Monday, February 25, 2008

Another Money Story

"Mom, you need to help me figure out how much tax!" Max exclaimed. He was working on more ornaments to add to his little metal Batman lunchbox. He was getting ready to make his first sales call, to neighbor and friend Jackie. I told him he could not sell any more ornaments to memebers of his household until he found some other customers. He had developed a habit of asking us to buy ornaments at key times, such as right before allowance payday, when his room wasn't clean and he didn't feel like cleaning it, or right before a trip to Target, the home of overpriced, rarely-played-with trading cards.

"You don't need to charge tax on your bead ornaments," I told him. "Don't worry about it." I didn't think his sales will be high enough to warrant reporting or sales tax.

"Why-eye?" he whined. Oh, boy. I should have known better than to expect a simple, 'Okay, Mom.'

"Why-eye?" He asked again. The whining grew louder and unpleasantly high-pitched. I decided to try ignoring him. Who would have thought that timeless advice my mom used to give me about my brothers would also be a tactic I would have to use with my own boys?

"He's rich enough," Max stated firmly.


"The goverment."

We had shared countless discussions about the government in recent years. He knew about the Republican party, the Democratic party, and several of their key issues. He has a basic understanding of party platforms. We have talked about sales tax, income tax, and property tax. He knows about representatives, governors, and presidential elections. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My gifted, political, civic-minded eight year-old thinks the taxes go to one person? Where did that notion come from? Our discussion about Uncle Sam? Does Max think that the Uncle Sam we know was actually born instead of created to boost Army recruitment and foster American pride?

"The government is not one person," I reminded Max.

"But he has enough money already," Max said again, as if he hadn't even heard me.

My little entreprenuer had a new plan, another source of income. Can you guess? He wanted to collect sales tax on his ornaments, a whopping seven percent, and pocket the money. What next? Does this mean we I have to present a homeschool lesson on income tax evasion, money laundering, embezzling, and mail fraud? Or will he just take my word for it, that eight year-olds cannot collect sales tax and keep it to buy trading cards?

"He has enough money to pay all those state bills."

Okay, so some of our discussions have been filed away in his beautiful long-term memory. But I guess we do need to talk about budget deficits and the national debt after all.

"Max, that would be against the law, to collect sales tax and keep it for yourself."

We discussed this point for a few minutes, which consisted mostly of me repeating that same sentence over and over again, and him saying over and over again, "Why-eye?" I also reminded him that Daddy pays the sales tax he collects on copiers to the government. It didn't help.

Max decided to change his approach. The 'against the law' conversation wasn't working in his favor. Max's career choices currently include bead business owner, chemist, and writer. Perhaps I add trial lawyer to the list of "things Max would be good at," since he loves debating, is effective at steering arguments in his desired direction, and he is darn determined to win.

"Why does Bill Gates still have a job?" Here was approach number two. I tried to follow his line of thinking. Okay, not fair that we can't keep sales tax for ourselves. So why would people that have enough money already want to bother with working? That's a reasonable argument, however flawed, that I'm sure all have us have had on a Monday morning or two in our lives.
Max continued, "He's so rich, he could live off his interest for the rest of his life."

I tried my own courtroom-at-the-table approach: distraction. "What would you do if you had that much money?"

"I would buy all the Lego sets I want. Actually," he continued, his eyes lighting up with delight, "I would close down all the Targets so I could buy all their merchandise." Make no mistake, Max does not want to shut down Target Corporation (even though he does want to collect taxes and pocket them). He actually loves Target immensely, because of the copious amounts of toys available for perusal on many of our grocery shopping trips, as well as our family ties to that corporation. Even more importantly, he and Mitchell share a secret fantasy to deplete the entire company of the boys' favorite toys, like Legos and games for their electronic gaming systems. They often scheme about ways to earn that much money when they are sharing a snack or hiding out in their latest fort. "We would be famous!" they often exlaim in hushed whispers.

Meanwhile, throughout this long, somewhat twisted, very lively, and highly entertaining conversation, Mitchell is sitting with us at the table, quietly working on his own bead ornament. His approach is much more direct and simple. He has already placed a dozen colorful pony beads on his pipe cleaner, and he probably has forty more to go before I twist it into a wreath-shaped circle. "I'm making this ornament," he said. "I'm going to sell it for thirty dollars."

"That's kind of a lot of money for one ornament," I told him gently. "It's very pretty," I added. "You would probably sell more ornaments if you lowered your price."

"That's okay," he said. Mitchell's goal was not to sell a lot of ornaments, like his brother aspired to do. Mitchell just wanted thirty bucks to buy a Star Wars Lego game for his Nintendo DS. He doesn't want to bother with whining or going door-to-door selling his creations or waiting several weeks or months. He knows that selling one special ornament for thirty dollars would theoretically be much less work than all of that. He just needs to find a willing buyer to finance his purchase. And Max needs to find another way to add some bang to his buck, although I'm sure he will still do it "the hard way," with the door-knocking and the tiny suitcase full of sparkling bead creations ... and don't forget the whining.

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