Are You Doing Bad Things with Your Money?

By Linsey Knerl on 21 May 2009 8 comments

Today my middle son hit my youngest son in the face with a Ziploc bag full of pennies.  It was premeditated, and as I burst into the dining room to sort it all out, I found myself saying the oddest thing:  “Don’t do bad things with your money.” It was an odd time to link money to intent, but it was also strangely fitting. 

This discussion is in no way intended to establish what is “good” or what is “bad.” As long as you are not doing something illegal with your money, it is always a deeply personal choice as to how you should spend it.  I’m sure no one can deny, however, that inappropriate spending can lead to a world of hurt.  My son’s most recent outburst shed some light on how money can signify a conscious decision and why there is always hope for something better.  As in the case of my young son (who is four and very stubborn), he used money to carry out a poor decision.  Here are a few parallels of interest: 

Money is simply the tool.  As with most “bad” decisions, there is usually a premeditated mental process that a person goes through before acting badly.  My son had the entire length of the dining room to determine that he was going to jack his brother in the face.  Whether he used a Tonka truck, the flat end of his sneaker, or the aforementioned bag of pennies, harm was going to be done.  Money was just the means to the end.   

We can say the same for any bad purchase we make.  If harm is to be done through something we buy, it is rarely in the transaction that we go wrong.  We make a decision to buy it, and we follow through.  Money isn’t evil… Money (whether cash or credit) just gets us there. 

You don’t have to follow through.  Simply thinking a bad thought isn’t the same as doing it.  Getting angry and wanting to clock someone in the face won’t get you in near the trouble as winding up the bag of money and letting it fly.  My son had plenty of time to rethink his decision.  As you load up your cart with stuff you don’t need or want, take time to consider your options.  Until you scan that card, you can change your mind.  (I’ve been known to leave items at the checkout line after pondering their value.  The cashier may not be too thrilled, but ultimately, it’s your right to walk away.) 

Sometimes, you really can go back.  Actions can’t really be “undone,” but they can sometimes be made better.  The bigger the grievance, the more you will have to work at making it right, and the consequences may still be felt for years.  If you act sooner than later, however, there is usually a way to help the situation.  (As soon as my son realized what he had done, he dropped the sack of money and leaned into my youngest for a hug.  He really did feel bad, and not surprisingly, my youngest forgave him.) 

If you go overboard with your spending, you can usually make amends with your pocketbook: 

  • Take stuff back you don’t need. 
  • Sell what you can’t return. 
  • Make good use of the things you are stuck with.   

Bad decisions don’t have to haunt you forever, as long as you learn and move on in a responsible manner. Money doesn't have to be a bad thing, at all.

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Guest's picture

If "Don’t do bad things with your money.” was the first thing out of our mouth you might want to put down the personal finance books and pick one up on parenting.

Guest's picture

You're right, your cashier will be pissed. And they will remember you next time you come in. And will probably smash your bread.

Why? Because if stuff gets piled up on the end of the register, it's the CASHIER'S FAULT. If cold stuff gets ruined, it's the CASHIER'S FAULT. It's not fair, and it's not right, but a lot of times, people will get written up for it.

It's simply asshole behavior to pick up a bunch of pricey stuff you're going to end up not wanting. It's one thing if you honestly change your mind...but this sounds way too premeditated for that.

Practice some goddamned self-restraint.

Guest's picture

man this seems like "angry commenter day" on the frugal blogs! I thought the story of hitting brother in the face with money was really funny. The choices kids make sometimes are just so random- and as a parent, whoever expects to have to deal with a problem like that!? Good points about it not being too late to change your behavior or change your mind. I try and put stuff back before I get to the cashier, but if stuff isn't ringing up at the price I expected to pay for it, or if I realize that I'm about to spend more than I ought to, I have no problem apologizing to the cashier and changing my mind. The key I think is to do it politely, and acknowledge that its your fault, and maybe even offer to bring it back to the shelf or something. No one wants to deal with a jerk, of course (and you're not advocating us being jerks, of course!)

Linsey Knerl's picture

LOL... OK, for those of you who obviously took my post far more seriously than they need to, I'll explain myself a bit.

Commenter #1:

Have you ever broken up a fight with two toddlers? If you have, you probably know that the first things you want to say can be a little harsh. I've learned after some time of playing ref to 3 boys, that it is best to state things calmly, assess the situation, and make sure everyone is OK. This was a minor scuffle, no blood, just hurt feelings. And the best part was that my sons worked it out on their own.  The money comment was something I found myself chuckling at because it sounded so strange coming out of my mouth.  But thanks for offering your advice -- I love books.

Commenter #2:

I've only left an entire cart of stuff at a checkout line in my entire life.  You can read about it here, (if you feel up for punishment).  Otherwise, I'm largely referring to changing my mind on ONE or TWO items -- Not an entire shopping trip. I don't think that anyone is saying it is OK to dump a bunch of stuff on the hard-working cashier.  But if you spot an item in the clearance bin and pick it up only because it's discounted -- then realize that you don't need it after all -- it's OK to politely mention to the cashier that you've changed your mind. (And my friends in retail would agree that they prefer this to just sticking it back on any old shelf or even changing your mind AFTER the purchase.)

Common sense may not be common, but it was assumed in writing this article.  Thanks for your comments.

Linsey Knerl

P.S.  The photo was taken over 2 years ago... and is not the son injured in the money scuffle.  So you can rest assured that I wasn't snapping photos while I was reading a PF book and ignoring my kids.   :)

Guest's picture

Okay, I can't see how what you said was incorrect. You didn't call him a name, you corrected him. Lovingly with the aim into making him a good and noble man. If the goal was to get an A+ in parenting, we'd end up with lots of unhappy youngins. The goal is to raise men and women who are loving and helpful and good eggs - you did that.

Secondly, why is it the cashiers fault that you changed your mind? I can understand the store being upset at having lost the sale and maybe some hard loss in spoilage. I mostly self-checkout so there is no cashier. And if you are a cashier and the store is acting like it is your fault, why would you work for suck unreasonable people.

I am sorry these angry people, left their anger issues on you. Like I said I was coming here to say what you said was very insightful. I think I am learning to be more in tune with my priorities and trying to direct my money towards them. Anyway, thanks for the post. I am a new subscriber.

Guest's picture

It is unreasonable, I'm not going to lie. But, when you're 17 and need to make money without a lot of experience you don't really have a lot of choices, you know? You end up putting up with a lot because otherwise, your job is threatened. Economically depressed areas for the win. a cashier who has had up to six cartloads dumped on her at once (this is actually a common occurrence) it pisses me off when people are just like "oh, hand it to the cashier!" or "put it in your cart and wheel it around to think about it but not buy it!" If you have no intent to buy you do. not. touch. Pricing errors are a different story. Of course, I usually just ended up overriding those so I'd stop getting screamed at by customers, so it wasn't THAT much of an issue.

I have a lot of horror stories about working grocery stores, but this isn't the time or place for that.

Linsey Knerl's picture

My goal is never to have everyone agree with me (as we have such varied experiences with money), but I was hoping to share common insights. I appreciate your support and thoughtful comments -- thrilled you decided to subscribe!

Welcome to Wise Bread!

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

As a cashier- I would really rather the customer hand me the thing they don't want, rather than wedge it somewhere in the aisle. Once or twice, when something (usually a duck or goose) rang up more than someone was expecting, I have asked them if they'd put it back- because if we take it behind the register, it gets tossed. But for the most part- the cashier is standing right there, people- don't shove ice cream in behind the gum, just hand it to him/ her already. Also, I don't know about other cashiers (though the ones I work with seem to agree with me) but I'd rather have someone hand something over as unwanted before I've bagged it, than have to dig through bags for things to void off later.