This weekend, for the first time, I took the kids Yard Saling. It being Memorial Day weekend on Cape Cod, there were pickings aplenty, and I told the kids they could buy just one thing at each sale.
At the first house, we found a terrific tub of stuffed toys; each child picked one out and spent a quarter apiece.
At the second house, though, there were few worthwhile items... Tom decided, though, that he HAD to buy something - and picked out a jigsaw puzzle in a plastic baggie. Now, Tom has never, ever put together a puzzle, nor has he shown any interest in puzzles. What's more, there wasn't even an interesting picture on a box to grab his imagination. He just wanted to spend his money.
I nixed the deal. One second later, he had dissolved in tears. He told me I had done a wrong thing to him, and hurt his feelings, and that he was very very angry. Naturally, I got angry too, and ordered both kids into the car.
Despite all the frustrations, though, we still followed the sign to "just one more" flea market. There, we found several great buys - including a bag of toys that really were just right for Tom, and a $5 bicycle for Sara! I also picked up an almost-new blanket for Tom's bed, since his old blanket was falling apart.
The next day, Tom had earned a dollar for helping around the house and he was desperate to spend it on something... anything. Again we stopped at a Flea Market. Again it was basically a collection of junk. Again I told him "no," and again he dissolved in tears.
It seems to me that money SHOULD offer a wonderful opportunity for homeschooling around math, culture, values, and so forth. But for most kids the idea of saving for one big thing holds a lot of fascination. For Tom, even the tiniest object - a 50 cent plastic toy at Walmart - is just as exciting as, say, a Wii or an X-Box. There's no point in saving if there's nothing to save FOR - and no point in putting your money away if a broken pen is an object of desire.
We've tried allowances and earning, and of course he's glad to get the cash. He's allowed to go on a "shopping spree" with the money at hand for his birthday, and we do a subtraction exercise to keep him on track.
But overall, his sense of the value of money is ... zero. He can count change, but the IDEA of a dollar means very little. He can price a toy, but sees no difference in relative value. Since he prizes things that are valueless to others, he can collect an infinite amount of "valuable" junk for no money at all.
So far, I can't come up with any clever ideas for making money matter to Tom... nor can I envision him becoming savvier about relative values of objects since everything and nothing is all the same to him.