We had a big event last week: my daughter lost her first tooth Thursday night.
As you would expect of any kid of five and a half, my daughter was super excited by the prospect of her first visit from the tooth fairy. We had to take pictures. We had to call Granddaddy. We had to carefully examine the tooth, and the toothless gum, and speculate about the missing tooth’s barely wiggling neighbor.
I carefully took the tiny tooth and placed it in a plastic sandwich bag. I was more than a little sad. Here was more incontrovertible evidence that my baby was no longer a baby. Permanent teeth were arriving, and soon enough it would be acne, drivers licenses, and college graduations. Her childhood was speeding away.
But I wouldn’t be the one who ended up in tears.
The Lost Lost Tooth
My first inkling that we might be in trouble came when Little Bit announced from inside the bathroom that she had brushed her tooth “to get the blood off for the tooth fairy.”
“Put it back in the bag so we can put it under your pillow,” I said automatically.
Little Bit went into her room with her Kindle, ostensibly to play with dolls. Ten minutes later, Jon and I heard inconsolable crying.
“Mommy, I lost my tooth!”
I went into her room. “It’s not in the bag?”
“No, I took it out to look at it and I was jumping on the bed and I LOST MY LOST TOOTH and now I’m never going to get a dollar!” She wailed.
“Oh, honey…let’s see if we can’t find it.”
A tiny baby tooth is not easy to find in a bed full of blankets, sheets and comforters, or on a floor full of scattered dolls and Legos. The lost tooth remained…lost. My daughter’s anticipated financial windfall was disappearing before her eyes.
I believe in teaching kids responsibility for their actions, and the tooth was lost because my daughter took the tooth out of the baggie instead of tucking it carefully under her pillow.
Yeah, I didn’t take that opportunity to teach her responsibility and good asset management. I took her by the hand to the kitchen, tore a sheet of paper from the grocery list pad, and wrote
Dear Tooth Fairy
I was so excited that I lost my lost tooth. Please find it so you can give me money.
And then she signed her first and last name. I placed the note in the now empty baggie, and we tucked it under her pillow. And then I tucked my bawling little girl into bed, reassured her that the tooth fairy would help her out, and kissed her goodnight.
Sure enough, the tooth fairy came and placed a dollar under the pillow.
Thinking about Windfalls and Money Lost
If only it was that easy for adults.
My daughter is five and a half, and we decided to give her some leeway when she let a windfall fade away.
She was celebrating the money gained from selling the tooth that had gotten in the way of a new bigger and better tooth, and then she lost her merchandise. She should have lost her windfall.
Instead, her dad and I decided to change the rules of exchange. The Tooth Fairy was paying for the rites of passage and the empty space, not the actual tooth.
I used to be just as bad. Okay, I don’t remember losing my lost teeth, but there were plenty of opportunities I didn’t take to enhance my money position with windfalls when my income regularly exceeded my needs.
- I paid for clothes and other things I didn’t use.
- I let rebates go uncashed.
- I increased my entertainment spending (i.e. going out to eat, etc).
- I dragged my feet when it came to making changes that would save money instead of making them as soon as I made the decision to change.
Too bad I can’t just write notes to change the terms of some of my own lost money opportunities.
“Dear Phone Store. I lost all of the information for the rebate for the phone I bought. Can you please look it up in your records so I can still get the rebate?”
“Dear Gym, I know I paid for months of gym membership that I did not use at all. Can I have that money back please?”
When times are rough, it’s easier to focus on making the most of your savings opportunities. You tend not to let your savings and windfalls go, because you need them to make ends meet.
When times are good, it can be really easy to let some of your money opportunities fade away. If you have enough income to meet your needs and your goals, it’s easy to say “oh, never mind” when getting some money (or stopping yourself from spending) takes a little extra effort. It’s easy to be careless or a little lazy or forgetful.
But you need to take advantage of your windfalls, even when times are good. Actually, you need to take advantage of your windfalls ESPECIALLY when times are good.
Yes, extra money when you don’t need it is easy to fritter away on more useless stuff. But it’s also easier to put to work making you even more money. Imagine if every tax refund, rebate, coupon savings and gift of money went towards savings or investment. Would life be better with a little regular interest or dividend income?
Imagine if all your windfalls went towards paying off your mortgage or cars or student loans early. Would life be better if you finished paying off debt earlier rather than later?
Imagine if all your windfalls went toward maxing out your retirement savings or 529 plans for your kids. Would life be better if you didn’t have to worry about covering big expenses later?
Even if you want to give yourself a treat, imagine if you used even half your windfalls on savings or additional debt payments. Would you be making your life better long term? Would that make it easier for you?
So don’t lose your lost teeth! The Tooth Fairy might forgive your carelessness if you misplace or fritter away your assets, but she’s the only one. You just might miss that dollar later.
What lost opportunities have you regretted? What do you think is the best approach for windfalls and money saved?