Teaching Toddlers Good Money Sense

14 09 2008

Our Bean is only two and a half years old, but already she knows a lot about money. We want her to grow up financially responsible and to be a savvy shopper, so we’ve started early to teach her the basics. Here are four mottos that have worked for us:

1. Money has a special place…
We don’t like to leave money laying around, because it could get lost (see the first theme above). I think two is too little for a wallet, but just old enough for a piggy bank. Bean has an adorable ceramic piggy bank (thanks, grandma!) but it’s still too fragile for her. Instead, we made a bank together out of a small oatmeal container covered with fun paper that Bean picked out herself. She happily refers to it as “My bank!” and always keeps tabs on where it is. She will sit in the middle of the floor, dump out the contents, and put everything back in, one by one. This task can occupy her all morning. The best part is, when Bean finds a coin that has been dropped, she picks it up and runs to her bank and cheerfully plunks it in! She also raids my wallet when she can to add to her bank. She loves to save!
A note of caution: small coins are a choking hazard to small children, of course, so if you decide to make such a bank that is easy to open, be sure to put it away when you aren’t supervising.

2. Things cost money…
Shopping is a great learning opportunity. When we’re at the supermarket, we find and compare the prices of different items. I think talking about what we plan to buy before we get to the store helps Bean understand that we can’t just bring home everything we see. We always make shopping lists together. Even though her list just looks like a bunch of zigzags, she knows what important things she needs to buy. I haven’t had any trouble with Bean whining in the store to get something. Bean also knows that coupons save money. I make it a point to tell her “and now we need to pay for our food” at the appropriate time before handing the cashier coupons and payment.  

3. Money is unique…
Just like we can sort our building blocks based on size and color, we sort coins and discuss their different attributes. Again, the little oatmeal bank is great for this. We spread the money out on the floor, then I ask Bean to put away only the quarters. She’s learned the names of a lot of the coins this way. We also talk about how much each coin is worth and try counting with them, but it’ll be awhile before she gets the hang of that.

4. Money tells a story…
Alright, so this is cheesy, but Bean and I like to look at the images on coins and bills and try to figure out what they mean. The state quarters are especially interesting. We also have a large collection of foreign coins and we compare their characteristics and pictures. Then, I group all the European ones together and we talk about visiting her cousin someday and using this money to buy her a treat.

These are just a few ideas we’ve been working with at our house. I’d love to hear your thoughts too! I’m always looking for new ideas. Toddlers are very finicky—what works today, may not work tomorrow!

This post is part of Capital One’s Blog Blast. You can read many other views on the theme “Money doesn’t grow on trees” over at Parent Bloggers and visit Capital One for help with money management skills with their Moneywi$e eLearning tool.