The Simple Trick to Make Your Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar

The Simple Trick to Make Your Kids Understand the Value of a Dollar

How do you get kids to understand finances without a boring lecture? This mom’s idea could help.

By Jeanne Sager

I never planned to have a financial skills lesson with my daughter in the middle of a restaurant. The first time it happened, she grabbed for the receipt herself. We were making our way out of the booth, and she noticed the “customer copy” sitting on the table.

“Hey Mom, you forgot this,” she said. Then, “Whoa, those mozzarella sticks were expensive!” She was right. It’s why I’d suggested passing on appetizers entirely, but my 11-year-old daughter had worn me down, begging and promising that she’d eat them all.

She did, but she didn’t eat her entire dinner.

We’d had it boxed up, and I’d already turned into nagging mom before the check arrived. “You have to promise to eat this tomorrow. We can’t just pay for things and not eat them.” She’d rolled her eyes in true tween fashion, and promised she would.

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Then came the receipt and her shock at the sticker price of those batter-covered sticks of cheese. I bit. “If we’d skipped the appetizer, how many drinks could we have bought?”

Her eyes slid down to the section listing the beverages that we’d gotten with our meals. “Wow, three more!” she said.

Setting a good financial example to their kids is something 69 percent of parents say they’re either “extremely” or “very” concerned about. But just 36 percent say they “frequently” discuss the importance of saving money with their kids and only 22 percent frequently discuss how much activities cost. Even fewer -- 15 percent -- frequently broach the topic of family finances with their children.

Meanwhile the number of parents still supporting their adult children has grown rapidly in recent years. One survey found 30 percent of parents helping to support grown children spend at least $5,000 a year on their kids.

If I have $5,000 to throw around when my daughter is an adult, I’d like to think I’ll be funneling it into a retirement account to support me in my dotage … not into her bank account. I want my adult daughter to be paying her own way and putting away extra money for her own retirement.

But I’ve struggled throughout her childhood to drive home my point. She’s the only child of two working parents. We are by no means rich and carry some debt. We use coupon apps and buy things on sale, return empty bottles to the grocery store for the 5 cent deposit and cut the moldy bits off of fruit to save the good parts.

But we’re also extremely lucky in that we have a warm home and enough food at all times. Our daughter has toys and books and pets. My husband and I are highly aware of our privilege, and we want to ensure our daughter is too … and of how easy it is to lose that if you’re not as thrifty as we are.

Which brings me back to the receipts.

A sort of tradition was born that day in the restaurant. When we leave most stores now, I slip my change in my wallet or credit card back in its slot, and as I grab for the shopping cart handle, I hand over the receipt. She scans for items we’ve purchased that day at her request, and the quiz begins.


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“We bought you new water bottles for school. How much did they cost altogether?”

“Almost $30,” comes her answer.

“OK, so how much of the bill does that represent?”

“Nearly half!”

“And how much did we spend on pencils?”

“Less than $2!”

I don’t preach to her about how much we spend or make a big deal out of the cost of items for her. Water bottles, pencils, even the occasional splurge on appetizers is part of providing for my child. But I’m already seeing how much more empowered she is by simply knowing what it is that these items cost and how they compare to the other things we need in our day-to-day lives.

Asking for fewer things on trips to big box stores could be mere coincidence, but weeks after that particular trip to the store, I was rummaging through the drawer where we keep plastic cups and water bottles. I couldn’t seem to find the straw to one of the new bottles, and asked where it had gone. She sighed and scurried to her room, returning with the straw and pieces to other water bottles. “I know this was expensive,” she said. “Here it is.”

Slowly, but surely, those numbers on a receipt are making a difference.

What tricks to do you use to teach your kids to value money?

Jeanne Sager is a freelance writer, photographer and social media junkie. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, and way too many pets. You can follow her @JeanneSager.

Image © Images Inc.

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Good trick

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