Isn't a dollar still a dollar?


While waiting in an excessively long line in the grocery store the other day, I overheard a little girl say to her mom, “Can I have this? It’s just a dollar.” The girl’s mother didn’t respond. But the child persisted and began listing the reasons she had to have what she wanted, her main argument being “It’s not like it’s a lot of money; it’s just a dollar.” The mother’s response was “I’m using my credit card, I don’t have a dollar.” The child retorted, “You don’t have to spend any money if you use the credit card.”

After about five minutes the child had moved on to the next shiny wrapped thing that had caught her attention and asked, “No, wait … can I have this instead? It’s just five dollars.” At this second request, the mother rolled her eyes, obviously having given up even trying to reason with her daughter, and added the item to her pile of things. 

I wouldn’t have given this much thought, but then not two minutes later another child asked his parent for something else that was “just a dollar,” and a similar conversation followed.

At this point, I started to wonder what exactly makes kids think a dollar is nothing and credit cards are free money. Are they learning these “facts” from their parents, television, school, another source? Are they not learning about the value of money, personal responsibility or self-reliance?

Perhaps this adds clarity to why personal saving rates declined over the past three decades while average credit card debt per household today is as much as $16,000.

After all, “it’s just $16,000.”