Monday, August 3, 2015

On Dimes and Discipline

I was visiting my roommate Robin, sharing my plans for our trip. She traveled the country extensively with her two children when they were younger, and I thought she’d have good ideas of what sites couldn’t be missed. One small comment nestled into an hour-long conversation changed the trajectory of my approach to disciplining my children on our three-week journey. “When my kids were younger, I used to give them a roll of dimes every day and say this was their spending money for the day. Whatever they wanted to buy while we were gone, if they had the money, they could buy it. However, every time I needed to discipline them, I would ask them to give me a dime. You should try it.”

Questions flooded my mind. $5/day, every day? That’s a lot of money for little kids. Then I thought about it a little more. Over the course of 22 days, that would be $110 per kid. Think of all the gas station stops where they beg for Skittles. What if they want an ice cream cone? That’s a couple bucks. And there will be souvenir stops and cool things to buy all along the way. T shirts cost $15-20. . . . Hmmm.

I also had a flash of reality. My kids need a lot of correction every day. How would I determine what would cost a dime? I decided any infraction that required my intervention would cost them a dime—whining, complaining, fighting, disobeying. But then . . . They may not have any money to spend on the trip! Was I ready to enforce discipline to the point where they could potentially be penniless? I decided that I was.

How would they keep track of a zillion dimes? Wouldn’t that be a pain? Amazon had the perfect solution. 
I don’t know if you’ve noticed in all of the pictures I’ve already posted, but each of the kids wore their own fanny pack every day.  They were responsible for all of their own money, and if they ever forgot to clip it on when they got out of the car, I would not loan them money to buy anything. (They forgot their packs once or twice. I did, however, keep careful track of how many dimes they owed me if they didn't bring it with them.)

That was the start. After I received their fanny packs, I gathered everything I needed: small bills and rolls of dimes from the bank (if I were to do this again, I would only get two rolls per child), a zippered pouch to isolate the kids’ money from mine (I kept it in one of my handy drawers), a container to collect dimes, and determination to make this work.

(I love Heidi and Jonah in the background of this picture!)

How did it work?

Like magical fairy dust. I’m not kidding.

With great ceremony, I sat the three of them down, brand new fanny packs in hand. I explained the system we were going to use and the four of us agreed on the parameters.

The first day of driving (our longest at 11 hours), I received about $3 in dimes—from all three kids combined. From there on out, all it took from me to correct their behavior was to say, “I need a dime,” or hold out my hand. They would reluctantly unzip their pack and hand me a dime. If behavior continued, I quietly asked for another dime. Rarely would I have to ask for a second dime, and I can only remember two occasions where power struggles escalated to multiple requests to pay up (behavior finally stopped around $1.50).  Most days, each kid would lose between 5-10 dimes.
Aside from a quiet way to correct their behavior, there were a few other fantastic lessons learned from having their own money to manage on the trip.

They wanted to stop in every store and shop and gas station to see what they could buy with their money. It got old, but I let them look whenever they wanted to. They knew about how much money they had and would know if they could afford _____ or not. I didn’t have to listen to them beg and whine for me to buy things for them. They bought things they wanted (a couple of t shirts and random treats), and I interfered as little as possible. (In hindsight, I wish I’d let them have even more control over their decisions.)

My hope before the trip started was that the kids would use their money to buy one big souvenir from the trip that would bring back memories for a long time. Evie fell in love with a pair of cowboy boots in Jackson Hole. She tried them on and twirled in them and clomped in them, and then she looked at the price tag. $52.95. That is way more than I would ever spend on cowboy boots for a five year old. Micah helped her count her money, and she had just over $55. She could afford them, but would she want to be without any money at all for the rest of the day (she had to keep 5 dimes at all times), and then have to wait to buy anything else? She decided she wanted the boots more than anything else in the world, and she bought them (I didn’t tell her that I covered the additional few dollars of tax—shh.)

She wore those boots EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. the rest of the trip. She never once regretted buying them, and she absolutely loves them. Lesson learned—let them choose what they love, even if you would never buy it for them.

Micah’s focus on this trip was getting to Mount Rushmore, and he wanted to BUY something at Mount Rushmore. He had about $60 at this point, because he’d been saving his money, but he couldn’t make himself spend $40 on a small stone replica of the mountain because it cost too much. When we were nearing the end of the trip and he had $50 or so left, he asked what I was going to do with the money when we got home. I told him it was his, and he decided he wanted to keep it and buy Nike Elite socks for school, because I would never do that. Lesson learned—weighing options and knowing the worth of even a dime extends past what's in front of you right now.

Hyrum’s money would always burn a hole in his pocket. He wanted to buy at least something everywhere we stopped. He bought three stuffed animals (named Wolfy, Foxy, and Hooty—see if you can guess what he got), and wanted arrowheads, marbles, anything and everything. While waiting for the train in Durango, he used his last $13 to buy a pair of binoculars. On the bus ride up, Eve kept asking to look through them. Every time she did, it cost her a dime. About halfway through the bus ride, Hyrum turned to me and said, “I now know what Dad means by you need to spend money to make money.” 

That would have been enough of a lesson learned there, but it got better. While in Silverton, Hyrum was burdened with the binoculars and an empty fanny pack. While Micah and Eve had the freedom to entertain choices of what to buy, Hyrum couldn’t buy anything. And it almost killed him. On more than one occasion, he tried to pawn his binoculars off—“Will you buy them for $9? $5?” He was stuck with his decision, which was especially painful when Micah bought a really cool wood sword. Lesson learned—the pain that comes from spending without considering what may be ahead.

I was afraid that the dime threat wouldn’t work very well on our final day driving home, since there were no more stops and shops, but I told them when the day started that if their seat area was clean when we got in the garage at home, they could earn a bonus $5, but the key is that I wouldn’t remind them even one more time. It worked well. Two earned it. Two didn’t. Win in my book.
Hyrum helping Evie with the bracelet she bought.

My only regret with this system is that I wish I could find a way to implement it daily at home and not have it break me. It was fantastic. It was quiet. It was easy. It gave them control over what they brought home, and I didn’t calculate it all up, but I bet it ended up costing me less in the long run. And now—Eve has great boots (I’m such a proud mama), Micah has cool socks for school and a frame for his Mount Rushmore picture, and Hyrum has a menagerie of stuffed animals to look at through his binoculars.

I would do this again on an extended trip.

Thanks, Robin. It was genius.


  1. That is brilliant. Looks like it was extremely effective.

  2. Those boots will look pristine when she outgrows them...(even if she wears them EVERY SINGLE my daughter did). Once she outgrew the first pair of "good cowboy boots", I got her a Target pair - and 2 mos later went and bought another pair of stupid expensive but excellent quality boots. (BTW, my daughter is now 5)

  3. I love Robin! She came up with some great parenting skills, even with being a single mom!

  4. I admired Eve's boots the other day! What a grwat system! I'll have tonput this to use some day.