You may have heard me talk about it before, particularly if I see you in person, but we've had some money issues with Elsie this spring. Particularly, we have had money issues with the school cafeteria and their lunch number (i.e. debit) program.
In August, I added up how much it would cost Elsie to get milk each day and ice cream on Fridays for the whole school year, and then I put that money (~$98) into her school lunch account. I checked her account online when I got out for Christmas break, and she had about $60 left. I was so tickled, and I was thinking that she would end the year with money left over for next year.
I became suspicious that something was amiss at the end of February, when Elsie mentioned off-handedly that they had a substitute teacher on the morning Eli was going to pick her up to take her to the dentist (and so, we didn't send a lunch with her), and that when Eli came to pick her up, she had already put her name in for the lunch count. Wait. What? So, I went online, and after only six weeks of school after Christmas, Elsie had $15 left in her account. She wouldn't tell me what she had been doing/spending money on, so I called the school and asked for an account audit. (The online system is perfunctory at best -- I can see my child's lunch account balance, but I can't see how the money is being spent.) I e-mailed her teacher before getting the audit to see if she knew anything, and she mentioned that Elsie had bought breakfast "once or twice." When I got the printout, I was floored. Elsie has bought breakfast (for $1.00) 22 times since Christmas!
The first problem here is that she eats breakfast at home every single day. Why was she buying a second breakfast at school? And why were they letting her? I mean, once she enters the school building, I can't control anything she does. But when a child who has never bought breakfast before shows up 22 times in 30 days...wouldn't that seem weird?? When we asked Elsie about it, she just said that she was still hungry when she got to school.
The second--and biggest--problem here was that Elsie did not equate entering her lunch number into the little machine by the cash register with spending her money. I mean, she's four-years-old at this point. Why should it seem like spending money? Several of her classmates put in their number and they're not actually spending their own money, since they are eating federally subsidized meals. So that was a hard conversation to have. We explained to her that she could eat breakfast, but that once the money was gone, there would be no more. No more milk, no more ice cream. Nothing.
I admit, that felt like a hard stance to take with a preschooler, but the situation definitely presented itself as a teachable moment that we couldn't let pass. Elsie continued to eat breakfast until she got down to about six dollars, and we would remind her that when the money was gone, it was gone.
Then, miraculously, she stopped spending her money. She had exactly enough money to make it to the end of the year eating ice cream only on Fridays (which is the only day they are allowed to buy ice cream at her school) and to purchase a school sack lunch on field trip day (required). Enough money except for one Friday--today. And that's how it panned out. This week she did not get ice cream, and she told me that the reason she didn't get ice cream was because she bought breakfast one day this week and that that was her choice. She made the decision, and that was the end of it. Wow.
We still have a long road to financial responsibility, but what a start!