A few weeks ago my eldest son, Dylan, was playing with coins putting them into a piggy bank. What we didn't realize was that amongst those coins was a full roll of transit tokens, worth $150! After the shock wore off we decided that this was good time to introduce the concept of money beyond the toy coins and money that our kids use to buy food for their pretend kitchen.
It started as a 'treasure hunt'. We gave Dylan a big pile of coins and told him first he had to find all the 'special coins' (the tokens) because they were really important for mommy and daddy. Once we rescued the roll of tokens we were left with a pile of miscellaneous coins that could be sorted and rolled. We took this opportunity to talk to our eldest about the concept of money. At three years of age, just understanding that coins have different values is big step. His understanding comes down to, "Mommy pays for the house and Daddy buys chicken breasts." It's a start!
Here are some tips and tricks I learned from my own parents and friends with children.
1. Take your kids shopping
Grocery shopping is such an engaging experience; it can teach kids colours, counting, and introduces them to the world of food around them. You can also use the opportunity to teach your kids about the value of a dollar. The other weekend Dylan wanted red grapes, but the green grapes were on sale. We told him if we got the green grapes on sale we would save money and be able to get him a treat. Though the net result was zero savings, it opened his eyes to smart decision-making.
2. Go to a yard sale
Your child can see the labels on the various items. You can give them a small amount of money to use. How will your child make the best use of the money? One large item? Multiples smaller ones? Discuss strategies in a non-threatening environment. You can even teach about bargaining!
3. Take your child to the bank
When you do your usually bank transactions let them see that money goes in and comes out, and other people are doing the same. Dylan loves putting cheques in envelopes and sliding it into the slot. He now understands that the money is kept 'safe' in the bank for 'savings'. As your child gets older you can consider opening a bank account for your child where gifts of money and allowances can go. They you can watch the money increase, and how much more it is worth over time.
4. Coupon helper
My father is a huge proponent of coupons, while I have to admit, coupons drive me nuts, my husband loves them. As a child I remember sorting through them and deciding which we could use that day. Now Dylan looks through the grocery ads for sale items and gets to help make the grocery list. This teaches him about savings and what an item is worth.
5. Bill rectifier
When your child is older you can use him or her as an assistant when you go through your credit card statement. When a child watches you use a credit card with ease it often seems like 'fake money'. If and when you go through your credit card statement your child can help ensure the items listed match receipts you have (if you keep them). Then your child sees that real money was spent and added up. Similarly you can look at household bills together, such as for cable, utilities and internet. We spend lots of money on these things and our kids should see what this means.
6. Work for it
I started doing chores around the house in Grade One. Later, I watched my younger brother, was a baby-sitter, and tutored. I always had a job, and definitely valued money because of it. It was my hard earned money! Your kids don't have to do hard labour, simply tidying up, helping with meal prep and clean up and laundry is a great start. Or help your kids set up a lemonade stand or if you are having a garage sale let them contribute. The key is to let them manage the money they make and use it for something that they want. My kids help clean up their toys and outside, with raking and putting leaves in bags. Exercise plus reward!
Several moms have shared powerful stories with me of their kids' reactions to volunteering with those less fortunate than them. It is not uncommon to hear heart-warming stories of children who forgo their own birthday or holiday presents, instead donating them to those with greater needs. I think it is very powerful for children to experience the economic diversity of our society. Volunteering in a shelter or for needy children or in a soup kitchen will show them how lucky they are, and how important it is to give back. Letting them choose which of their toys to 'share' with a new friend who they may never meet can be a great lesson. Donating unneeded toys and clothes is also a great strategy to teach them to be mindful of what they have and how a simple act of donating can have a substantial impact on those who are less fortunate.
8. Save as a family
Are your kids dying to go on a special trip? Want a new computer or basketball net? Try 'saving' as a family. Have your kids help you save, and let them help you make smart choices so that you can save towards the common goal. Instead of going out for dinner one day, make a point of staying in and cooking, letting the children know that in doing so you are saving $X and you are that much closer to affording that thing they want. Over time, the children will have 'earned' the reward and it will be that much sweeter.
Have other ideas? Please share!
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