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Money Matters 

click to enlarge Mira counts her remaining money - ALISON NOVAK
  • alison novak
  • Mira counts her remaining money

I recently undertook an experiment with my 7-year-old daughter, Mira. Before heading to Burlington's indoor farmers market, I handed her two crisp $20 bills and gave her a job: She would be responsible for all the shopping that day.

I told her what we needed for the week — eggs, vegetables, bread and cheese. I hoped she'd also use some of the money to buy us lunch. But I told her she would be responsible for deciding what to buy and for carrying out every transaction.

I could tell by Mira's proud smile that she felt empowered. She grabbed her purse and sparkly wallet emblazoned with the letter M, stuffed the bills inside and began jotting down a shopping list.

Mira really impressed me at the market. Before making any purchases, she did a fact-finding loop around Memorial Auditorium. Then she began amassing items, politely asking vendors how much things cost and calculating how much change she was owed in return.

She bought a block of Shelburne Farms cheddar, a loaf of whole-grain bread from Barrio Bakery, eggs from Jericho Settlers Farm, an assortment of potatoes and carrots, and an intriguing kohlrabi bulb.

As we enjoyed a yummy meal of samosas and rice for lunch, Mira reflected on the experience. "Money goes bye-bye pretty quick," she said with a smile.

"Yep," I told her. "It sure does."

When the guy sitting across from us at lunch got wind of what we were doing, he tipped us off about the best deal at the market: iced maple cookies for 50 cents a pop. Mira bought two.

In the end, she was left with $1, which I let her keep.

As I watched Mira bop from vendor to vendor, I realized that this experiment wasn't just about spending, but about math and manners, too. And it was fun for both of us. I've vowed to teach Mira and her 5-year-old brother, Theo, more about money with lessons that are similarly concrete and straightforward.

Executive editor Cathy Resmer often slips the subject of financial literacy into everyday conversations with her kids. She writes about it for this month's money issue ("Cents and Sensibility," page 18). She borrows tips from a new book by New York Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber.

In "Mealtime" (page 15), Erinn Simon shares a recipe, and a simple variation, for one of the most quintessentially budget-friendly meals — rice and beans — as well as advice on stretching your dollar in the kitchen.

And in this month's "Use Your Words" essay ("Reconcilable Differences," page 51), contributor Nicci Micco explains how she and her husband resolved their drastically different philosophies on spending and saving.

We hope these stories prompt you to reflect on the way your family talks about money — and maybe even to entrust your kids with some cold, hard cash.

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