What 5 Cents a Can is Worth

I have been recycling with my kids for four years.  Taking my kids to the recycling center has provided us with some great experiences. Here are some of them in the order they are occurring to me:

1. Money does not come from Mommy and Daddy’s pocket. Whenever we are shopping and the kids see something they would like to purchase, they used to ask me to buy it for them. I would say, let’s save up your recycling money. When we are shopping with the kids now, the first thing they say is, “I can use my recycling money.” Or, they use discernment. “It’s not worth using my recycling money.”

I even have intentionally made sure that it is one of the kids that hand the receipt to the person that hands the money over. The money goes straight to them.

2. Delayed Gratification. Shortly after we began recycling, Camille wanted a box of 4 pairs of princess shoes that cost $20. I made a chart with 20 boxes that we could check off as I helped her to save up for the shoes. She had $7 to start. I expected that we would make several trips to the recycling center over the course of 2 or 3 months and then we would go buy the shoes. Some generous friends and neighbors contributed their used bottles and cans and the next week Camille had over $20. It did not go exactly as I planned, but Camille used her own money to buy the shoes and she had to wait a little while before she could get them. Both kids have had to wait for the things they want as we collect our recycling.

3. Boundaries. The kids have to help sort the recycling. Most recently, James did not help. Instead of pulling the empty garbage cans close to the car (his job) he stayed in the car. After reminding him several times that he had a job to do, Camille and I finished the job without him. Once Camille had the receipt that we take to the cashier, James began fake crying, “Now I won’t get any money.” There were two levels of emotion going on with James at that moment. He was thinking, “If I cry, maybe dad will let me have my share of the money anyway.” On a deeper level, James was thinking “What is the boundary here? What can I get away with? How big of a push over is my dad?” In the short term, he was hoping to get the money. In the long term, he feels more secure knowing that there are consequences for him not doing his job. He cried for real when he did not get the money, nor the piece of candy the cashier hands out to kids.

4. Saving. When Camille was first starting making her own money I told her along the lines of, “If you go to the bank and give them $1 and then you go again and give them $1, the bank will know that you have $2.” I was not worried about teaching her about interest. I wanted her to be aware of how to save. She was sold. She socks away money like crazy. It is interesting to see my kids personalities. I will be curious to see how James takes to the idea of saving money.

5. My Favorite Shirt. Sharolyn was shopping with Camille. Camille wanted to buy me a shirt for my birthday. With Sharolyn’s help, they bought a $5 t-shirt for me from Old Navy. Camille used her recycling money. To sum up this one: I provided the bins to store the cans and bottles in. I drove Camille to the recycling center. I provided every aspect of the opportunity for her to make her own money. The money, however, was entirely hers. She chose to spend some of her money on a gift for me. Instant favorite shirt for me.

For me this one also connected on how money works with me and God. He created me, gave me the abilities I have. I make money with them. The money is entirely mine and yet all of it is only mine because of God’s provision. So whose money is it really?

These are some reflections that I have been storing up for the past few years while I have been taking my kids recycling. I would love to hear any of your ideas or thoughts.

2 thoughts on “What 5 Cents a Can is Worth

  1. michael

    I’ve read this several times since you posted it, and I love it.

    So much of parenting is reacting – you’re in a situation, you respond, usually based on habit, and how you respond becomes another lesson to your kids in how to understand the world. Taking the time to build situations that are loaded with good lessons, that are more than just reaction, is a mark of good parenting.

    I remember learning about money from my parents, and it was one of the better things they did for us. We learned very early about interest – by about 6 or 7, mom would tell us that if we gave her the $10 we got in birthday cards, she would hold on to it until December 1st, then would give us back $15. I should ask her if she’s still willing to give us that same interest rate today … probably not. We starting buying stocks when we were 10, and all three of us kids have deeply rooted conservative financial habits.

    I think a lot of the lessons about character and virtue that I learned from my parents came in lessons about work and money. They valued charity, work ethic, saving, thoughtful planning, and above all they saw use of money as an issue of character. What you did with what you had was an important measure of who you were.

    In short, it’s no accident that you and Sharolyn are raising great kids. You’re both thoughtful people who do great things like this.

  2. sharolyn

    Thank you for your kind words. What an encouragement.

    I like that idea that “what you do with what you have is an important measure of who you are”. When I am tempted to believe that some “thing” will bring me joy and cure my woes, I need Ecclesiastes 5 which says that even the ability to enjoy wealth is a gift from God.

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