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Monday, August 8, 2011

What's the Money Line?

by Saint Mark (bio)

The other day as I was driving with my aunt, cousin and sons, ages six and four, in the car, my cousin shared a lascivious tale. She was walking through a Las Vegas hotel on her way home from a gathering of friends and an older man approached her. After speaking to her and finding out her age (he thought she was older than twenty-one and she told him flat out that she was seventeen), he propositioned her to come up to his room. She said no. He then offered $1,500 if she did. She again replied no. He continued and finally after an offer of $3,000 and my cousin's final rejection, he walked away. All of us adults in the car, understanding the implications, uttered shock at the audacity and shamelessness of the man who tried to get my sweet cousin to go up to his room. Then, without skipping a beat, my older boy unabashedly stated from his car seat, "For $3,000 I would have gone to his room!"

Now, this story has many avenues I could travel down, but the one I want to address is my son's intense "like" of money. I put like in quotations because I am pretty sure it isn't just like but more likely love. But that's what I want to discuss. Does he love money or does he just have a very (un)healthy "like" of money?

Whichever it is, I'm sure I'm culpable for fostering his attraction to "all that glitters." If anything, it might be genetic. When I was growing up, Alex P. Keaton from Family Ties was one of my role models. I tried to emulate his uncanny ability to guess coin types just from its sound when it was dropped on a table. Moreover, I confess that I was a little like Linus from Peanuts. But, I didn't carry a blanket around or a stuffed animal named Pumpkin. No, I toted a blue safe decked out with a dial combination lock. I also have money radar. After you have dropped or lost money on a snowy, windy day that blows forever away from your pockets, I am the one who will probably find it. For example, over three consecutive winter days I found $16 lying in the middle of the road in front of Georgetown University. Another day, I found a twenty dollar bill blithely stirring in a zephyr in a grocery store parking lot. I have a lot more stories but you get the picture: it may be genetic.

Or, more likely, he is influenced by my unconscious nurturing of his monetary interest. Although we teach our children the importance of sharing wealth by having them pay tithing and give it to the bishop or by donating money to panhandlers, I feel as though we may have put too much emphasis on wealth accumulation instead of wealth sharing. For example, last summer while we were in Las Vegas, he and I noticed all of the weeds growing in the desert landscaping of the neighborhood homes. I suggested he start a weeding business and away he went. Like a man to ESPN, he was on a one-way course to building his weed empire in the middle of the desert. Even though he wanted to charge one cent a weed, I encouraged him to ask for five cents a weed because it was still a cheap price and didn't sound like that much. In fact, I mused that he would only be able to pick maybe 20 or so weeds and make about $1 a yard. Oh, how wrong I was! After only doing about five yards, my little, five year-old entrepreneur had made well over $30. He even paid his younger brother to do some work as well. How's that for trickle down economics.

After his meteoric increase in income, I bought my sons "piggy" banks. These were not the traditional "piggy" banks one might envision. These had three separate slots to insert one's money. The divisions were titled: "Tithing", "Mission" and "Fun".

"Tithing", as you probably know, is the 10% we pay to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The monies are used for building chapels and temples, paying utility bills for church buildings, and similar costs for helping the church to maintain its growth. When you build over 300 new buildings a year, the money needs to come from somewhere. Plus, the Lord has asked us to pay tithes (Malachi 3:8-11), so why not obey?

The "Mission" fund is the money my sons are saving up to use towards their missions. If they choose to do so, my sons will be able to serve missions for our church and be sent anywhere in the world where the gospel of Jesus Christ is taught. We sometimes play a game where I ask them where they think they'll be sent and over the years I've gotten answers ranging from Montana to Africa. Missionaries are required to pay for their own missions. The cost is averaged out among all 50,000+ missionaries throughout the world. I believe the cost is around $400 a month, but don't quote me. When I served 17 years ago (can you believe that Seattle Jon?), it was around that amount.

And, lastly, "Fun" means fun, of course. The boys can buy whatever they want with their money. My wife and I encourage them to save up their money for something they really want but sometimes the enticement of McDonald's Chicken McNuggets or a bag of poorly-made army men is too strong. At any rate, I think buying them this tripartite bank has had an additional influence on my son's "like" of money.

So, now I have a son who would go into a strange man's hotel room for $3,000. Heck, I think he'd do it for $30. Thankfully, his innocent mind cannot comprehend the illicit intentions of the man who treated my cousin like an escort. To my son, it was a good amount of money (probably like a billion dollars to us) for him to visit someone's room. No big deal. However, after he shared this child-like acceptance of the repugnant offer, I got to wondering about my son's interest in money and whether it is a healthy "like" or an unholy "love." Is there a difference? Is money just an instrument or tool, like a hammer or vehicle, we use to accomplish transactional goals or is it status, privilege and the focus of our attentions to the point that it becomes worship? What's the money line?

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