Teachable moments pop up all the time, but I wasn't quite prepared for a sudden teaching opportunity on stewardship that came up last year. Jon brought home something so bizarre that none of us could help staring at it in bewilderment. (His parents found it in their garage, a remnant from the home's previous owners.)
It might be hard to tell, but that photo is of 38 one-dollar bills all laminated together. Why on earth someone would do this and waste such a precious resource is beyond me. It was a sorry sight and didn't take much calculating to figure out what percent of a typical paycheck was stuck in that plastic graveyard.
Instead of crying over the spilled milk, though, we turned it into a lesson for the kids. We asked the spark plugs whether or not the person who had laminated his dollar bills had been wise with his money; whether or not it was a good idea to deface money; and whether or not there were better ways of preserving currency. We then moved on to some deeper questions: in what other ways do we waste possessions that could be compared to the laminated money? What could we learn about stewardship from this odd object?
Next, we looked into ways of fixing the problem. Jon had done some Googling that said occasionally banks would take the ruined money and exchange it for legal tender, so Monday the kids and I visited various banks to find out the validity of this claim. Based on the gawking stares of numerous bank tellers, I'm pretty sure most of them had never seen anything so strange before. While none of them were willing to exchange it, we were given the federal web site for damaged and defaced currency where we found instructions for mailing in the laminated bills. Supposedly, we'll be reimbursed for the ruined 38 dollars.
We've not yet mailed the specimen to Washington's defaced currency agency, but it will be fun to find out what happens. While we might never be able to redeem those 38 dollars, we were able to glean very valuable lessons on using wisdom, being good stewards, and thinking through our actions. It was definitely worth the $38!
Update: we did mail in the laminated money, but unfortunately, we never heard anything back from the office we mailed it to. Since we sent it by certified mail and received notice that it was delivered, we're assuming that the office doesn't normally reimburse people for ruined currency. Lesson learned!
Your turn: Have you come across unexpected lessons? What have you learned from them? Have you ever dealt with ruined money? How did you handle it?