Kids Throwing Money Away at the Mall

photo by Narith5 at

Yesterday, I went to the mall. (What can I say? I got one of those free panty coupons from Victoria Secret, so I made the trek.) Of course, I wound up in one store and then another, and somehow I found myself inside Abercrombie and Fitch for kids. I confess, I had never been in that particular store before, but my son’s 11th birthday is coming up, and I was lured in with the promise of a BIG SALE inside.

Once I made it to the back of the store (where they apparently hide the BIG SALE items), I met a blond-haired, 13-year old boy who was also shopping the sale rack.

“These are a good deal,” he said enthusiastically pointing at a brownish pair of distressed shorts with a thick belt. “Only $19.99,” he continued. “It’s, like, unheard of in here.” I told the boy – let’s call him Spaulding – that I’d never been in the store before and he took me under his protective, scrappy, teenage-wing and showed me what he considered to be the best deals.

After Spaulding happily made his purchase, he received a lovely, thick bag with substantial navy fabric handles. He also received $0.79 cents in change.

“You can keep the change,” he announced, grabbing his bag.

“I can’t,” said the cashier. “I’m not allowed to put it in the drawer. It messes up accounting at the end of the day.”

“Well, just keep it then,” insisted Spaulding.

“I’m not allowed to do that,” the employee protested, placing Spaulding’s coins on the table in front of her.

Spaulding grabbed the coins and looked around. He quickly located a tiny garbage can near the check-out desk – where people who have sprayed samples of cologne toss their tiny unwanted paper squares of fragrance, and he threw his change in the garbage.

photo by wellohorid @

My jaw dropped.

I could not believe that I had witnessed a kid throwing out a few dimes short of a dollar.

Once, when I was about 10 years old, I made the mistake of tossing out a few pennies while emptying out a junk drawer, and my father gave me a lecture that I would never forget. It started generally – how people come to this country with big dreams and nothing in their pockets – and moved to the specific at which point he explained that he worked his ass off every day to make sure that our family had everything that we needed, and he’d be damned if I was going to be so ungrateful and selfish (*insert in a few million more shameful terms here*) as to throw away money, even a penny, when there were people starving all over the world, people who would love to have my pennies. Let’s just say, the speech made a major impression.

Meanwhile, back at the mall, I couldn’t help myself. I retrieved Spaulding’s coins and prepared to go on a hunt to find him.

He hadn’t gone far as he was, in fact, sitting on a bench right in front of Abercrombie & Fitch for kids.

“Excuse me,” I started. “I don’t mean to be all stalker-y. . . but I got your change for you.”

Spaulding looked bewildered.

“Oh,” he said, “I didn’t want it.”

I must have looked at him as if he had grown a second head because he added, “I don’t have a place to put them,” he shrugged. “I mean, no pockets or anything.”

He explained he’d brought his $25 to the mall stashed in his left sock.

I asked him if he received an allowance, and he said that he did.

“Ten dollars a week,” he said for making his bed, putting his dishes in the dishwasher, and doing his homework. He added that sometimes he didn’t get the full amount if he didn’t do everything he was supposed to do, but most of the time his parents just gave him the full amount because it was easiest to give him a $10 bill rather than have him argue with them, which he would inevitably do.

I couldn’t help myself.

I lectured him.

I explained to him that our economy is a train-wreck, that people have lost their jobs and their homes and cars; that folks can’t pay their bills or afford to send their kids to college. I told him that in extreme cases people are eating out of dumpsters, that they would have loved to have had his loose change.

“I get that you don’t have pockets, but how about you just put the change in there,” I pointed at his new A&F bag and noisily deposited the coins inside.

Spaulding shrugged. “I didn’t think about it,” he said in earnest. “Honestly, I just don’t like change.”

“Listen,” I said, trying not to get all preachy because I work with students and I know that preachy tone doesn’t work, but – again – I couldn’t help myself. “I’m guessing that your parents work really hard for that money and they would not be thrilled to know that you are throwing away your allowance. When you go home, get a mug or a bowl – some kind of container that you like – and just start throwing your spare change in there. You’ll be amazed at how fast it adds up. And if you really don’t want the change, make a wish and toss it in one of the fountains because that money goes to charity.” I paused dramatically. “Just don’t throw your money in the garbage, okay?”

I turned my back on Spaulding or Trevor or Hunter or whatever his real name was and returned to the store where I asked the cashier is she had ever seen anything like what had just happened.

“Like what?” she asked absently.

“Like kids choosing to leave their change behind rather than take it? Like kids literally throwing their money away?”

“Oh that,” said the cashier, looking more than a little bored. “It happens all the time. Probably every day.”

I was horrified, and I made it my mission to ask a few more cashiers to see if what I had witnessed in one store was just a weird anomaly to be discounted or if it was truly as commonplace as the bored Abercrombie girl made it sound. I wish I could say it was a one-time thing, but I was astounded to learn that every single checkout person reported that he or she had been in a situation where people had elected to leave their change behind rather than take it.

What is going on? Spaulding doesn’t like carrying coins? You’ve got to be kidding me? I’m telling you, this boy was a kind, decent boy. But he is obviously also a spoiled, entitled boy who has grown up with little sense of gratitude or appreciation. He receives $10 a week for doing things some folks would consider expected household chores. And he gets his money whether he does them all or not. Young Spaulding clearly knows how to work his parents.

I’m worried. These young people are making their way into our work force, ill prepared for its realities. They expect praise and rewards for performing routine tasks. I see them in my classroom at my community college already; they expect A’s, even if their product is mediocre. A colleague recently remarked that today’s young people expect “a trophy for simply showing up.” Clearly, many children of this “gift-card” generation do not understand the idea of saving one’s coins, or delaying gratification. How could they when their parents have given them everything they could possibly want? In fact, they have been given so much, they don’t even need to keep the change.

What have we done? Why did we do it?

20 thoughts on “Kids Throwing Money Away at the Mall

  1. So when do these stores begin putting a DONATION cup by the register? G-d forbid we teach this group of kids to do something meaningful with the extra money which clearly “weighs them down.”

  2. I figured, when I saw the title of this post next to an Abercrombie logo, that you would talk about how ridiculously high the prices are at that store, and how stupid it is that kids spend all their money there for clothes that they wear once or twice and never again. When I was in high school, that was the only cool place to shop, and my parents categorically refused to get me clothes from there because the prices were so absurd.

    But the actual throwing the money in the garbage? Not surprising to me. My fiance also doesn’t like change; he will occasionally toss pennies on the ground for others to find and keep rather than put them in his pockets. (He would never throw them in the trash, though.) I’m just surprised that the kid couldn’t realize that $0.79 was almost a tenth of his weekly allowance. Not a very bright boy.

    And how did he not have pockets? Even boys’ bathing trunks generally have pockets!

  3. As a mother of five each of my kids have had a milk (or in our house a gallon wine jar, lol) to save change in. We call it a Christmas fund. Now my middle daughter is the best she comes home from work and puts her dollars in it. They all have savings accounts (some are better savers then others) And if they need money they have to work for it (even the 13 year. old) Nothing’s free in real life why should it be free in our house? Obviously, we get basics, but if you want something more than Sauve shampoo or Fruit of the Loom value pack undies, you’re gonna do it with your own money. Why, because those are called “luxuries”!

    Not saying I don’t get dirty looks or “whatever mom,” but I have to put my “am I being a good parent?” guilt aside and know that in the long run a little discomfort and hard work is going to help them even though it doesn’t seem like that in the moment. Our parents did do somethings right, didn’t they? Why must we always go the polar opposite? We hurt our children with our “kindness” (which is really our own guilt), and really, people, where the hell does all this guilt come from? BTW Renee, you crazy Momma, how much did you freak this kid out chasing him into the mall? LOL!!! You’re a riot!

  4. The only thing wrong with having a donation cup at a register is that it will support some organization that the customer doesn’t and it will piss them off. I know I know… seems stupid but that is the thought from the big corporations.

    We had gallon jugs and penny containers everywhere. We had a huge jug at one point get stolen probably because it was primarily silver. Before we moved I decided to roll some of what had accumulated and put it to use. I ended up with about $40 and I didn’t even get it all rolled! I have a box of change wandering around here somewhere that I need to finish!

    Our kids definetly keep the change. It is sad and scary to me that parents aren’t shopping with their kids and teaching them good habits before they let them loose. It doesn’t seem like the kid had somewhere to be since he was sittin’ there on that bench. He could easily have made the trek with his new jeans to deposit the coins in the mall fountain.

    The only place I don’t keep the change is at restaurants. It’s not like the kid has been given a twenty to pay the paper boy/girl anymore.
    Dad: “Tell him to keep the change”
    Kid: “OK Dad!”
    kid comes to the door probably realizing that I’ve heard the conversation…
    Kid (quietly): “I’ll need $5 of this back”
    Me ” Yeah, thanks kid.”
    Devious, but smart – and I had to respect that. Kids don’t see parents handling cash like they used to.

    Money particularly right now is a hard topic to discuss with young kids they know times are tough. It’s pretty embarrassing when money lessons are being re-taught to us by a rough economy. I bet there are a whole host of families who miss being able to lose change in the sofa and not worry about it. Many of those families miss the sofa in general.

  5. @Heather – you crack me up! I delivered newspapers, too – and there were very few customers who made it a habit to say “keep the change” every month!

    Re: the shopping experience, though, I was completely astonished that Spaulding threw away his change. I mean, I’m an adult and if I see a penny, I pick it up – why not? Money is money! And sometimes I feel a little self-conscious about it, like I should leave it for some little kid to find.

    My daughter witnesses me getting sticker shock frequently enough that when she shops, she’ll be scornful about the price of some items and recite the places she could go and get two for the price of that one garment.

    Throwing away change, though? AAAACK! I’ll go live at that kid’s house and make my bed for ten dollars a week!

    1. Kathy,
      I was an AWESOME paperkid! The good news for me was that even though the kid took the $5 I ended up with a $3 tip for that month. Papers for a month (weekly & sunday was only like $12 back in the day. I had a GREAT neighborhood too.
      Miss the days of paper kids.

      Found money is even more fabulous than earned money! I also pick up the pennies and other change I see on the ground particularly if I drop it!!!! I don’t care how long the grocery line is!

  6. Wow, this makes me kind of sick. I cannot believe this is commonplace…just can’t believe it! Also, I’m trying to visualize this interaction between you and Spaulding…man I wish I could have been there for that one. I can totally understand why you wouldn’t be able to help yourself!

    Twice since I’ve lived in Boston, I’ve seen teenage boys nonchalantly throw trash on the ground as they’re walking down the street. As if it was so common for them to do it, they didn’t even think about it. I was not as brave as you however, and didn’t go after them. Man did I want to though. I couldn’t even imagine doing these things. What is up with parents these days who instill these kinds of values?! Also, do you think this is more likely to occur with boys than girls?

  7. I’ve got nothing to say to this…no respose that I can put into writing. Well done, I’m speechless!

  8. Today, I was asked if I wanted my penny (change) back from the very young cashier. I said of course I do!

  9. It is sad that kids do not respect the value of money. It clearly comes from the parents. I was recently on a subway in Toronto. Keep in mind the subway in Toronto is not like New York; this one is very clean. I watched a mom let her son drink his pint container of chocolate milk. When he was done he handed it to his well-to-do mother who calmly placed the milk carton, and the straw next to it, on the floor just under their feet. I looked at his mother who gently smiled. I looked at that lone chocolate milk container and straw and wondered why she could not hold the container or place it in her purse. It occurred to me that in her world she saw this as acceptable, that someone would pick it up for her. Maybe she thought it was bio-degradable? I think not. I did not say anything to her as it is not my place to save her, but it did make me realize how adult entitlement leads to childhood entitlement.

  10. Disgusting. I also can’t stand the sight of teens throwing garbage around the street. Their parents should be ashamed. If they even know about it and that is the most of the problem. The kid could have at least thrown the change in the fountain.

  11. Re your comments about the community college. I too work at a local college and see the same thing every day. Some students are actually paid to attend but do little or no work, achieve poor grades and then complain about it. Buying books etc is unheard of as they are ‘too expensive’ yet they all have up-to-date mobile (cell) phones and other ‘essential’ gadgets.

  12. I read this post a while back and although it made me think, I had not seen anything similar happen. Then the other day I was at Starbucks and a high school student was in front of me in line. She paid and should have received 2 cents in change, but she walked away without taking it. The cashier said, “You forgot your change,” and the teen said, “I don’t want it…keep it.” The cashier said, “I can’t just keep it,” and the teen said, “Just put it in the tip jar. It isn’t worth it.” (I assumed she meant the five step trek back to the counter to collect the 2 cents, or maybe she meant the weight of carrying it around with her).

    I am not sure if I hadn’t seen someone act like that before or if I had not noticed it until I read your post, but I wanted the cashier to respond….thanks…it means something to me….

    1. Wow, that attitude is really insulting to the cashier! If the teen wants to give a tip, then she should tip properly. Two pennies hardly counts as a tip. She did the same thing as “Spaulding.” She treated her money as if it was unimportant, as if she were above the coins. The student wasn’t acting out of kindness or generosity of spirit. To me, that kind of giving (coupled with those kind of words) is the worst kind of entitled attitude. Sigh. Forget the money, I wonder what that teen’s parents would say about her comment.

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