The Money Pit - From Dad's Point of View
by Wesley Steinberg
Ever try to teach your kids the value of a dollar? It's about like trying to pound a nail into a wall with your head. It feels the same. The kids react the same way as if they were watching you do it. That open-mouthed, blank stare they turn on you when you know they are ignoring you, trying to block out what you're saying with a powerful brain forcefield which would make even Captain Picard throw up his hands in despair. (Captain Kirk would just blast right through it. But more diplomacy in child-raising is often called for, even though you'd just like to go ahead and launch those photon torpedoes anyway!)
I usually bring up the subject of money while the kids and I are at the grocery store. I'm thinking it's the perfect time to share my knowledge of product pricing with the little darlings, so they can grow up to be responsible women, examining and re-examining their budgets with the calculated efficiency of a rocket scientist, and not like someone who has just stepped off the "Look what I bought today, Dear!" train.
"Okay, kids. We need cereal. Go pick out something you like."
With the speed of lightning they rush to the sugary-sweet cereal section like they were being chased by a thousand jungle beasts, and with a mighty lunge, grab the brand name stuff. (Why do kids always gravitate to the most expensive brands in the store?) They come back with Corn Pops, Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops. I stop them at the shopping cart and gather them around the discount cereal section, sort of like a Shao Lin master in Kung Fu. I clear my throat and begin.
"Kids, I want to show you something about the cereal you've chosen." Suddenly I feel a disturbance in the Force. With one concentrated effort, my children's forcefield goes up. With glassy eyes they stare at me. Waiting. I continue, undaunted. "Notice the price of these cereals. They are anywhere between $3.25 and $4.00 a box."
Suddenly, one of them speaks. "Dad, can we get some Pop Tarts too?"
"No Pop Tarts now. I want to show you something about this cereal."
"No Pop Tarts right now!"
The braver daughter, sensing when to quit, shuts up and returns to "the stare".
"Now, do you see these cereals in the bag down here, Grasshoppers? They are discount cereals. They cost less. Almost two dollars less. And they are the same size. The amount of cereal in each box is given in ounces at the bottom of the box or bag. See? They're the same. But because they are not a 'brand name' cereal, they cost less. Understand?"
I suddenly feel the sensation of a new group of signals. Other kids around me with their forcefields up, generating "the stare". I pause to notice a couple of mothers with their kids, slowing down to hear my financial wisdom, whispering to their own kids to listen. I make eye contact with one of the kids, but they look right through me at the box of Fruit Loops I'm holding.
"So, kids, which cereal should we choose? Which one is the better value? Fruit Loops or Yummy Fruit Rings?"
"Fruit Loops!" said Marissa, my youngest.
"But Fruit Loops cost more. And we must always try to save money whenever we can. It's hard to come by."
"You can just write a check, Dad!"
I absently pull on my collar, hoping not to embarrass myself in front of the other mothers, and attempt to pull myself out of the path of my daughter's tractor beam of illogic.
"It's not just a question of writing a check," I said. "You have to have money in the bank to cover that check. You can't write a check without depositing money first."
"Yes you can," said Alicia. "Mom does it all the time."
My brain is suddenly pummeled with negative thought waves from every kid in the cereal aisle. The mothers with me begin to sense it too. "You see, kids..." My mind begins to falter. "...spending too much just drags you down..." My voice quivers and begins to shake. The other mothers are holding their hands over their ears. "...into the money pit."
Now the negative thought waves coming from the children of the corn build to a crescendo of silent sound in my mind, as if they were projecting their forcefields directly at us poor defenseless adults. I see one of the mothers absently reach for a box of Cap'n Crunch and put it in her cart. And then a box of Pop Tarts. Why do they put those things in the cereal aisle, anyway! I find myself tossing the discount cereals out of my cart and stomping on them. I look up to see my kids' eyes glowing with an unholy light.
Am I going mad? What is happening? Have those advertising moguls stuck some subliminal crap into those commercials to give our kids this kind of power?
I awake to find myself at home, putting away the groceries I had just purchased at the supermarket. I look at the box of cereal in my hand and the other two in the cabinet: Corn Pops, Cocoa Puffs and Fruit Loops. On the kitchen counter beside me is strewn an assorted collection of brand name cereals. About 30 boxes. I turn to see the kids staring at me. And smiling.
"We have to go back to the store, Dad," they said. "We need more milk."
I have this feeling I'm going to be spending a lot of time in the Money Pit for the next few years!
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