Both hands gripping the wheelbarrow, sleep still thick in his head, Frankie twisted to wipe an eye on his sleeve. Never excited about getting up early on a Saturday morning, but for a new bicycle, right now he’d do just about anything. It didn’t take long and he had a blanket spread out on Scrawny’s front lawn with his Pokemon books laid out and a wheelbarrow full of stuffed animals, ready for the first customer. His mom was up well past him the night before and now here she was looking all chipper at a table next to him piled high with stuff that had been collecting in their basement for nearly a year.
Frankie was the pied piper of garage sales, every kid broke tow with their mom to dive headfirst into the stuffed animals or get lost in the wheeling and dealing of Pokemon trading cards.
Long before Mrs. Scrawny, that’s what Ronnie’s buddies call his mom, would close up shop, Frankie was out of everything! That’s when he overheard a man making a deal with Mr. Scrawny for their old lawnmower. It seemed the man didn’t have enough money so he offered to write a check. That gave Frankie an idea and he was off like a shot.
“Dad!” he yelled as the screen door stretched to the limit of its hinges then sprang closed. “I know how we can get my new bike right now!” Frankie dropped a bunch of wadded up dollar bills on the counter where Dad was making a sandwich then spilled coins all over the place.
“That’s a great start, but I think you’re gonna need a little more than that.”
“We don’t need money, just write a check!” His beaming face was red from running up the street.
Dad had to cover his mouth to hold back a laugh. “Tell you what, you count this pile of loot and I’ll make you some lunch.”
“Seventeen dollars and twenty five cents,” the excitement in his voice tapered when he noticed the look of concentration on his dad’s face. Ah oh, here comes the lecture…
Frankie’s father didn’t say much after telling him to straighten up his money and stack the change neatly. He just fixed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a handful of Doritos, slid it onto the table and hurried out of the room. A minute later the family checkbook was on the table along with a pad of paper and pencil.
“It’s all about the bank. Let’s pretend this bowl of fruit is the bank.” He pushed Frankie’s pile of cash and coin next to the apples and oranges. “You deposit your money into the bank,” he pointed to the wrinkled stack of one dollar bills, “and they keep it safe for you.” He winked at his son, trying to make sure that he got the play on words. “Then you write it in your check register.” Opening the family checkbook he pointed a finger at all the writing with four columns of numbers all arranged by date. “We’ll use this pad of paper as yours.” Writing today’s date on the top left, skipped a little space, the words Opening Balance in the middle, then a big fat zero all the way to the right. “Today you opened your new checking account with nothing!”
Before Frankie could ask about his stack of money, dad wrote the date again on the next line followed by the word Deposit, then Garage Sale, right next to that, $17.25. Frankie got all that until dad skipped a space and wrote $17.25 again on the same line. Seeing his son’s confused look he drew lines from top to bottom to separate each column. At the top he wrote Date, Num, Description, Deposits, Withdrawals and Balance. Frankie was getting it now, the three sets of numbers on the right added up!
Dad pointed with the pencil, “As you can see, you just made a deposit and now you have a balance of?”
“$17.25!” Frankie replied.
“Now if you write a check for say, this wonderful lunch,” he winked again. “Then you write it as a withdrawal,” Frankie was getting into this little school lesson on a Saturday afternoon!
Dad explained that the bank was a safe place to hold your money, much safer than keeping it in your wallet or under your mattress. Sending checks through the mail was also safer than sending cash. “Basically a check is an I.O.U. that you give to someone so they can take it to the bank and the bank gives them the cash out of your account.”
Frankie’s head was full of questions. “What happens if I write a check for more than the $17.25?” he asked as he pointed to the balance in his very own, make believe check register.
“The check will bounce,” his father said matter of factly. “That means the guy you wrote the check to won’t get his money from the bank. He’s gonna be mad and that’ll cost ya. The bank will be mad too and that’ll cost ya.”
“So negative is bad?”
“Very bad,” Dad rolled his eyes thinking about the balance in the family checking account.
With a new found respect for the real world use of mathematics, Frankie finished his lunch then headed off to do his homework.
“FRANCIS EUGENE DWYER,” dad’s voice boomed from the backyard, “Where’s my wheelbarrow? Did you sell that too?”
Frankie dropped his pencil and shot out the door, racing for Scrawny’s house, praying all the way that nobody bought it!