"Though small was your allowance, you saved a little store: and those who save a little shall get a plenty more." William Thackeray
In our household we save our loose change for vacation. We have a special savings fund for the big expenses, like hotel and travel, but the change is for the extra fun money. My bank does not want the change rolled. That is nice when it comes to the time that requires, but I miss the satisfaction of sorting and counting out the piles.
As we were preparing for a trip to Washington D.C. I wanted a rough idea of what we had so I grabbed our change jars and dumped them out on the kitchen floor. The sound of piles of coins pouring out caused both of my kids to come running.
As we sat on the floor together sorting out quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies I found myself in a great teachable moment. Our first discussion was just focusing on the value of each coin and how many it took to make a dollar. As a parent I am learning that differentiating the coins is difficult and takes time to learn.
As the piles grew one of the kids started talking about how much money we had. I think it is important for children to understand the value of money (a quarter is 25 cents, four quarters are a dollar) but more importantly to understand how far, or not far, those dollars go when we spend them. I wanted something relatable for them so I decided to start talking about eating out. This trip would not allow us to cook in our room and we would need to eat out four or five dinners. I asked the kids how much they thought it cost to eat dinner out. Then we broke it down by what we usually ordered and how much it cost per person, then added it up to a rough total. Then we multiplied by five (sneaking in those math skills that were getting rusty on summer break). Both children went from “wow we have so much money!” To “wow that costs a lot!”
My kids are still at the age where they think they are rich when they’ve saved five dollars, but still don’t understand why they don’t always have the newest (expensive) toy trend for Christmas or their birthday. I once volunteered for a baseball souvenir stand on their kid’s day. The amount of kids that would have three dollars and not understand that they couldn’t buy a hat or t-shirt for that amount was frustrating and sad in how underprepared these children are for handling money. Learning financial concepts and how money works takes time and teaching that I think is generally lacking for children in our society.
I’d like to say it was a magical moment and my children’s attitude towards spending was instantly changed. That will take a lifetime of teachable moments. I challenge you to look for the opportunities with the children in your life to have a money moment and help them develop an early understanding of money.