There have been many times over the last year or so when I've told Annie things like, "No, it's too expensive," or "Sorry, I don't have any cash." That was silly, of course, because toddlers don't know how the heck money works. Recently, though, Annie has started to understand. Annie's piggy bank has helped, as has my ability to pull coins out of her ears, but what's really done the trick is her desperate desire for a certain snack food.
A few months ago, I returned home from the supermarket to realize that, instead of buying the box of plain graham crackers like I'd intended, I'd bought Grahamfuls, which are individually wrapped packets of graham crackers with filling in the middle.
"Crap," I said. "I got the wrong ones."
Annie, who was up in my business as I unpacked, was intrigued. "Can I have a wrong ones?"
I smiled and gave her one. When she finished it she said, "Mmmmm. I love the wrong ones!"
I let Annie polish off the rest of the "wrong ones" over the next week or so, but I didn't plan on buying them again. There's nothing wrong with them, they're actually pretty tasty, but they're also expensive for being a glorified version of graham crackers with a little peanut butter in the middle. What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that I was creating a monster by giving her the snack.
"Dada! I want the wrong ones!" she begged every time we went to the store after that. "Can we get the wrong ones? Please?!" (I realize how strange this must have sounded to other shoppers.)
Each time I told Annie the "wrong ones" were too expensive, she usually accepted it with a little misdirection ("Hey, look! A balloon!"). But then the last time we were at the store, she surprised me by saying, "But you have money, Dada! Buy them!" I explained to Annie that I needed my money for important things like milk (and Diet Coke), then -- I'm embarrassed to admit -- dropped this cliché:
"Some day, when you've got money of your own, you can buy whatever you want!"
A few days later, we had dinner at Heather's Aunt Lynn's house, and to entertain Annie, Lynn let her play with some play money from a board game. At the end of the night, Annie asked if she could keep the money, and Aunt Lynn said she could.
The next morning, I'd forgotten all about the play money (and so had Annie, it seemed), but later, when I asked her if she wanted to go to the store with me, she was more excited than usual. It was only when I put her into her car seat that I saw she was clutching the play money in her hands. You probably see where this is going, but I was totally oblivious until we hit the snack aisle and Annie grabbed a box of "the wrong ones."
"I'm gonna buy this with my own money, Dada!"
I was pretty impressed by my little schemer, but still had to break it to her that her money wasn't real.
"Yes, it is!" she said.
"No, it's not. Getting money isn't as easy as taking it out of a game box, Annie. You have to earn it. You understand?"
You have to actually work for this stuff?
Annie didn't understand. In fact, she was crestfallen. I hated to see her sad, so I told her to hang onto the box and we'd see if the cashier accepted her money. When we got to the checkout, I had Annie put her box on the conveyor belt last. As I handed over my debit card, I said to Annie, "Annie, don't forget to pay for your box!" Annie proudly handed the checker her pretend money. The checker instantly understood what was going on and was really nice about it. Thankfully, Annie is all out of her "money" now.
I'll get to the more complex lessons about how money works when she's a little older. In the meantime, I'll keep her away from the Monopoly box.
This post originally appeared on The Spohrs Are Multiplying.