In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10-year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him. "How much is an ice cream sundae?" "Fifty cents," replied the waitress. The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it. "How much is a dish of plain ice cream?" he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient. "Thirty-five cents," she said brusquely. The little boy again counted the coins. "I'll have the plain ice cream," he said. The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table, and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and departed. When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw. There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were two nickels and five pennies - her tip.
I don’t remember when it was that I read the story first, but it left a very deep impression on me. There is something very charming about the story. The way the old-fashioned values are depicted touches me every time I read it. Some of you mind find it too sappy, but somehow every time I read it, it steers right past the cynical outer shell and reaches the softie hidden within.
The latest discussion in the festivals of frugality about frugal vs cheap (here and here) reminded me of this story. But rather than focus on the tipping aspect, I want to focus today on the values. How many 10 year olds today who are short on cash would behave in a similar fashion? In a world where 8 year olds demand to have their own personal cell phones, where parents stand in line in front for the stores for hours to get the first box of Wii for their over-indulged kids, and where plastic is more a way of life than cold hard cash, is there any room for passing on these kind of values to our future generations? Or have they become too “old-fashioned” already?
I am an optimist to the core. Even though I am surrounded by examples to the contrary, I have hopes that we can in fact instill these values in our kids. For every 10 parents that think parenting means showering their kids with gifts and giving in to every whim, I see one or two that raise the kids to appreciate the value of money. Who teach their kids the age old values of respect and dignity; charity and generosity.
At the young age, children are like sponges. They learn an incredible amount from just observing their surroundings. And since they spend most of their time at home, learning begins at home. So, the first step towards instilling these time-old values is by example. We need to look into ourselves and see how we would behave in similar situations. It may not be obvious like an ice cream sundae that we run out of money for. How about that discussion over the kitchen counter about whether to tip the maid or not? Maybe junior is within ear shot and is learning from your hesitation to pay the tips that tipping is not that important a virtue after all. On the other hand, a kid that overhears someone compliment you about how generous you are or some other such talk, will learn to take pride in the value of giving at a very early age.
Next, we need to look at who we surround ourselves with. Are some of the friends cheapskates? We all know people like that. You know, the ones that brag about saving a few dollars because the cashier “did not count the change properly”? Our children will learn a lot from the way we interact with such people as well! It is important that we make it clear to our children at a very early age that behavior like that is not admired in our household. We need to admonish our kids when they bully other kids for lunch money or try to mooch off of other kids’ pocket money. It’s a delicate balance – to teach to generous and also be frugal, to share while still conserving. Values like this need to be taught while kids are still very young so they become second nature.