Kids, cash, and understanding money

Last night my family dined out at Seva, a stalwart of Ann Arbor’s plant-based restaurant scene. The big kids nibbled quesadillas, I enjoyed the “Veracruz” tostada, and the baby toddler gobbled everything including the crayons. It was a nice treat on a Sunday night. The kids noticed that they were the only children in this upscale restaurant.

I paid in cash. Normally I’d use a credit card, but I’ve grown more concerned about Capital One skimming a several-percent cut of each transaction from local businesses. And I had exact change so we could make a speedier getaway, always good with kids.

The big kids were shocked to see the cash I plunked down (there were a lot of ones, so the fat stack caught their eyes). “How much money did you put in there??” They started counting it. “Wow that is so much money!” The 8-year-old gets $2/week as allowance and it would take her over half a year to pay for this meal.

Correct, kids: it was an expensive dinner. That’s part of why it’s a treat to dine out. We’re lucky we can afford it. But if I had charged it, they wouldn’t have realized this or asked questions.

I didn’t expect to spark a conversation by paying cash. It’s conventional wisdom that paying cash makes cost more salient to a purchasing adult, but I’d not seen it apply so clearly to kids too, who are still learning about money. I realized how my paying by credit card abstracts the cost of goods and services to children. Airplane tickets are expensive, but do my kids know that?

This may be a phenomenon of affluence, to have the luxury of charging everything and having kids blissfully unaware of cost. But for those lucky enough to be in that situation, perhaps paying in cash – especially for things the kids consume – will help them appreciate the value of money and be grateful for their good fortune.

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