Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching My Pre-schooler About Money

Jane receives "Five Whole Dollars!" for her birthday from Mimi

Last year shortly before Thanksgiving when my 4-year-old daughter was in the garage and found an unwrapped set of mini monster trucks that she wanted for Christmas, I had to think quickly. (Jane has loved monster trucks since her little friend Chase introduced her to them at age two.)

"Oh! Well, those are for Nicholas. It's his birthday present," I fibbed, not wanting to give away that it was her own present she was holding.

"But, I want them," she said sadly, looking at the little trucks she was holding. I knew I couldn't just give her the trucks simply because she found them in the garage. 

"You could buy them from me," I suggested. "How much money do you have?" 

She brightened quickly at the idea, having just had a birthday and received some money. "I have a lot! I want to buy them!" she told me excitedly.

"Well, let's go see how much you have. And if you have enough, you can buy these from me, and I'll use the money to get more for Nicholas," I told her. 

We've worked pretty hard to help her understand that all the things we want cost money, and we have to work for money. If we are given money as a present, then we do our work by being thankful and also by being generous to others.

I've found that the easiest way to teach a child the meaning of money is by answering the familiar, "Mommy, I want this, can I get it?" by responding, "Of course. How much money do you have?" and putting the responsibility back on the child. Jane receives birthday money, coins from Father Al, coins from the lucky laundry jackpot, and she also earns money by doing jobs around the house. 

Which begs the question, what can a small child do to earn money or feel like he has made a contribution? Glad you asked.

Easy Jobs for Small Children

  • Unloading the dishwasher flatware - $0.25
  • Picking up things that aren't your own - $0.25
  • Dusting - $0.25 - $0.75
  • Helping in the kitchen - $0.25
  • Helping with grocery shopping - $0.25
  • Becoming a dental hygienist - $32.81 per hour

Jane, 18 months, unloads the flatware.

Jane, age 2, cuts meat for turkey salad (using a frosting-spreader)

Jane, age 4, shops for groceries using homemade index cards

Jane, age 4, is brought on to the dental team help clean my teeth
(a bigger job than initially thought)

Sometimes when I tell her she doesn't have enough money for a desired toy, she responds, "But, but I want it..." This is where I tell her, "I know. It's a really great [toy]. I wish I could get all the things I want too, but I can't. I have to save up. Everyone does. Would you like some ideas for ways to earn more money?"

We all want some degree of control over our life situations, no matter how small. When there's a defeat (No, you can't...), it's helpful to find something to hope for (...but here's how you can next time).

So we headed back inside the house from the cold garage, the box of little monster trucks under Jane's arm. Jane emptied her money bank at the dining room table, the contents spilling out in front of us. She's still not proficient at counting money, but she is good at sorting things, so I had her separate the coins while I made a rubbing of the coins for a reference page.  

We always line up coins two-by-two before counting. The pennies we lined up in groups of five, separated by toothpicks to keep them in order.

Jane had just over $10. 

"Well, I paid $14 for these monster trucks. You don't have quiet enough..." I hesitated.

"What?!" my husband protested, "You're not even going to give her a family discount?"

Sufficiently shamed, I nodded to Jane, "Alright Jane, you can buy the monster trucks from me."

"Yay!!" she exclaimed.

Jane, very proud of the monster trucks she bought with her own money.

Jane snoozes the next day, having taken her monster trucks with her in the car.

Jane has learned very quickly to save when she can, and spend her money on the most important things. As an added bonus, and perhaps the best thing for me, we almost never argue in the store about getting some new toy she sees. While there may be the occasional huff at not getting some item, it's usually after she's been given things without earning them, and has learned to expect it. A full-blown melt-down, even at age 3, was pretty rare. 

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