When Kids Pay with Money

Josie Leavitt - July 29, 2009

I love summer; it’s a great time to be a bookseller in a small town. Kids as young as seven ride their bikes to the store from their houses in the village. No one ever uses the bike rack, they just drop their bikes on the lawn and hang their helmets on the handle bars of bikes and bustle into the store.

There is freedom in coming to the store alone. Kids can browse without parental hindrance or guidance. The only thing that needs to happen is the kids need to have money. Now, money to grown-ups often comes out of a wallet or perhaps a pocket. With kids, it’s a little different.

Kid money sometimes comes out of a wallet. Oddly these days that wallet is made out of duct tape. I don’t really understand how the dollars just don’t ripped or stuck, but they don’t seem to. Did you know duct tape comes in a variety of colors that extend far beyond silver and black? I’ve seen red, blue and even purple.

Kid money, though, mostly comes in the forms of balls. Balls of dollar bills wrapped tightly around a core of coins. These balls appear from the depths of backpacks or are held, clutched in small hands until the first layer of dollars is just a little damp. In all the anxiety of picking the right book, sometimes these money balls get squeezed, almost like a hand exerciser. Ringing up a ball of money takes a long time. What seems like a lot of money usually turns out to be not quite enough. First you have to peel the ball apart carefully so as not to rip the bills. Then you lay them out flat and then you count the coins. I once had a kid who had ten dollars in quarters wrapped by twelve singles — pretty impressive. I really wanted to iron the bills; they were so wrinkled, they would not lie flat in the cash register drawer.

My favorite kid with money is the really little kid. The one who is still learning what the coins mean, the one who comes in with Mom and Dad. These kids have bags of change, or in several cases, they just bring their piggy bank right into the store. It always breaks my heart a little to see a kid shaking that last dime out of Miss Bianca (as one girl named her bank) to see if she had enough money to get her early reader. And what kills me is they never factor in tax. Ever. So now you’ve spent ten minutes watching some little person struggle to organize and count out the coins. Sometimes they start over several times to get the counting out rhythm right. I let them do it all rather than leap in. It’s cute to watch, and how else are they going to learn? They count and then they come up short. They ask again what the total is, $5.25 I tell them. They have $4.83.

At this point, little lips start quavering. This is the one time I get to be a magician. We always have a stash of change for just these occasions. For some reason there are lots of adults who no longer want their change and they basically donate it back to the store, so we use for the kids. With a flourish, I add the missing forty two cents. Smiles abound.

I like being the place where children can count out their grubby money and not feel rushed. It’s oddly cozy for me to watch and listen as little kids count out coins and bills. And what really thrills me is these kids are saving their allowance for books. Imagine, saving money to buy books! The best part about this is the kids usually hug their book on the way out of the store.

Oh, and what’s really interesting is, kids always want a bag.

23 thoughts on “When Kids Pay with Money

  1. kim j

    Love it, Josie. I would’ve been one of those little kids. I remember agonizing over buying just ONE Nancy Drew, back when the cover was yellow.

  2. Jazz

    I think kids see bags as proof that they bought their own book. When I worked at Borders, siblings always wanted separate bags for their books, even if they weren’t the ones paying. It is territorial (and adorable).

  3. Kristi

    LOVE this post. My kids do exactly that and it’s so nice to have a place that has the patience to let them learn. And yes, the bag makes it a real purchase! Thank you on behalf of all the lucky kids that you serve! Precious – and so precious that they will spend their saved money on reading – sure beats video games! 🙂

  4. Mary Quattlebaum

    Oh, this is wonderful. I remember going with my sister to the Little Professor bookshop where remainders were 19 cents. We had endless discussions about which books to buy since our understanding was that we would choose books the other also wanted to read. We’d bring them home and read long into the summer night, eating handfuls of Krafts caramels that we’d sneak into our shared bedroom. Thanks for the chance to reminisce!

  5. Mila R

    Josie — you should make a picture book out of this post! The description are very vivid and, I imagine, would make a very cute picture book 🙂 Great post!

  6. Kat Kan

    It’s really neat to know a bookstore does this with the kids. I see it once a year when I run the school’s book fair in the library. I’m the main cashier, and I see a lot of the same thing. We’ve never had the extra change to help the kids – that would come out of my own wallet, or kids would ask their friends for the last dime, or quarter, or whatever was needed. And yes, they never do figure in the tax. However, by the third day of the book fair, a lot of them were asking me what something would cost “with the tax.” So they will learn.

  7. Slyfoxvirden

    Spot On, Josie. Your comments mirror my experience over the past 11 years with theyongsters who visit and shop in my store. And, yes, I have to remind them about the tax. Sometimes, a youngster will come in, browse, and then ask what a particular book will cost. I’ll quote the price with tax. Then, a day or two later the youngster returns and buys the book. But the number of kids with money of their own seems to have declined ever since gas prices took a leap upward. George Rishel, The Sly Fox bookstore in Virden, Illinois


    So cute! Not quite the same, but last week two girls in my neighborhood were selling lemonade to raise enough money to see the Harry Potter movie. Their goal was to raise not only enough for their tickets but also for one adult to take them. I offered to be the one but their Dad won out!

  9. Richard from Australia

    I love the fact they ride their bikes to the store and there’s a lawn out the front to dump them on. For me it was Three Investigators books. And yes, my mates and I would shop in a pack to make sure we could share the books around afterwards. Thanks for jogging some happy memories.

  10. J

    This is a really nice post – I love that they can not only come to the store alone, but also leave their bikes out on the lawn. Brilliant.

  11. PublishingCentral.com

    As a kid, I spent all my money on books and candy. The bookstore and the public library were my favorite places in the world. The school library had different shelves for different grades and you HAD to pick a book from the appropriate shelf, so I abandoned all hope of getting a good read there after grade 2. Like Richard from Australia, I loved the Three Investigators. I still have the complete set I bought with my own money as a kid. Now my son drags his money to the bookstore. More often, though, he asks for gift certificates for gift and toy stores for his birthday, so he can go shopping without the coinage.

  12. Miriam Lubet

    I agree that you should turn this into a picture book. I also “help” the kids when they order from Scholastic and they don’t have enough money. If I lived near your store I’d bring my class there on a field trip.

  13. Emily

    I love that you use the take a penny, leave a penny jar (or whatever) for the kids! I worked at a chain and we were not allowed to have such a jar and the kids would have to rely on someone else to give them enough (usually grandparents or little friends). It makes me want to go to your store and leave change for the kids!

  14. Leah Warren

    We should all take a lesson from you. As a kid, I used to save my money for albums (remember those?) One particularly huffy department store cashier was absolutely fuming that she had to help me count out my coins (mostly pennies). Your patience with the little ones is to be commended.


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