Monday, September 29, 2008

First Grade Financial Bailout

Nobody prepared me for this non-stop assault on our finances.

Oh, I'm not talking about Fannie, Freddie, or our 401k (although like everyone else's that's probably shot to hell). I'm talking about first grade.

During the first month of school, each kid has brought home the following:

  • a Market Day fundraising packet (I actually think this is a decent fundraiser, although a pricey one)
  • another separate, non-Market Day fundraising packet
  • a sign up form encouraging parents to join the PTA (the class with the most sign-ups by a certain date gets an ice cream party! During the school day!)
  • a brochure about the new system for paying for lunches (OK, that's important ... unless I'm sending in the Market Day food that I've yet to purchase). But instead of writing a check or doling out cash like last year, some genius thought up some online system - which I wouldn't have a problem with, except they charge a freakin' fee every single time I want to add money into my kids' accounts.
  • a Scholastic Books order form

We're only good for one or two fundraisers per season, if that. As irksome as these seemingly daily requests are, they don't bother me too much. What I have an issue with is when they guilt the parents into supporting these events by using the kids. Take this note that came home tonight as an example:

Dear Parents and Families,

Today your child visited the Scholastic Book Fair. [Oh, crap, that's a biiiiigggg problem. My kids love books. The Book Fair is sheer, unadulterated nirvana for my kids.] On the reverse side of this form are the books they would like to purchase. If you would like to purchase any or all of these books, please return this form with the appropriate amount of money (either cash or check). Please also take a moment to indicate the following:

- My child may purchase only the books circled on their wish list. [Depends on how many that is. I mean, I have 1,937 books on my Wish List that I'd like to read too.]

- My child may purchase books in addition to the ones circled on their wish list. [Oh, absolutely, what the hell. How about this: "Instead of buying groceries this month, Betty and Boo can feed their minds with the books they want."]

- In the event a book from their list needs to be ordered, my child may decide to purchase a different book [Uh, no. Back in my day, that was known as "Oh, well, guess you're shit out of luck.")

- We would like to purchase one of the books from my teacher's wish list. [Yeah, I would like to do this ... and we probably could ... but on Open House night, I could have sworn I saw a pretty nice elementary school library that my taxes pay for and which looked sufficiently stocked.]

And on the back of their respective forms, both kids listed their Wish List books. With the prices. Betty's books come to $18. Boo's come to $32. These ten books are equivalent to a tank of gas.

Don't misunderstand: I love books, and I love that my kids love books. I bought them books before they were born. We hit the library at least once, sometimes twice, a week. For the first time in my life, I have a room in my house that is legitimately called "the library" and it is my most favorite place to be. It's chock full of books - mine and the kids' - and I wouldn't have it any other way. So, I'm definitely not against buying books ... in fact, it's a bit of a weakness of mine.

But, given that the Dow had just dropped 700 points today in the midst of this economic hell we're in, it's probably prudent not to give the kids carte blanche in thinking we can buy everything they want. Since I realized that in the kids' minds, these books were already bought, I proposed a financial bailout. Daddy and I would buy the books, I said, but with this understanding: they would have to earn half the money themselves. We'll pay half. I informed Betty that her portion would be nine dollars. Once she earned that, the books would be hers.

She looked aghast. "Nine dollars???"

"Yes, nine dollars."

"How can I earn nine dollars?"

Good, we're getting somewhere, I thought. "You can clear off the table," I replied. "Then set it." She complied and then quickly scurried off. I realized she was "earning" her money by searching the entire house for loose change (very enterprising, that Betty).

It's a start. We'll see how this works. I'm not expecting immediate change. But for tonight, it gives me small comfort that this particular bailout passed in our House.

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