Simcha’s guide to financial empowerment

Does your library give out copious prizes just for checking out books in the summer?  Ours does:  ice cream and pizza coupons, tickets to sports events, T-shirts and toys, games, stickers, etc.

But the prize that thrilled my kids the most was something new this year:  ten dollars!  Their enthusiasm was only slightly dampened when we explained that no one was actually going to hand them a ten-dollar bill–they’d have to open an account at a local bank, which would credit them $10.

Daddy was glad to help.  He would bring the happy little misers to the bank, sign them up for accounts, go home, and then truck them right back to the bank again as soon as humanly possible to close out their accounts.  They would then zip on over to the Dollar Tree to blow their glorious cash on sticky hands, expanding dinosaurs, and expired Laffy Taffy.  You know, the American dream.

Not so fast.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t see this coming, but there was a catch.   Of course there was a catch!   Sure, they’ll deposit $10 in your Young Saver account.  They’ll even waive the $4 monthly fee, as long as you’re age 18 or under.  All you have to do, kids, is keep a minimum monthly balance of $250.

$250! Stupid jerks.  What kid has $250 seed money to start a Young Saver account?   No one.  Okay, maybe some enterprising Eagle Scout mowed enough lawns to save up $250, but I guarantee that all the other Young Savers got their minimum deposits straight from mom or dad’s wallet.  Bah.

When I was a kid, our local bank that gave out little cardboard boxes for collecting quarters to put in your junior savings account.  There were no minimums or monthly fees–it was all about teaching you that money doesn’t just materialize out of nowhere.  If you don’t spend it, you’ll still have it; if you keep spending it, eventually it will be gone.  But the most you could possibly save up was maybe $20 before the box fell apart.

I really don’t want my kids to have a meaningful financial portfolio.  That’s the idea of being a kid:  you learn the lessons, but you don’t get any of the actual benefits.  You don’t need benefits, because you parents are taking care of you.

When you get older, then you learn how money really works.  In a nutshell, adults have two choices.  You can turn over your finances to a ravening monolith that will (1) warn you by mail that, four days ago, they charged you a monthly fee for your overdraft protection plan, which will (2) hit you at a bad time and make your balance dip below zero, at which point the bank will (3) charge you an overdraft fee for letting your balance dip below zero, and then (4) charge you a second overdraft fee because you didn’t have sufficient funds to cover the first overdraft fee.

This is called “customer service.”

Your other choice is to keep a wad of cash in the freezer.  This is a bad strategy if you are an avid collector of half-empty cartons of old, drippy ice cream.  In that case, a workable counter-strategy  is to invest in the really high quality brands of  Ziplock baggies, which really keep your money dry.

Our financial adviser (who speaks directly into my ear at 4 a.m.  She has a querulous voice tinged with panic, and sounds just like me) has counseled us to diversify our portfolio.   So now we keep our Regular Money in the bank, and our Frivolous Whim/Horrible Emergency Money in the freezer.

For an even niftier fiscal maneuver, try letting your prudent, thrifty super-ego save money, while allowing your idiot, scatterbrained id to forget all about it.  Then, one day, your ego (who is in charge of cooking) will be gloomily surveying the dark landscape of Dinners Yet to Come, and in between the freezer-burned pork chops and the eleven chicken carcasses that never will be soup, you will see something.  Something . . .

Could it be?  Yes, yes, it’s a Ziplock bag!  And inside it is . . .

Aw, you thought I was going to say $250.  No, it’s only $42.  The label on the bag says $250, but you had to spend part of it on a new spinner thing for the washing machine, and part of it on the great Tooth Fairy Amnesty Pay-Off, in which each child aged 5 to 12 got $5 and was counseled to move on with their lives.

But that leaves $42!  Enough to settle either your bank fees or your library fines, with some left over to buy some brand new ice cream for the freezer.

Isn’t that a good system?  God bless America.

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