Learning About My Relationship With Money At Age 7

Learning About My Relationship With Money At Age 7

I was a wicked awesome poker player at age 7, mostly because I made up the rules.

I remember the night like it was just yesterday. We were in the “white house”, as it is now known, upstairs in the boys room (I grew up with 3 brothers, shared a room with 2 of them). I don’t know what day of week it was, because, well, I was 7, and days of the week didn’t really matter. What was significant about this day was that I had just learned how to play a few hands of poker. My brother had shown me what a flush, a straight, and what 4-of-a-kind was, so I was pretty much an expert. I also learned that when people play cards, they place a bet with their money, hoping that they had the best hand of cards to win everyone else’s money. This was going to get interesting.

The Power of Money

Up to that point, I knew that money could buy me stuff. My parents would give me a small allowance, or I would get some money from a birthday or Christmas card and I would use that money to buy something I wanted. At that point in my life, it was airheads, hot wheels or baseball cards. Treats and toys were for special occasions, so it was pretty amazing to my 7-year-old brain that I could usurp the standard household operating procedure and use my own money to buy candy or toys when I wanted to. I needed more of this powerful green paper if I was to have the freedom to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

I had never been motivated to steal anything (that I know of), except one time when I took bubble gum from the store as a little kid (Seriously, bubble gum at the checkout line is just screaming “STEAL ME!” to all kids who are 3′ tall and under with its shiny, colorful wrappers, easy to grab packaging and gum squares packed full of sugar. If I didn’t steal it, I would be a weird kid. The gum was a quick one-time thing, and my parents brought me back to the store, had me return it and apologize to the manager. Never did that again). But something in me that day decided that I wanted more money, and I needed a way to get it. Playing poker seemed like a great way to get more money.

The Temptation

Us kids didn’t have much of a net worth, though we apparently were doing better than 11% of America who had a negative net worth (U.S. Census, 1993). Our assets were toys that depreciated almost faster than new cars, though mostly because we damaged them within 5 minutes of getting them. We also had a small amount of our holdings in jolly ranchers and airheads. We were probably 50% toys, 20% candy, 30% cash. And since I was not able to liquidate the toys or candy very quickly, cash was a much more valued asset in our household.

So we arranged a late night (like, 7 pm-ish) card game in the boys room between my older brother, my sister and I. I explained to my naΓ―ve, 5-year-old sister that if she wanted to play, she needed to bring her own money. We went over the rules; “Aces are the best, a bunch in a row is good, all the same color is the best, all the same number is good too.” The cards were dealt (I think each person had a different number of cards, but that didn’t matter), we all threw in a couple dollars, and the game started.

The Lie

Now, the details are a little fuzzy, but I remember having to talk my sister through how to bet more money, and as she started asking why, I was deliberately vague with my answers. I had decided that I wanted her money, and I would do whatever I needed to get it. This included completely lying to her face about how the game worked (because I had no clue how it worked either) and how to win money. My brother had checked out and taken his money back, but my sister and I played a few more hands. I happened to” win” every hand, and after about 10 minutes, I had $5 of her cash.

I explained to my sister that we played the game and I won her money, so it was now my money. She wanted to know how to win it back, so I told her that she needed to play me again when she had more money. She looked a little sad, but resolved that her fate was set and went back to her room to go to sleep. Meanwhile, I counted my cash “winnings” in my room, bragging to my brother how I had won my sister’s money. We both went to sleep, my conscience clouded by the victory and the spoils. I crossed a very important line that night, which helped define my relationship with money.

The Consequence

The next day, things were pretty normal, beside the fact that I was now a very wealthy man. But I didn’t make it far past breakfast before my sister talked to my mom about our card game the night before. My mother quickly rushed me up the stairs to talk to me about my behavior! I was told that I was not allowed to take my sister’s money, that we should not be gambling in our house and that I needed to give her the cash promptly. I knew that I had done something bad in taking my sister’s money, but I still nervously explained to my mother that I had won the money playing cards. Mom didn’t care, the money was not mine to take and I was in trouble for teaching my sister to bet her money.

I was also forced to apologize for taking her money. I reluctantly did so, but I felt the loss of that extra cash as I handed it over. I really wanted the freedom and material things that money represented, and I was really bummed that I had to give it up. Something about those $1 bills made me justify cheating and lying to bring them into my possession. You know what? I don’t think I ever told my mom that I had cheated either. I think let that one go, because I really wanted to keep the money!

My Relationship With Money

I did not realize it explicitly that day, but money was something that seemed to have a lot of power from that point forward. It was the cause of fighting, struggle and stress, but also the gateway to joy and celebration. I learned that I needed it, and more importantly, I wanted it because of what it could do for me. I also learned that I could be tempted to lie or cheat to obtain it, and that I was capable of giving in to those temptations.

Now, I don’t have any memory of ever stealing money after that point, probably due the swift action of my mom and the consequence of being caught (and it’s illegal!). I also have always had a very strong conscience about these things, but for some reason I was able to ignore it that day.

I don’t believe that money is inherently good or bad. I believe that people can use money in good or bad ways. The popular Bible verse seems to always be misquoted, but the actual verse says “the LOVE of money is the root of all kinds of evils.” I totally believe this, and as evidenced above, I was even capable of this type of greed. I have since put money in its rightful place, but it is still something that I have to check my conscience on as I pursue business ventures and other money decisions.

I ask myself questions like, “why am I doing this? Am I focusing too much time/energy on making/spending money? Am I compromising morally/ethically in any way to make money? Do I believe that more money will make me happy?” The answers to these questions reveal where my heart is at, and can help get me back on track with my priorities. This is a great self-assessment to have any time you are faced with a money-making/spending opportunity, especially in business. If you find that your answers don’t line up with what you actually believe and where your priorities are, you can then make some decisions to get lined back up. So, I guess the question is, how do you define your relationship with money?

Comments: When did you first realize that money had some power? Have you ever cheated/stolen money? What was your motivation?

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  1. Ha @ doing better than 11% of the country. Truth! I never stole money as a child, although I did start to steal a purse at a store when I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I put it in my jacket and walked around holding my stomach like I felt sick. I started to feel guilty and put it back when my mom caught me. It was awful…I got in trouble even though I was trying to put the stupid purse back!
    Michelle recently posted..Already Rich – What Cancer Has Taught MeMy Profile

    • It’s interesting, isn’t it? I think kids have very a clear conscience. They always know whether they are doing right or wrong. When you get older, it seems to be easier to mute those feelings.

  2. I love the humor in this article. I think I first noticed the power of money when I was young as well. I used to save up my allowance for two reasons. First was because I always wanted to see how thick my stack of cash could be. Second was because I wanted the ability to purchase items such as baseball cards.
    Sean @ One Smart Dollar recently posted..Gangnam Style in AmericaMy Profile

    • Haha, I used to do that with my cash too. One dollar bills were the best because it looked like I had a huge pile of money!

      I blame it on shows like Duck Tales that showed us Scrooge McDuck’s vault of gold coins as the coolest thing ever. I mean seriously, who doesn’t want to swim in a huge pile of gold?!

  3. I think the first time I discovered the power of money was when I was 5 or 6 and I got $5 in a birthday card from my grandfather. I remember feeling like I was on top of the world and was a millionaire. Of course, I wanted to spend it on baseball cards and candy, but it was mine to spend. I’ve never stolen money (that I know of), but I do remember a few times in which I stole gum or a candy bar at the store. I figured it was there & they were probably just giving it out. I got the same experience of being taken back to the store. I like to learn the hard way so it took several times to sink in.
    John S @ Frugal Rules recently posted..Why I Love the Envelope Budget SystemMy Profile

  4. I don’t think I ever stole money but I did sell various collectible cards at school (but they were my cards). I learned pretty early that money was valuable and it helped me become a saver thankfully!
    Lance@MoneyLife&More recently posted..Buy An Older Generation or Last Season’s ProductMy Profile

  5. I think I discovered the power of money when I was about 6 years old and found $60 cash lying on the sidewalk. Can you say toy splurge? I admit that there have been times when I crossed moral or legal lines in pursuit of money. My motivation was just the money itself, but thinking back I am pretty ashamed that I put money before my values.
    Modest Money recently posted..7 Considerations for Buying A Cheap CarMy Profile

  6. I’m one of those guilty conscience people and have been ever since I was a kid. So I’ve never stolen (um seriously, I called up a department store and had them ring my card up for deodarant because I had gone out of state and felt so guilty. It wasn’t even my fault-I had bought a storage bin and had a bunch of stuff in it as I was using it for my basket. They rang up everything except the deodarant.) As to when money had power for me? I remember my mom and dad having huge arguments over money so I pretty much knew when I was younger that money is power: can’t buy things without it and it can cause arguments.
    bogofdebt recently posted..Wedding WorriesMy Profile

  7. Great story. I stole a penny candy once at the store when I was very young.. My mom caught me and made me go back and pay the lady. That humiliation was enough for me to never steal again, money or otherwise.
    MoneyAfterGrad recently posted..Is Debt a Dating Deal-Breaker?My Profile

  8. Hi Jacob, I’m sorry I don’t remember that. But I think that would be something that I would do! You kids did so many different things. You probably took that one to heart.

    • Haha, it’s all good mom. We were all over the place, this was probably just another “Hey, cut it out!” But it really did impress on me how the pursuit of money could tempt me to lie or cheat to obtain it. Powerful stuff for my 7-year-old brain to process πŸ™‚

  9. I don’t think I ever stole anything, but I remember wanting a Frogger video game. They were some outrageous price at the time, like $30 and my mom flat out said no. I saved forever for that game and had lemonade stands and sold my toys in my mom’s yard sales. I remember taking in a bag full of singles and coins and the lady behind the counter having to count every last one, but I got that game. I never really though about it before, but that was a great lesson my mom taught me. I always had a job even before I could get legally hired. I sold snow cones in front of the Piggly Wiggly (that’s a Southernism for sure), because I always wanted to earn my own money so I could buy the things I wanted. Thanks, Mom!
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Life and Financial Lessons from a Five Year OldMy Profile

    • Wow, what a great lesson at a young age! Isn’t it funny that if we look back at some of the stuff that frustrated us as kids, it was really just our parents teaching us a good lesson. I think I’ll have a post about that soon…

  10. That’s a really interesting story, Jake! I have never cheated or stolen money but I also can’t pinpoint when I thought money had “power.” Seeing the difference between rich and poor when I was a kid probably was the time I realized that money meant something more than a green piece of paper.
    Jason recently posted..How to Save Money on Contacts and Eye CareMy Profile

    • The stark contrast between the poor and rich you grew up around probably shaped your more than you know!

      And I’m glad that you haven’t stolen anything. I don’t recommend it πŸ˜‰

  11. I understood the power of money when my parents taught me about finance but it really hit home when I had my paper route. I had to learn responsibility and for that I was paid. I felt powerful when my bank account was growing and I barely if ever used my savings unless it was super important. Hard to swallow from a young kid and I don’t know why I was that way but what I do know that it was a lesson I was happy to have learned. Great post. Thanks for sharing. Mr.CBB
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..MPAC Assessment And The Value Of My HouseMy Profile

    • Getting your first taste of real income definitely has an effect on the young mind. I remember my first job helping with construction, and got paid $10 an hour. That’s crazy money for a 12-year-old!

  12. When I was a little kid my two favorite things cost a quarter. Whenever I had a quarter I had to choose between getting a comic or a Coke. I usually opted for the comic since it would last longer. Plus, my parents were more likely to buy me a Coke than a comic book.

    I never stole money, but I did steal a candy bar with my brother. We didn’t get caught in the act, but when we went to the store another day the manager asked us about it. We ended up helping to stock shelves to make up for it. When I was 18 I got a job working for that manager at a different grocery store. So I guess it worked out pretty well.
    Andy Hough recently posted..Should You Take the Job You Can Get?My Profile

  13. I honestly had no concept of money until I was out of high school.

    I do remember stealing fingernail polish from Wal-mart once. The thought of getting caught was terrifying but I did it anyways. Dumb, dumb.
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..Why Saving Money Feels as Good as Spending DoesMy Profile

  14. DebtsnTaxes says:

    Haha, you and me are a lot alike. I also “taught” my younger sister how to play cards and somehow I won every single time. When I was something like 6 or 7 I tried to steal a pack of basketball cards but got caught. I think I knew at the time that it was wrong but I knew for sure after the ass-kicking I got that I shouldn’t steal. I think the motivations behind it was I wanted a Michael Jordan card like my brother had. Glad to say I haven’t stole since haha.
    DebtsnTaxes recently posted..I’m Rich Biatch!!!My Profile

    • It’s the easiest scam, poor little sisters!

      Also, sports cards were VERY tempting to take, especially in places like Wal-Mart where they were right up front! Never took any, though.

  15. I don’t remember the exact age (maybe around 5 or 6), but I know I really wanted to buy the gum at the checkout counter. I couldn’t have it, and I threw a tantrum… The next time at the store, I stole a pack of gum. I got the scolding of a lifetime. My parents made me go back to the store and apologize, and then I had to do all these chores to pay it back. I soon was doing chores just to earn money, and it’s been the same ever since!
    The College Investor recently posted..Why the Street Hates Utility StocksMy Profile

    • Haha, what a great lesson! I think I would do the same. Show my kid that you can earn money, no need to steal anything.

      Also, tantrum’s won’t get you anything, unless you’re on the cast of Jersey Shore…

  16. Jason Clayton | frugal habits says:

    Great article, I think you totally nailed it here at the end. I ask myself the same questions regularly about money. The last thing I want to be is totally corrupted by money, so that it controls me and no the other way around.
    Jason Clayton | frugal habits recently posted..5 Reasons I Love Having a Health Savings Account (HSA)My Profile

    • Yea, money has a certain allure to it, because it means freedom, stuff, and can definitely corrupt people. You should definitely spot check yourself if you see a pattern of materialism or shady behavior emerging!

  17. Relationship with money is how to manage it. Money should be given the value on how and where to spend it wisely.

  18. Karen Moffatt says:

    Your sister sounds smart… She let you think you had her money then she played the mom card and won her money back ;p and I also totally stole some zebra gum once and mom made me bring it back too… It was horrifying lol


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