Transitioning back to physical money for my son

As a begrudging cash user and carrier of large wallet in India, I embraced the digital currency in the US whole heartedly. In the last 3 years, I completely got rid of the wallet and just carried one card with my phone. I felt relieved to not having to carry two things: phone and a wallet wherever I go.

My son started following me around store visits. Cards are something that we have wherever we go and so he got familiar with them. He is very observant and saw that I am swiping a card during purchases. Soon enough whenever we go to a store he started wanting to swipe the card.

When he started turning 2 and his awareness started growing, I felt a uneasiness during our grocery visits. Swiping the card is fun but it abstracts away the money. I felt it was hard to teach him the concept of money like this. How can I tell him that a bigger toy costs more and we have to be careful on how many of those we get. Or that getting muffins in Starbucks is much more costlier than at Safeway.

So I dug out my old wallet and started to carry that around whenever I am going out with my son. Instead of giving a card out now, I give the appropriate cash to my son, who tries to reach up the counter and give the cashier.

Soon, I found many other benefits

  1. He liked to look at various coins and tried distinguishing them.
  2. Gave the opportunity to understand different denominations and the relative value. For instance quarters get you more stuff than cents.
  3. Got started him on the Math; Quarter = 5 nickels, 5 cents = nickel etc.
  4. Gave him personal responsibility by asking him to carry 2 dollars when we are going to the store. He never lost any of it.
  5. Best of all I was able to use the logic that ‘Diapers are more money’ to make him willing to try underwear! Now he is trained, my proudest parenting victory!

My parents gave me a wallet with real money before I turned 15, it was scary thought that I might have to do a similar thing with my card swiping toddler. Americans are notorious for carrying debt and I believe this card swiping abstraction over money is part of the reason for that. My hope is that I am teaching the concept of cash, its importance before I let him have a card.

Here’s to hoping that I don’t have to try anything else to teach him fiscal responsibility and the value of money. Just 10 more years of carrying a wallet around!