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Balancing act: Greg Kratz: Daughter impresses with frugal habits

Every now and then, my children will do or say something that reminds me they're watching every move I make.Too often, they mimic my more unfortunate habits, embarrassing me and earning me a sidelong glance of exasperation from my wife.But something one of my daughters told me last week made me happy. And when she said she learned her positive behavior from my wife and me, I was even happier!My 9-year-old daughter participated in the Kids' Marketplace program along with other third-graders in her school. She and her classmates left their regular studies one day and went to the school gym. As they walked in, they were given a card that indicated their occupation and their salary for the purposes of the activity."My job was a cosmetologist," my daughter says. "It's somebody who does facials and stuff, and hair."She wants to be a pediatrician someday, which she says means, "I'm going to need a lot of school." But for this particular day, she was a cosmetologist."Then we went to the bank and got our money," she says. For her, that meant a $200 salary."And then you would go to the different tables, and there was the bank, and then there was a pet store," she says.Other tables offered housing, clothing, transportation, groceries and "fun." At each table, the children decided what to buy, and the adult working at the station noted it on the card — and deducted its cost from each child's salary.For housing, my daughter decided to rent an apartment. She bought a bus pass instead of a car."They said that, since I only had $200, it would be better if I got an apartment," she says. "I wanted to get a bus pass, because I didn't want to lose a lot of money. I also just didn't want to get a car."She says there was a reason for her saving, and it's one that resonated with me considering the economic times in which we live."It's so if I need to go to school again, if I lose this job, I can go to school again with money in the bank and get a new job," she says.Along those lines, when it came time to buy clothes, she opted for items available from a garage sale instead of fancier clothes from a store. She did "purchase" a pet rabbit, and she went swimming for fun."Swimming was only $1, and a telephone was $4, and a cell phone was $5," she says. "I like to swim."The bottom line for my frugal little girl: From her $200 salary, she was able to put $74 in the bank. That's an impressive savings rate!She says some children ran out of money, and one boy had to sell his new truck to make ends meet. Other children saved more than she did, but many of them had been given higher-paying jobs as they entered the gym."This one boy in my class, he got real fancy clothing, but he had money left because he had more money than I did," she says.And where did my daughter learn her fiscal conservatism?"I learned it from you and Mommy," she says. (Ka-ching!) "Mom is always like, 'This is kind of expensive. Let's not get this.' And you're always like, 'How much did you spend?' And she tells you, and you say, 'So you spent this much? So we have this much left.'"That's a fairly accurate representation of basic financial conversations around our house, and they don't embarrass me at all. We always have been open with our children about the resources we have available and how we use them. I guess I just didn't think they were paying attention that closely.My daughter says she had fun during Kids' Marketplace, and it's apparent to me that she has learned some valuable money lessons early in life, both at home and at school.Well done, my little saver. I'm sure you'll be an outstanding "kid doctor" someday!