Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > The Bean Girl

The Bean Girl

She was a smart, earnest and practical young lady, the daughter of a business colleague and working at our company on her first job out of college. Her dad is a very ethical guy and  made sure that his daughter didn’t have, or appear to have, any special advantage from his influence. So, because both of them are worthwhile people and without ever talking with him about it, I checked in with her now and then to be useful if I could.

During lunches and talks over the years, I was sometimes actually able to help, and it was rewarding to see a fine young person get ahead. A big bonus was to also learn more about her father. I already had a very high opinion of him, but the added perspective of an adoring daughter has marked him as one of the two or three best men it’s been my privilege to know.

One story about him stands out in particular. I’d told his daughter how practical she seemed with money, far out of the norm for a recent grad with a good job. After graciously thanking me for the compliment – she was and still is always unfailingly polite – she kiddingly said it was all her dad’s fault, him and those darn beans.

“Beans?” sez I, knowing her dad to be a top-notch finance and planning guy. Yup, beans. Then she related what was a formative experience for her.

It seems that when she was nine or ten and needed all the stuff she saw on TV or her friends had, there was a family talk at the kitchen table. Dad sat her and her brother down and informed them that after the talk, the two kids were going to decide what the family could buy from now on. The kids were ecstatic, with visions of Cool Kid Stuff almost visibly circling above their heads.

Then her dad brought out a jar and a bag of small, white beans, asking the kids to play along with him in a little game. “These beans,” he said, “are all the money in the world. Every month, I’m able to earn a hundred beans for our family.” Then, mom, dad and the two kids each counted out 25 beans and poured them into the jar. It already looked pretty empty.

Step by step, dad led the excited kids through a series of choices. They quickly agreed that they all needed food and a house and lights and water. So, dad took enough beans for those out of the jar and put them back in the bag. Then he said, “Wait! I almost forgot. The government takes taxes from what I earn before we ever see the beans.” And, this being a province in Canada and him being a middle-class guy, he took 50 more beans out of the jar.

The kids were shocked! “That’s too many!” they both cried.

And dad said, “It probably is. But we can’t change that now. And you two won’t even have a chance to change it until you can vote. So let’s just do what we can with what we have where we are.” Her dad was a Teddy Roosevelt fan, for those who recognize the words.

Now the jar looked super empty. Then, a bit more grudgingly, the kids agreed that some beans had to go for clothes. For some reason, darling daughter was much more committed on this topic than her brother. Then it was school supplies and movies and soccer and hockey. So more beans floated out of the jar. But a few were still left, and the kids clung to the tatters of their respective Cool Kid Stuff visions.

What about summer vacation; was that still something the kids wanted? Yes! And understandably so: a week in Hawaii looks really important in the middle of a Canadian winter. Even to grown-ups. Trust me.

Out of the hundred original beans in a thousand-bean jar, only three were left. But, there were still beans! And, finally, dad said, “What if something goes wrong? What if I get sick and can’t work? What if the car breaks? What if one of you needs braces?”

The two kids stared at the three lonely beans at the bottom of the jar, digging in their mental heels. “But things like that don’t happen every month!” clever daughter burst out triumphantly. “That leaves us three beans most of the time.” Cool Kid Stuff lives! she thought.

In reply, dad quietly said, “But when things go wrong, they almost always cost more than three beans, don’t they?” There was a long pause and some frown time from the kids, but they both nodded. “So, how much should we save each year to pay for things going wrong? We have 36 beans left for the whole year.

Prudent daughter thought ten would be enough. Her brother claimed that five or six should be plenty. And dad, being the guy he was, pointed out that the year before, things going wrong had cost the family 22 bean-equivalents. The kids were crushed but resolute. Finally, they got up to 15 beans and just wouldn’t budge, with daughter pointing out that if things got really bad, they could turn more lights out and drive less to save any other beans they might need.

Dad summed up. “So now we have 21 beans left for a whole year to spend on other stuff, like Christmas and Birthdays and whatever else we want, allowances for example.

In the end, each child got half a bean a month for their allowance, agreeing that the last nine beans should go for holidays and birthdays.

And that’s part of how one of the two most good-hearted people I have ever met also became one of the most practical and prudent.

If only her Canadian dad could run for a seat in the American Congress. Ah, well. We’ll just borrow 50 more beans from China for every 100 we earn because the neeeeeeed is so great. Beans are stupid anyway.

Categories: 2011 Posts, About Dave Tags: ,
  1. June 11, 2011 at 7:51 am

    What a story – and wise dad! The trouble is we ALL want everything NOW – no waiting around. Sounds like this man really had a good influence on his family. I must admit I don’t like waiting too long for what I think I need either —-
    Yes, we could do with a ‘few clever and sensible men’ both here in England and in the US.Maybe then things would change???
    The trouble here at the moment is lack of rain. The farmers are crying and praying for the ‘wet stuff’, and we do need it. Just talked to a cousin in Norway, via Skype, and where they’ve been in the north of the country it is flooded!

    Do you think Obama will win another election? I hope he does – seems a good man to me.But he has a lot of people against him in Congress, and that makes it harder to get bills passed.

    • June 12, 2011 at 7:04 am

      Glad you liked the story. Dry, in England? La Nina gave us a dusting of snow on 31 May here and 9 degress C cooler than normal for all of May and June so far. In the US, economies elect Presidents and unless ours turns around, Obama may well be a one-termer. We’ll see.

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