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- When I was 10, my mom gave me a $5 bill every day to buy food and drinks at our town pool.
- Through trial and error, I learned to track my expenses and gained valuable experience with money.
- I still use those lessons today to monitor my spending, keep a budget, and compare prices for the best deals.
When I was 10 years old, my mother took my little sisters and me to the municipal swimming pool.
My little sister was one year old and my mother wouldn’t stop feeding her or changing her every time we asked her for money. She found a creative solution to build my independence with money.
Every day my mom would give me a $5 bill to cover the cost of ice cream and soda for my 7 year old sister and me. Since my younger sister had just learned addition and subtraction, the responsibility fell on me to make that $5 bill stretch.
A $5 bill gave me hands-on experience with everyday money
I used my problem-solving skills to make sure my sister and I had enough money for food and drinks without going over our budget. It took some trial and error. My favorite ice creams were King Cones and Choco Tacos, but they were among the most expensive items in the ice cream truck. If I bought more expensive ice cream, I wouldn’t have enough money for a second round of sodas at the soda machine.
Sometimes my sister and I split a soda with our last dollar, using a game of rock, paper, scissors to decide between Cherry Coke and Mountain Dew. Later we learned that we could buy two smaller items for the price of one Choco Taco and felt proud of our discovery.
I also learned that even if I bought the same items, my currency could be different. I learned to count change and to trade larger coins for smaller coins. My mental math skills improved over time as I added and subtracted sums in my head. I once counted my change using the condensation from my soda can. Without pencil or paper, I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from them.
If I forgot my mistakes, my sister was there to remind me.
At the end of each day, I reported any changes to my mother and told her how I had spent the rest of the money. Staying under budget had no reward. My mother expected us to make changes to her. Once, my younger sister and I went over our budget. When we asked our mother for more money, she reminded us to use our money more thoughtfully next time.
My mom’s budgeting lessons spilled over into groceries. As we shopped, I became more aware of price stickers on items. I liked to compare the prices of ice cream and sodas sold at the municipal swimming pool and those sold at the store. Food and drink prices were much higher at the pool so I learned that buying snacks and drinks from the store in bulk and keeping them in a cooler was a much cheaper way to stretch my bill of $5.
My Mom’s Classes Continue to Help Me Be a Smart Consumer
My mom’s lessons with the $5 bill stay with me today. Comparing prices online and between local stores helped me save money by finding cheaper or comparable resources. As food prices have risen, this skill has allowed me to think critically about food and drink purchases so I can find the best deals. I consider my grocery shopping before I do it to see how it will fit into my meal plans for the week, which helps me reduce food waste.
Learning how to stay at or below my budget was also a valuable lesson. Being aware of what I can spend on food and drink in a month helps me monitor my spending. When I stay under budget, I have money to save or pay for vacations, when I need to buy more items to host guests.
And while virtual quick checkout options have made it easier to pay for items, I still like to use cash to pay for cheap items. My $5 pool day budget would be close to $10 today, with inflation. Sometimes I take a $10 bill to a take-out restaurant near my job to see if I can stick to my budget. The jingle of coins that the cashier gives me gives me the same satisfaction as when I was 10 years old, able to give change to my mother.
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