Money Changes Everything

February 12, 2010

Today there was a bake sale at my son’s school during lunch and I wanted to send a few dollars with him to school so he could buy himself a treat.  Now, I am about as broke as a person can be, but I set aside $3 earlier in the week so he could participate in this activity.  Right now, $3 is a lot of money to me! So this morning as I was explaining to Rahul about the bake sale, he asked if he could bring more than $3.  I should have just said no, but I felt tired of constantly telling him I don’t have money to buy things and I just wanted to be able to say yes. So I took another $5 out my wallet (that was already earmarked for something else) and gave it to him. I felt really good that I could give him something he asked for and he never spends all the money I give him for these things, so I figured I’d probably get it back.

So when I picked him up from school today, I asked if he bought anything at the bake sale.  And he said, “Yeah, and I gave Tony $4 because he wanted to buy something and he only had $2.”  Now, I have no idea who Tony is–Rahul has never mentioned him before. But right then I wanted to call his mother and GET MY MONEY BACK! I was furious.  I didn’t want to make a huge deal of it, because I know Rahul was just trying to be generous, but I wanted him to understand how to draw the line between being generous and giving away money we need for survival.  I thought of that scene in The Pursuit of Happyness where Will Smith’s character is asked casually by his boss to lend him $5 to cover cab fare and when he looks in his wallet at the last $5 he has to live on he struggles to give that money away rather than risk his reputation and therefore his future at his company.  Sometimes its just really hard to give away money.  And $4 to one person is $4,000 to someone else.

I have tried to teach Rahul about money and its a really complicated subject for us.  Rahul spent his first 7 1/2 year in poverty and when I adopted him he was suddenly thrust into a life where he can have nearly anything he wants.  When he boarded the plane in Delhi to come home with me, he had no possessions with him except for a book I had given him and the clothes on his back, which had belonged to his orphanage.  How do you guide a child through the transition from nothing to everything?

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