"Mon, you forgot to pay me my allowance last week."
"No I didn't."
"I distinctly remember you didn't pay me."
"I distinctly remember I did."
"That was Martha you paid. She got her $2, but then you only had a $5 bill and said you'd pay me when you got change."
"Well, I gave that $5 to you. J.J. What happened to the change?"
"Mom, you told me to keep $4 because I didn't get my allowance the time before. So I gave you a dollar back."
"That's right. And I distincly remember I gave you the dollar, Andy, and told you I'd owe you one."
"I distinclty remember you didn't."
People into car pools, soccer games, PTA meetings and gymnastics lessons, will instantly recognize the above squabble over allowances as the final clincher that turns a perfectly good adult brain into oatmeal.
Clearly, what was needed at our house -- and I suspect around many others -- was something that would end confusion over who got paid what, and when. And maybe our solutions could teach the children something about how money is managed and how our basic banking system works.
I eventually came up with the idea of The Home Bank. With this system, I am the bank and the children make deposits and withdrawls and can even write "checks."
Here's how it works.
Each child has an account. Keeping track of funds is done on a homemade form patterned after the record forms in my own checkbook. The forms have a place for check number, date, amount of deposit or withdrawl, and balance.
I issued each child several copies, stapled across the top to form a booklet. Each child also got a number of homemeade checks. We had the checks and forms fun off at a local quick-print shop.
To open their accounts, each child filled in the date and then gathered up money to deposit. After carefully entering the amount on the form, I gathered up the three piles of money and tucked them all in my wallet. Enter the first crisis.
"Mom! You're putting my money in your purse!"
"That's right. I'm the bank."
"Mom! What if you spend my money!"
"Your money is carefully recorded. This is now the bank's money. You can always get some by withdrawing some."
I had forgotten what a shock it is the first time you discover the bank does not keep your money in a special place just waiting for you to come and retrieve it.
Making deposits and withdrawls in The Home Bank is fairly simple. On allowance day -- in our home it's twice a month on Dad's regular payday -- the date is entered and $2 is added to the total. This means no more forgotten allowances.
We soon discovered other money can be deposited. In went birthday checks. Money from selling a bike. And money earned by doing extra chores.
To make a withdrawl for cash, the check is made out to "Cash" and presented to me (or Dad) and the amount subtracted from the record. (It takes several tries for a child to get the hand of writing a check.)
Then there are the times I don't have the exact amount requested. If, for example, Andy wants 75 cents and all I have is a dollar, I give him the dollar and he subtracts that amount. Later, Andy may redeposit the quarter.
Another time, Martha wanted to buy supplies from her friend Leah who was going out of the hamster business. I wasn't around, so she wrote out a check to Leah who later presented it to me for payment.
All checks are filed, and every four to six weeks we go over the books. Each child's checks and records are kept in separate business-size envelopes in the kitchen.
The Home Bank has been in effect for about a year now, and we all agree it's a pretty good system.
Unfortunately, my children have not become mini-financiers. They are still tempted by impulse purchases and overpriced candy in movie theaters. But at least confusion has ended.
And when they are old enough for real checking accounts, the system won't seem so much of a mystery.
But these days of relative calm may soon end. The other day J.J. asked, "What does it mean when banks pay interest?"
"Sweetheart," I said calmly, "remember when we talked about the birds and the bees and I told you there were some things you were just too young to understand? Well, interest is one of them."