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Making Money Real For Kids (Part 1)

When your kid sees cash come out of an ATM as if by magic, or a little plastic card swipe through a machine so that they can have their favorite milkshake, it gives them an unrealistic perception of money. When they’re not the ones earning it in real life, it can be hard to instill the value of a dollar. But luckily, you don’t have to wait til your kid earns their first paycheck to get started.

Try out these interactive ideas for making money seem more real:

Allow them to earn and spend other types of “currency.”

If your kids don’t receive an allowance, or aren’t the lemonade stand type, consider coming up with a system of TV minutes or access to special art supplies and games as “currency” that can be earned and spent. For example offer your kids 1 hour of TV time per day and allow them to “save” it up so they can watch a longer movie later in the week. (You might want to reset their “savings” each week so your kid doesn’t end up with a movie marathon’s worth of TV time!)

Encourage kids to have specific savings goals.

Saving money for savings’ sake probably isn’t going to get your kids excited. If you help them choose a specific purchase or goal for the money they save, they’re more likely to keep at it—plus, delayed gratification is an important skill to teach kids, both as a money and life skill. For the younger kids, try buying the item they’re working on or cutting out a picture of it and keeping it somewhere visible (but out of reach!). Kids need visual reminders to stay on track.

Teach basic budgeting.

Whether it’s with allowance funds, cash gifts, or money “earned” around the house, your kid probably handles some amount of money. With the money itself comes financial decision making. Don’t let this lesson go untaught! Help them make a plan for how they’ll divide their money: spend, save, and donate, and a potential time range in which they can spend it. If your kids don’t have access to enough actual money for this lesson, try using a set amount of candy or toys that can be eaten or played with, but with limits.

Have them use a clear coin bank.

This way, they see their pile of coins visibly growing. This makes it a lot easier to motivate them to keep at it! They can even make a goal to save a certain % of the coin bank—a more visual goal than saving for a certain number of weeks, for example.

Use cash whenever possible.

When your kid sees a little piece of plastic slide through a card reader and you walk away with an ice cream cone, or watch you insert debit a card into an ATM that shoots cash out, it’s difficult for them to understand the transaction. When paying for things in front of your kid, try to use cash to make the exchange clearer.


Using interactive visual and tactile activities can make learning complex money lessons a whole lot easier. Combine those activities with real-life results—whether that’s a toy bought with savings, TV minute “currency,” or an ice cream cone purchased with cold, hard cash—and your kids will be on their way to budgeting, saving, and spending responsibly for years to come. Stay tuned next week for more ideas on how to make money real for kids!

What kinds of interactive money activities are you doing with your kids?

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