personal and family life

5 Fun Ways for Children to Learn Essential Money Skills

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learning money skills

I’m a big believer in learning through life experience.

The lessons that stick the best are the ones learnt while you’re getting on with everyday life, especially if you’re having fun doing it.

Good money management is an essential skill for children to learn.

That sounds pretty heavy and serious though. And when it comes to kids, there’s no bigger turn off than a parent saying ‘this is really important, you have to learn it.’

The good news is, money management can be learnt in a fun, non-boring and informal manner as part of everyday living. The most important thing to remember is that children absorb what you do (do as I say, not as I do just doesn’t work), so an important part of their money journey is to see you model what you want your children to learn.

Here are 5 fun ways for kids to learn money skills.

1. PLAY MONOPOLY

My five year old beat me at Monopoly.

Three times.

If your child is old enough to count and add up, they can learning the lessons of spending, saving and budgeting as they attempt to build their own real estate empire.

Monopoly teaches your children how to count money and make change, the importance of keeping cash on hand to cover unexpected expenses (because daddy always puts a hotel on Park Lane), smart investing, forward planning and managing cash flow and income.

The other great game for teaching money skills is the Game of Life.

This board game is not only fun, but it teaches the effect of education, career choices, losing a job, having children (I ALWAYS ended up with twins!), taxes, debt, overspending, compound interest and loan repayments have on your finances. It also teaches the importance of early investing.

2. LET YOUR KIDS BUY THINGS FOR THEMSELVES

Remember the old corner store? With the row upon row of jars filled with lollies?

The lolly counter was the first encounter we had with real money decisions and it served as the foundation for everything we needed to know about money.

How much can I get for 20 cents? Should I buy a giant gobstopper or 10 freckles? Do I spend it all now, or leave some for more lollies on Friday? Do I buy a bag of milk bottles and sell them for a profit at recess tomorrow?

I occasionally help out in our school’s tuckshop. That 20 minutes during lunchtime, when the kids are clamouring for an ice block, really brings home the fact that learning doesn’t stop when you leave the classroom.

It’s at the tuckshop counter that kids are learning the value of the coins held tight in their vegemite-smeared fists, how much they have, the value of different things and what they can buy, how much change they get back.

And a fixed allowance helps children appreciate that when the money is gone, it’s gone until next payday!

Money is often invisible today. We hand over a piece of plastic instead of real notes and coins. And so it’s particularly hard for children to gauge the value of items purchased and to learn fundamental money skills. It’s imperative children are allowed the opportunity to handle real money.

The tuckshop and the lolly counter are the perfect starting places for very motivated buyers to learn.

As a side note, when kids buy things themselves, they are also learning valuable social ‘transaction’ skills: hand the person the money, don’t throw it on the counter.  Make eye contact when you speak to someone. Say thank you.

3. ENCOURAGE THEM TO COMMIT TO A SAVINGS GOAL

Maybe it’s a favourite toy they want to buy or a new computer game, or a new tech-gadget. Saving up themselves for something that’s important to them gives children a sense of accomplishment and ownership that doesn’t come if we just buy it for them.

Delayed gratification is an important skill. When we look at the huge level of Australia wide consumer debt, it’s obvious delayed gratification is a skill we need to encourage.

Why wait when you buy now pay later?

Of course, there’s the interest that inflate the cost of the original purchase. But just as importantly, studies show that children who are good at delaying gratification grow up to be more successful, happier and have better relationships.

Make saving money FUN and also more tangible with a savings chart that your child can colour as they work towards their goal. For the same reason, a clear jar is better than a piggy bank, unless your child is old enough for their own real bank account.

A savings chart allows them to visualise their progress. It’s also a point of reference for the family cheer squad. 

4. HAND OVER THE GROCERY BUDGET

This is a suggestion for older kids.

While handing over the grocery budget every now and then is a little daunting, it’s a great way for kids to learn the essential skills they need when they leave home.

And children absolutely relish the responsibility and challenge.

You don’t have to drop them in the deep end, though.

Start young, and get them to help you plan your menu, write out a shopping list and do the grocery shopping with you.

I’m the first to agree that shopping with young kids can be an absolute nightmare, but always leaving them at home means they never learn this essential skill.

So on occasion, when you’re feeling particularly rested and calm, bring them along.

The more they shop with you, the more they appreciate the cost of different foods. They can become quite savvy little bargain hunters, spotting a yellow discount sticker from the other end of the aisle.

5. LET THEM HELP PLAN THE FAMILY HOLIDAY

As children get older, it’s good for them to really appreciate that money is limited and you have to balance fun stuff with paying the bills.

But they’re still kids. You don’t want to burden them with adult worries before their time!

A nice balance is letting them help you plan fun activities like the family holiday or other fun family activity. Give them a budget and some guidelines and boundaries and let them research holiday options, transport, accommodation and activities. They can then present their ideas and budget and make a case for as to why those ideas are good and then the whole family can decide together on the holiday.

Money skills are important for children to learn. And as parents, it’s our responsibility to make sure our children are empowered with these skills before they leave the nest and make it in the big wide world on their own.

But learning doesn’t have to be all serious and boring. Incorporate money management skills into everyday tasks in a fun way, and those lessons will be with them for the rest of their lives.

5 fun ways for children to learn essential money skills

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