Making money real for kids is an important undertaking. Every few months I have the pleasure of teaching children as a volunteer for Junior Achievement and the kids are delightful. They’re inquisitive, energetic, and little truth-tellers. One little boy kept hugging me and when I asked him why, he said it was because I was soft and squishy. Clearly I need a few more sessions at the gym when it reopens. There’s a saying that there are three things that tell the truth; angry people, yoga pants, and children.
That day my lesson plan included counting paper money and coins. As I stood in front of the class there were puzzled looks and one child asked why they needed to “learn money” when all they needed to do was slide a card to buy things. In that moment I truly understood how different the world was for them than it was us as we were growing up. In spite of that, there was some “old stuff” they still needed to know. To be fair, there are even adults these days who don’t connect debit and credit cards with real money, so of course, children would think the same thing.
There were children who were very familiar with money and counting but only a few. Handing out the oversized coins and funny colored bills caused quite a stir, plus I had set up a “store” at the back of the class where they could purchase real items with their fake money.
Making money real for kids involves learning about spending. Teaching kids the correlation between understanding money, earning money, and wisely spending money can make a huge difference in their future financial lives. After learning the buying power of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half-dollars, we practiced making change. After the lesson, one by one they made their purchases and counted to be sure they received the correct change. Then some savvy little people asked (coerced) me into having a clearance sale of the leftover items. When the stickers or packs of pencils were too expensive for them individually, they pooled their money, split the booty, and cleaned me out. I was so proud and completely tickled by their creativity!
When we, as adults, become numb to the lure of using plastic money, how can we re-sensitize ourselves? There’s a tactile practice in budgeting called the “envelope method”—you take several envelopes (or as many as you need) and write on them how much is inside and what the money is to be used for. Use ONLY cash for the month and when the money in the envelope is gone…it’s gone. This method, using self-imposed restrictions, is quite effective when you need a wakeup call. For added fun (discipline), freeze your debit/credit cards in a block of ice (I’m not kidding) and If you don’t cheat, it’ll help tremendously. It’s like ridding your home of all cookies, pies and cakes when you want to lose some of your “squishiness”. We all need a recalibration from time-to-time what better time than now to make money real again.
As a parent we want to protect our children from all things uncomfortable -- but are we shielding them from the realities of learning to manage money because we’re uncomfortable with it? Making money real for kids involves talking about money openly (both the positive and the negative realities.) This provides your kids with opportunities to learn, grow and deepen their understanding of how to succeed financially in the future.
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