Did I just get bribed to do a good deed?

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The other day I was going through my oldest daughter's book bag and found a note aimed at all of the parents. The school was asking each family to give their child a dollar to donate to a fund-raiser being held for a family in Cincinnati. I mentioned the fund-raiser to Isabelle, who is 6 and in kindergarten. She took in the information I gave her and then very sweetly and somewhat concerned asked, "Daddy, do we have a dollar?"

I smiled at the innocent question before thinking, "Well, in this household, it's probably a reasonable question." Still, I found it endearing, since even on our worst days, we generally have a dollar, maybe even several dollars... somewhere... in the couch cushions. And so I assured my daughter that I had a dollar, and she could take it to school.

She trotted off somewhere, and I started to admire the school. To help get parents to reach into their pockets, the school promised that the children whose parents participated would get to wear pajamas to school and participate in a party and see a movie. Since this was going to happen on Valentine's Day, when a party for the kids were already scheduled, I assumed that everyone would see the film and be in the party--but the kids whose families donated, would get to wear their night clothes.

And, of course, I was going to give Isabelle the dollar--to help her have a fun day and to know that we'd be helping a family. But I couldn't help think: Did they just bribe me in order to do a good deed?

And then later I started doing some research on the family, when writing this post, thinking that maybe I'd try to give them some publicity by submitting a link to a story about their plight. And if I found the correct family that this fund raiser is going to be helping, the mother has recently been indicted for writing over $2,000 in bad checks last year. I'm not against the fund raiser. There are a lot of kids in the family, but suddenly it put this family in a different light, or at least the mother.

I'm not quite sure what I'm getting at here, except that when it comes to money, it's often not green: it's gray. And that makes it even harder to teach your kids about money, how it's important, why it's important, why it makes some people do dumb things, and still others to do illegal things

I've been trying to teach Isabelle and our four-year-old daughter, Lorelei, about money ever since they were born, I guess. OK, maybe I waited until they were six or seven weeks, but you get the idea. I've thought it was important to teach a child the value of money, ever since I started collecting debt in my twenties, right after college, and I had that notion validated today when I was doing an interview for a publication with Thom J. Fox, the community outreach coordinator of the Cambridge Credit Counseling Corporation in Agawam, Massachusetts. He was telling me how important it is for little kids to learn about money at a young age, since , if you don't, you tend to grow up to be the sort who leaves college and buys a plasma TV before realizing that should have been allotted for the rent money.

No, I didn't do anything like that. They didn't have plasma TVs 15 years ago. No, I bought a sporty-looking car that I couldn't afford.

"It really does fall down on the parent on educating kids about money," said Fox, before adding, "although unfortunately so often the kids are getting their education from people who still don't understand how to read credit card statements."

Since he doesn't know me, I don't think he was referring to me, and he wasn't being a jerk when he said that; after all, we were talking about how credit cards are often misused. Still, what struck me was that he didn't sound like he was being condescending, just very matter-of-fact. And that's when he told me about a web site called It's a Habit. It's aimed at children from ages three to 10 and features a character called Sammy Rabbit. And the motto? "Changing Children's Lives One Dime at a Time."

So naturally after we said our good-byes and hung up, I logged onto the web site and did a quick look at the landscape. It appears promising, I have to say, and just what any young child could use, years before navigating the complex world of interest rates and private mortgage insurance. Sammy Rabbit is colorful and cute, as is the entire web site, though I couldn't help but notice one of the colors appropriately displayed in some of the background on the home page: gray.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale, 2007).

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