understand–if the government can create money, the ATM machine should be able to, too. He needs concrete examples. I show him my online banking page.

“Wow, is that all your money?” I tell him it is.  It’s the adult world where no one ever actually sees cash. He watches me pay two bills–the credit card, and a utility bill. I explain how the credit card gives money to Amazon, and I pay it back here. Next, I show him the Amazon checkout page where the checkout total tells me the number I owe the credit card. He asks to see my credit card. I show him quickly. I’m afraid he’ll memorize the number.

Declan’s seven, but financial literacy is a tough concept for my high school students, too. I helped a student who didn’t understand bank charges.

“Miss, why am I getting charged these fees?” I looked at the slips and statement.

“It’s an overdraft charge. You keep buying gas without putting any money in the bank.” I explained that unless people are members of Congress, they can only spend money they have. Sometimes it takes the system a couple days to catch up. Money can’t be spent twice. It can be borrowed on credit, which can be even worse in the long run–tough concepts for kids in a culture where we live and thrive on consumer spending and debt.

Financial education must be taught more, from a younger age. I ask my students, “How can I teach you better? What would you like to learn that I haven’t taught you?” Financial literacy is the number one thing they say. How to start a business is number two.

If they’re asking at 18, I figure we should start at seven.

I show Declan things in the house that translate into bills–food, lights, gas, oil, wood, the mortgage. I tell him the money comes from my jobs, and about half of my money goes to taxes. If there’s money left, I save  it. Sometimes, we get treats. If not, we have fun anyway, because life isn’t all about money.

These are things I explain to students, too. They often have little idea what things cost or what a real living wage is.

“But Mommy, I really, really want these zombies. I’ll spend my own money.”

He’s been asking for weeks. I should say no. Instead, I teach “Lesson Two: Payback’s a Bitch.” We buy them. I explain the charges. He agrees to count his money later since it’s in my room and Dad’s asleep. We forget.

The zombies arrive.

“Time to count the money,” I say.

“I don’t have to pay you back, Mommy, you bought them. It’s too late.” He’s indignant. He says I decided to push the button so I have to pay.

“It’s never too late. I’ll send them back.” I don’t. It’s too much trouble to go to the post office for a couple zombies. I tell him I’ve downgraded his credit rating. The United States doesn’t care about such things, neither does Declan…until the next time he asks for a dollar for camp. I say no.

“Fine! I’ll pay you back!” He doesn’t, of course.

It’s time for the next lesson, “Bank Account 101.” It’s not easy to start a bank account these days–it takes a ton of documentation. I bring blood samples, open an account, and put a hundred dollars in it. I tell him it’s a gift from me, then say we’re going to roll his coins and put them in the bank, too.

“A HUNDRED DOLLARS!? Wow, I’m rich!” He thanks me. Then he stops. “Oh, Mom. I still have to give you money for the zombies.”

I tell him I’m proud he remembered.

He says, “You can just go to the bank and take it now.”

I’ve just lost one hundred nineteen dollars, but I smile. This is a kid who’s going to make it. The zombies taught him well. Now, if I could only get them to teach a couple of my classes, our future would be bright, indeed.


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