From One GeekMom To Another: Don’t Beg

Image By Rebecca Angel

Dear Caprice:

I too was a young mother, getting my degree, and not having any money to spend on “me time.” I was also a geek. Although I took my children with me to the comic book store, there were times I wanted to remember that I had a life and interests that did not involve being a mother. So I understand where you are coming from.

But when I saw your crowdfunding site to attend Otakon, I was dismayed. Should you have a weekend away from your kids? Yes! Is attending a geeky convention a great way to do it? Totally! But begging shouldn’t be your path. Begging is reserved for when your children are starving and you have no other options.

Crowdfunding is a fantastic tool for projects that require start-up capital, and the backers receive part of that project upon completion (lots of examples by artists). There are also incidents when a mother dies, leaving two young children, and the community starts a fund for the kids’ college (just happened in my town).

But asking money from internet strangers to go on vacation is akin to standing outside a movie theater begging people to buy you a ticket. You’re a mother! Be proud, resourceful, and get your priorities straight!

You are asking for $1,000. This tells me you have done no planning or creative thinking whatsoever. I went to cons when my kids were little and I had barely any money. How? Well, let me tell you from one GeekMom to another:

The Ticket: I worked at the convention and got in for free. In the last few years, I’ve been able to get a press pass through this here writing gig. Yes, if you work, you can’t go C-R-A-Z-Y because you have to, well, work. But there is always time for play. Being an adult is about balance—even on vacation.

The Food: Bring a water bottle and fill it at fountains at the convention. Go to the grocery store ahead of time and assemble sandwiches, and leave them in a cooler in your car in the garage to eat at breaks. Instant soup is also light in a bag, and all the cafes will fill up hot water for you. Make your own granola to bring along. Pretend you are your own mother—you know those fries are too expensive and won’t make you feel good anyway.

The Sleeping and Travel: Stay at someone’s house or at least share a hotel room. Travel with someone to share gas and parking. If you don’t know anyone, why are you going to a big expensive con? Go to a small, local one to meet people on the cheap instead.

The Stuff: A tiny art commission? One box of Pocky? An ice-cream treat? A fan-art keychain? Decide on one cheap thing you can spend extra money on and that’s it! To survive as a mom, you’re going to need self-control. Figure it out.

Caprice, I really hope you go to Otakon to remember that you are more than just a mom. But you need to set your sights down, realize what is financially possible, and plan ahead. And if you whine about not being able to buy that overpriced anime t-shirt, then you need to grow up. Now.

By making this post, I realize I am giving you more attention for this, but that’s OK. Personally, I’d rather give you tools than cash, so I’m not going to donate. But everyone makes their own decision visiting your crowdfunding site.

You’re going to school. Eventually, you will get a job that allows you to save enough for the geeky convention of your dreams. Just not yet. Set a good example for your kids.

Be true to your geeky self, but don’t beg.

New Research: Laundering Money To Make It Clean

Bills that are laundered can stay in circulation longer. (Photo courtesy American Chemical Society.)

We’re big on hand washing in my family, and here’s strong validation for that position: Two scientists report that high-powered laundering of paper money measurably cleans it up. This could keep it in circulation longer, offering economic and ecological benefits. As well as making it cleaner.

The researchers, Nabil M. Lawandy and Andrei Smuk, report that the main soil on banknotes is oxidized sebum, which yellows the notes over the 3-15 years of their life. Sebum is the protective oil secretion that rubs off from human skin onto the money. It is also the material that causes teenagers such dermatological agonies.

When money gets dirty enough, it is diverted to be shredded. About 150,000 tons of dirty or damaged bills go to shredding and disposal worldwide each year. Printing those 150 billion new notes costs $10 billion. Lawandy’s research team investigated whether cleaning could delay retiring bills by removing accumulated sebum.

Their approach used “supercritical” carbon dioxide (SCCO2), which behaves as both a gas and a liquid and is used in other cleaning applications. Tests on banknotes from around the world showed that supercritical carbon dioxide removed common contaminants, including oxidized sebum, motor oil, other oils, and common bacterial colonies, while also leaving anti-counterfeiting measures intact, such as holograms and phosphorescent inks. The SCCO2 cleaning procedure reduced the bulk weight of the banknotes up to 4%, indicating that quite a bit of contaminant was removed. I find that an impressive addition to the hand washing, sanitizer, sneeze etiquette, and 30-second rule.

Research: Supercritical Fluid Cleaning of Banknotes

Interview: Follow Your Money Authors Help Kids Understand Spending

Copyright Annick Press, 2013

We have a few birthdays hitting in October and as our kids get older, they’re getting more focused about the gift they want: cash, hard and cold. I’m a little worried that when benevolent grandparents slip $20 or so into the birthday cards this year, my typically mild-mannered offspring will scramble for the front door like they’re heading for the Vegas Strip.

So we’ve been having some big conversations about money and why things cost what they do. Their ages are 13, 11, and 8, and my hope is that these discussions now might help them be smart when faced with more financial freedom in high school and college. As they plunk down their bills on items like new jeans (designer vs. basic label), video games, or music downloads, I hope they begin to actually put some thought into the transactions. When my boys have their eyes on sneakers that they swear will make them jump higher, I want them thinking about what they are paying for. Not to mention how they’re paying for it.

I checked out a copy of Follow Your Money: Who Gets It, Who Spends It, Where Does It Go? (Annick Press, 2013), a new children’s book by authors Michael Hlinka, a business commentator and columnist who also teaches financial planning at George Brown College in Toronto, and Kevin Sylvester, a Canadian writer, cartoonist, and news broadcaster. They’ve created a book that engaged both me and my young readers. So I reached out to Michael and Kevin to hear more.

GeekMom: Follow Your Money does a good job of breaking the world of commerce down into terms kids can relate to. What made you want to write a finance book for children? And how hard was it to simplify the ideas into kid-friendly terms?

Follow Your Money cash
From “Follow Your Money” (Annick Press, 2013)

Michael Hlinka: I think what attracted me to this project so much was that, yes, it’s a finance book for kids… but I think it’s a finance books for kids that parents can also learn a great deal from! I’m endlessly fascinated by understanding why things cost what they do. I don’t think I’m the only one. And the funny thing is, at least from my perspective, that there was very little “simplifying” that went on. Kevin did such a beautiful job laying it out that it’s simple to follow, but to me that’s different than it being in any way “simple.”

Kevin Sylvester: Kids are a huge part of the economy, but when you say the word “economy” to them, their eyes glaze over. What we tried very carefully to do in the book was to talk about concrete situations, such as buying baseball hats and hot chocolate. There are big concepts in the book, but always seen through an everyday lens. As to why write the book, I think kids need to know where their money goes so that they can make informed decisions about what they buy.

GM: In our house, your sections on going to the movies and buying awesome sneakers really resonated. What do you hope kids take away from Follow Your Money?

Michael: I hope that they take away that the VAST majority of what most things cost isn’t a function of the “raw materials.” Rather it’s the value-added along the way that goes into it.

Kevin: The biggest thing for me, and something I stress when I talk to kids in schools, is that the economy is not a “get-rich-quick” scheme. Profit margins on almost everything are slim. Everyone has to work hard to make something lots of people will want (such as a good book).

GM: When it comes to kids making money, not just spending it, I am torn. Allowance or no allowance? My husband is for it, but I think kids should be expected to help run a house without a financial reward. Am I missing a teaching opportunity?

Michael: I see your point regarding no allowance. But I think you might be missing a teaching opportunity. The allowance process, it seems to me, is a very good first step at budgeting for children: “If I want to go to that movie with my friends next weekend, it means I can’t buy anything this weekend.”

Kevin: I think an allowance is crucial. Kids need to see real money and need to make financial decisions. An allowance isn’t just a reward for getting chores done. It doesn’t even need to be linked to tasks. But kids need to see how money actually works, and how you need to make sacrifices sometimes and budget all the time.

GM: Some families take a save-share-spend approach for kids’ finances: one-third gets plunked into savings, one-third goes to a charity of their choice, and one-third goes to their wallet to spend as they like. Do you have another approach to recommend?

Michael: I don’t want to quibble with the percentages because I whole-heartedly embrace this approach. I know that I’ve always had a very good discipline when it came to saving, and it started when I was very young. When money came into my hands, the understanding was that we would bank most of it, then only spend after that.

Kevin: I think that formula is great. My own approach is don’t spend any money you don’t already have. My Uncle Grant was a financial adviser, and he told the story about the money jar. You want something? Then plop a jar down and put all your spare change in the jar. You don’t buy what you want until the jar is full.

GM: With the ease of paying by plastic or even by phone, the actual process of making a purchase feels quick and painless. Without the physical transaction of kids pulling their own dollar bills from their pockets and paying for items, you can see how spending can get out of control. Do you think it’s harder to teach today’s kids about spending?

Michael: Unquestionably it’s harder with plastic and various payment methods—which just ups the need for higher levels of financial sophistication.

Kevin: YES. One of reasons we wrote the book was that we felt kids were losing that tangible connection with real money and what spending actually looks and feels like. Cell phones are a good example of this, which is why we put in a blurb about the hidden costs of extra minutes and texts.

GM: What’s the best advice you have for GeekMoms to help their kids understand money?

Michael: Translate spending into hours. If you’re providing your children an allowance for helping out around the home/doing chores, let them know how many hours it would take to pay for a week’s worth of groceries! I think that all of a sudden, your children will be far more appreciative of your efforts… and much more careful with money!

Kevin: Keep track of finances together. Let the kids see your bills. Let them see how much electricity, heat, mortgages cost—and then link that to their actions. Every time you keep the fridge door open, it costs money. Every time you go over the limit on internet usage, it costs money. Maybe the price of their favorite chocolate bar, maybe the cost of a computer game. We tried throughout the book to make the costs and amounts stay in line with numbers kids themselves might spend.