Money Lessons Toddler Books Can Teach You

Andrew Dalton

If economists are to be believed -- and really when have they ever been wrong? -- getting a gift this week that's not quite your personal style could bring out your latent shopaholism.

A pair of professors in the Journal of Marketing Research say that buying or receiving just one thing from outside your comfort zone can lead to frustration -- then motivation. You immediately start buying stuff to match the new thing, then more stuff to match that, and suddenly you're in a spending spiral, then a shame spiral. (Which is best buried with food and booze spirals.) 

"You might end up buying things to match this for God knows how long," Professor Henrik Hagvedt told Discovery News. "It could lead to a virtually never-ending process of just buying more."

Liz Colville at the Hairpin says this behavior was explained in much, much simpler terms by Laura Joffe Numeroff in her book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and its many sequels:

If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If You Give a Pig a Party or If You Slip a Sloth a Roofie. Okay, I made that last one up, but doesn't it sound intriguing? I may have to move beyond just writing Twilight fan fiction and get into picture books too.

See, if you give a mouse a cookie (and please read the whole book before you try it!), he'll need a glass of milk, and then he'll need a mirror to check for stains, then he'll see his whiskers need a trim, and eventually he'll be burned out, desperate, and jonesing for another cookie fix. The book was also referenced in the Harrison Ford movie Air Force One to point out the dangers of giving in to terrorism. The lessons it teaches are endless!

Which got me to wondering what some other titles from the family picture-book shelf could teach me about personal finances. Here are valuable lessons: 

Goodnight Moon: Teaches us the value of simplicity in ownership. We have only a very few things, and we relish and savor each of them by giving each its goodnight. We even say "good night" to the room itself, and to 'nobody,' which gets downright Zen. Though as Patton Oswalt tweets, the phone must have been pissed that 'nobody' merits a goodnight but it doesn't. The book also teaches us to take stock of our belongings each night so we know in the morning whether we've been robbed and what the burglar got.  

Flat Stanley: Teaches us that we can travel cheaply, using the U.S. Mail instead of United Airlines, if only we get ourselves steamrolled. Though it was clearly written in a pre-9/11 world where mailing yourself and avoiding the TSA didn't seem suspicious. 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Teaches us to be patient in our investments. Yes, you may be losing apples at an astonishing rate today, but if you decide you just can't do it anymore, you'll just end up with a chubby caterpillar. But keep patiently feeding the beast fruits and treats and sweets through each day of the week, and eventually you'll end up with a butterfly.

So in sum: Got a cookie? Tell the mouse to suck it and give it to the caterpillar.


Images via DaniLurie/

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