What Kids Say About Money
May 29 2012
I can’t believe how much people don’t talk about money. It’s interesting! What’s “private” about money? It’s just numbers. What I love possibly most about the great Russian novels is how explicit they got on the cost of everything, even an onion, and how much so-and-so owes so-and-so, and the interest rate, and the sexual harassment and murder that follows, and then what happens with the inheritance portions. So why do my friends hide all that from me? I have one friend so deeply in credit card and student loan debt (“deeply” is vague… I wish she’d tell me what that means so I could tell you) that the stress makes her skin break out, and then she gets $110 chemical peels to counter it. I only know how much the peel costs because I go to the same spa as her. She won’t tell me anything! When she was growing up, her parents didn’t tell her anything, which it appears from these interviews is still a common occurrence. What a legacy, to not let your kids in on how much your salary is, what the mortgage is, what their clothes cost. I give my kids $600 per year for clothes and shoes on January 1st, and if they blow it all in February, well I guess they’ll be sewing a bathing suit out of their gloves come June. Or getting a job. Actually, both of them have several jobs each already. Some months they make more money than I do!
However differently all of the kids I interviewed were raised, I was struck by how supremely confident each and every one of them is that finances will never present to them a hurdle they cannot leap, sneak past, tunnel under, build a bridge over, or simply blast through.
You can tell a lot about parents by their kids’ approach to money.
Sadie (9) and Wolf (17)’s mom (me) is obviously a conspiracy theory apocalyptic survivalist with roots in Protestantism and leafs reaching towards elitism.
Bean (11), Dora (13), Will (14), and Max (17)’s dad is plainly a psychedelic and freewheeling dude, and is probably engaging in every one of the extracurricular activities his kids speculate.
Lauren (10)’s dad has got to be in the mob, or else Republican.
Neighbor Girl (8)’s parents are that rarest of creature: nice, normal.
Lauren: Is this about kids being sold for slavery? ‘Cause I don’t want to talk about that!
VICE: How much money do you need to live?
Lauren: A hundred dollars would be good for me. I’ve never had a hundred dollars before.
Wolf: I would need around $95, $90.
Will: However much you can fit in your pockets.
Neighbor Girl: I’d need a hundred dollars. Nope… a million!
Sadie: If I quit my job, I’d need five million.
Lauren: I’ve never had money, so how am I supposed to know how much I need? I try asking my dad for chores so I can have an allowance, but he says “maybe” always. But it’s never. He says I don’t need money.
Sadie: Actually, I would need a hundred million. Because I need a mansion.
How are you going to make this hundred million?
Sadie: I’m going to be a gymnastics teacher.
You won’t be making a hundred million that way!
Sadie: I would make a chain of a bunch of gyms. And I’d hire young people to be my teachers, like people still in high school or college, because they’re able to still actually do a back handspring and show their students. And I’d always check with my employees and make sure we understand each other and always use contracts. For now, I have lemonade stands and I sell stuff on eBay. And I’m starting a dog-walking business.
What will you spend your money on when you’re an adult and responsible for your own life?
Sadie: My house. Clothes. Phone.
Wolf: My pets. My family.
Will: The Ugandan government.
Max: Porn and guns.
Bean: Knives, guns, and knives.
Is that your serious answer?
Dora: Seriously, I’m going to start a commune. I’m so high right now….
Dora: No, a farming and swimming and beekeeping commune.
Max: Seriously, I’d fund experiments and expeditions.
Lauren: I wanna be a barefoot mom! The dad does the job. The husband. Sadie, do you even want a husband?
Sadie: I want my own gym. I don’t need a husband.
Sadie wants a gym, Lauren wants a Jim. What will you do if you run out of money?
Sadie: Boom! Boom! I have firepower! If one job doesn’t work out, I’ll create another job, and another.
Lauren: My husband won’t run out of money.
What if we’re all dead or living in Switzerland, the parents and the husbands, and it’s up to you?
Lauren: I’ll move in with Sadie. In a cardboard box.
Sadie: It won’t be a cardboard box. I’m going to own a gym and a mansion, remember?
The gym failed and the bank repossessed your mansion. What then?
Lauren: I’ll work at McDonald’s.
Sadie: I’ll work at the gas station next to Lauren’s McDonald’s. Then we’ll wave to each other all day out the windows of our terrible jobs.
Wolf: I already clean houses and take care of animals and sell my art. If I lost my money, I would do everything I can to get it back, any job I can find.
Bean: I sell bow and arrows I make, and slingshots. But you don’t really need money to live.
Dora: I get mine from my bitches. No, I do absolutely nothing. I find it on the ground. I don’t have any money, I don’t spend any money, I don’t feel the need to spend money. There’s always ways to survive without it. Dumpster diving, food pantries, homeless shelters. Eat bugs. I eat bugs anyway. I ate a beetle just because.
Will: I play my violin on the street. People feel sorry for the urchin and toss dollars in my case. When that fails, I have my fallback plan of being a mime-slash-prostitute.
What do you know about how much your parents make?
Lauren: I don’t know anything about it.
Neighbor Girl: Maybe 14 dollars a day.
Max: I have no idea. My dad spends a lot of money and I’m guessing he has a lot of money, but I have no idea how he gets it. He spends more than he makes. I think he has some secret other job, like a spy or something.
Dora: I think he sells drugs.
Will: Apparently my dad doesn’t make that much, but apparently he does, because he’s always buying new cars and computers and all these fancy things.
Sadie: My parents keep it private. Well, you don’t. But my dad and stepmom do.
Lauren: If I ask, my dad says, “It’s my money. You don’t need to know.”
Sadie: My stepmom will be talking to my dad and say, “I made a bunch of money at a wedding today.” And I’ll say, “How much?” And she’ll say, “That’s not really some of your business.” You tell me how much you get each time you write a book, but it’s always different. And you tell me how much it costs, what goes into it, so it’s a lot of numbers. My dad and stepmom think it’s rude to ask about money. They think people will be comparing.
Lauren: My dad and stepmom think if you talk about your money, someone might hear you and steal it.
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