Playful ways to teach kids about money

The Australian dollar coin is undervalued. I don’t mean that as a comment on the strength of our currency but rather that that little golden coin is both a lesson in social sciences and financial literacy just waiting to be explored with your child.

I spent a recent very hot afternoon with my six-year-old great nephew, whom I lovingly call BamBam, examining my dollar coin collection. He sorted according to the designs— the mob of roos pile teetered like the leaning tower of Pisa and there were a good number of the red poppy embossed war hero coins  as well as a smattering for the centenary of rugby league, Korean war 60th anniversary, Lunar Year of the Rooster (2017) and a lonely Dot and the Kangaroo. BamBam later counted and very proudly announced I was rich: I had $123!

Two out of three Australian parents admit digital money makes it harder for children to grasp the value of real money, according to a report released last year (2018) by the Financial Planning Association of Australia.

Scarily, parents feel less comfortable talking about money than sex too.

So, given that kids can grasp basic money concepts pre-school age and that by age seven, money habits can be set, not showing our kids the reality of money is like telling them about the ‘birds and the bees’ after they become sexually active!

While there are plenty of apps and online games involving money for children to play, I’m going to suggest something rather ‘old school’.

When it comes to money, I believe we handle it better when we handle coins and notes. Think about it. If you give yourself $50 for the week and have that money in your wallet, you are aware of it and weigh up your spends far more carefully than ‘tap and go’. It stands to reason that our children learn about money when the lesson is physical, or kinesthetic, too. Afterall, kids don’t just look at trucks and dolls: they play with  them.

Here are some suggestions:

Make believe

I loved playing ‘cashier chick’ when I was young. I had a toy cash register, and play money and lots of cartons for my shop and teddy and the dolls (or my brother) would come and shop. Roleplay is important for kids’ development. Money Match Café is a more sophisticated boxed version of my game, ideal for five to eight year olds.

Coin counting

As my nephew noticed, there are lots of stories attached to coins. Coins have different values too and can be a great way to learn maths. For example, BamBam told me he could buy an icy pole for 25 cents at school or a super-size one for 50 cents: I explained he could also buy two standard icy poles and give one to a friend, for 50 cents too.

It costs how much?!

When kids are older, I suggest giving them some money (say $10) and a few items on the shopping list and tell them you’ll meet them at the other side of the check-out. They get to search and add and learn the value of items. Heap on the praise for the efforts but be firm about budget.

Family time

One of my enduring favourite memories of family time was playing Monopoly around the dining table. I still love it. Yes, it is a game of strategy, and yes it does teach us about decisions and deal-making and money but it teaches something else that money can’t buy: togetherness.

Helen Baker is a licensed Australian financial adviser and Director of On Your Own Two Feet, a Career Money Life Certified Supplier.

One comment

  1. Wonderful suggestions. I would add to start weekly chore money. Divide them into SAVE, SPEND, DONATE boxes and go from there. This worked out really well for us. I like the tip of asking the kids to buy groceries for $10. I should try it this summer.


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