Simcha’s guide to financial empowerment

Does your library give out copious prizes just for checking out books in the summer?  Ours does:  ice cream and pizza coupons, tickets to sports events, T-shirts and toys, games, stickers, etc.

But the prize that thrilled my kids the most was something new this year:  ten dollars!  Their enthusiasm was only slightly dampened when we explained that no one was actually going to hand them a ten-dollar bill–they’d have to open an account at a local bank, which would credit them $10.

Daddy was glad to help.  He would bring the happy little misers to the bank, sign them up for accounts, go home, and then truck them right back to the bank again as soon as humanly possible to close out their accounts.  They would then zip on over to the Dollar Tree to blow their glorious cash on sticky hands, expanding dinosaurs, and expired Laffy Taffy.  You know, the American dream.

Not so fast.

Don’t ask me why I didn’t see this coming, but there was a catch.   Of course there was a catch!   Sure, they’ll deposit $10 in your Young Saver account.  They’ll even waive the $4 monthly fee, as long as you’re age 18 or under.  All you have to do, kids, is keep a minimum monthly balance of $250.

$250! Stupid jerks.  What kid has $250 seed money to start a Young Saver account?   No one.  Okay, maybe some enterprising Eagle Scout mowed enough lawns to save up $250, but I guarantee that all the other Young Savers got their minimum deposits straight from mom or dad’s wallet.  Bah.

When I was a kid, our local bank that gave out little cardboard boxes for collecting quarters to put in your junior savings account.  There were no minimums or monthly fees–it was all about teaching you that money doesn’t just materialize out of nowhere.  If you don’t spend it, you’ll still have it; if you keep spending it, eventually it will be gone.  But the most you could possibly save up was maybe $20 before the box fell apart.

I really don’t want my kids to have a meaningful financial portfolio.  That’s the idea of being a kid:  you learn the lessons, but you don’t get any of the actual benefits.  You don’t need benefits, because you parents are taking care of you.

When you get older, then you learn how money really works.  In a nutshell, adults have two choices.  You can turn over your finances to a ravening monolith that will (1) warn you by mail that, four days ago, they charged you a monthly fee for your overdraft protection plan, which will (2) hit you at a bad time and make your balance dip below zero, at which point the bank will (3) charge you an overdraft fee for letting your balance dip below zero, and then (4) charge you a second overdraft fee because you didn’t have sufficient funds to cover the first overdraft fee.

This is called “customer service.”

Your other choice is to keep a wad of cash in the freezer.  This is a bad strategy if you are an avid collector of half-empty cartons of old, drippy ice cream.  In that case, a workable counter-strategy  is to invest in the really high quality brands of  Ziplock baggies, which really keep your money dry.

Our financial adviser (who speaks directly into my ear at 4 a.m.  She has a querulous voice tinged with panic, and sounds just like me) has counseled us to diversify our portfolio.   So now we keep our Regular Money in the bank, and our Frivolous Whim/Horrible Emergency Money in the freezer.

For an even niftier fiscal maneuver, try letting your prudent, thrifty super-ego save money, while allowing your idiot, scatterbrained id to forget all about it.  Then, one day, your ego (who is in charge of cooking) will be gloomily surveying the dark landscape of Dinners Yet to Come, and in between the freezer-burned pork chops and the eleven chicken carcasses that never will be soup, you will see something.  Something . . .

Could it be?  Yes, yes, it’s a Ziplock bag!  And inside it is . . .

Aw, you thought I was going to say $250.  No, it’s only $42.  The label on the bag says $250, but you had to spend part of it on a new spinner thing for the washing machine, and part of it on the great Tooth Fairy Amnesty Pay-Off, in which each child aged 5 to 12 got $5 and was counseled to move on with their lives.

But that leaves $42!  Enough to settle either your bank fees or your library fines, with some left over to buy some brand new ice cream for the freezer.

Isn’t that a good system?  God bless America.


  1. “what funny? what’s FUNNY?” Thomas is demanding. “oh, something about chickens..” is all I can get out. It’s too hot to make chicken broth right now anyway.

  2. That reminds me that we put a tick in a ziplock bag in the big freezer just before we left on vacation, just in case its host broke out with a strange illness while we were away and some doctor needed to do an autopsy on the insect.

    Haven’t been able to find that bag back yet, but I’m sure there will be a good story when it reappears.

  3. I think I must have missed the boat as a kid, because I am so, so bad with money (well, I’m good at spending it on totally random crap and then being completely unable to determine where it went). Plus I hate banks with a Passion exactly because of the above scenario, which is concise, accurate, and hilarious-because-of-its-familiarity. I’m sure there are people out there who actually care about the interest rates on their savings accounts because they have something IN their savings accounts. Me, I’m just wondering if the whole out of sight, out of mind aspect to literally freezing one’s assets really does help?

  4. I never squirrel away cash because I never have any cash. But I play the same tricks on myself by substracting money that I want to set aside from my checking account balance, and writing it down in secret places. This makes the checkbook impossible to balance. What is it about money that makes us play these mind games?

  5. This is why credit unions are so much more popular than banks. You’re not charged for having an account, minimum balances are $50 in savings ($5 for kids under 18 or adults who have a big mortgage with the bank), and the kids get a higher interest rate than grown-ups.

    As for finances, I’m a total Dave Ramsey groupie. And my kids are learning to save. They get paid by the chore (which they keep track of on those neat charts from Staples – you know, in the teacher supply section), and they get extra for doing extra stuff like vacuuming the pool or mowing the lawn. They’re required to put some in savings, some in the parish collection, and then they get some “blow” money to … blow on whatever. Usually it’s stupid stuff like the laser pointer my 11 year old treasures. But they did manage to save up for a Wii one year, and the 11 year old is swearing off buying junk to get an iPod. She figures it’s going to take more than a year.

    But, yeah, big banks kinda … well, they suck. I took a survey online about banking services and they kept asking what fees looked good to me for various stuff, and all I kept thinking was, “I get this stuff for free at my credit union, and they know my family. Why would I pay for it at all?” Some of the things were “fee waived with a total balance in savings, checking, and money markets of $50,000. Seriously? How few people have that much money saved up?

  6. lolololol

    ahhhh nice. My husband is a banker so….he’d die if we had money in our freezer. We’re Dave Ramsey groupies like Christine. Cash is for envelopes! My husband looks at our online banking CONSTANTLY….better him than me I say 🙂 Honestly, finances are not as daunting to me as they once were…we have a plan, we’re on the same page…it’s nice 🙂 Doesn’t mean we have A LOT of money at the moment…but we know where it all is, and where it’s going….and we have no debt! 🙂

  7. Oh man, oh man, oh man. This one’s destined to be a classic.

    Our girls (the ones who are old enough to count) have kids’ savings accounts at our credit union. Minimum to open: $5.

  8. This is why I hate banks and LOVE credit unions! My credit union is currently paying 2.05% on my checking account. That’s more than most bank CD’s!

  9. We don’t keep any money in the freezer, but we do have 1) my wife’s glow bracelet from a Bon Jovi concert she attended in elementary school, and also 2) her placenta from our last pregnancy.

    Both will be useful, we’re confident, at some later date.

  10. Wow, your readers have some interesting things in their freezers. we only had a dead turtle for 15 years (we moved 4 times with him. I guess we never found a suitable burial spot.).

  11. our two financial strategies are:

    1. keep a list of all our expenses. Theoretically, when I review it every month, I will feel guilty about all the unnecessary expenses I have scrupulously recorded, and do better next month. We call it our “budget.” we never get around to calculating an actual budget, though, because each month has some huge one-time expense that’s never going to happen again, so it’s no fair counting that.

    2. if I save money on something, I get to spend it. I got a free oil change coupon, and I would have spent money on an oil change anyway, so that $20 is technically already spent, and I can spend it on whatever I want and never officially record it! I know a lot of women who think this way.

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