I grew up with a mother who never paid full price for anything. I still remember vividly going to the mall with her as a teenager, spotting a new top that I just had to have. Her response? She told me to wait and come back with her in a few weeks to see if it had made the jump to the clearance rack in the back
As I’m sure she expected, I forgot about the top as soon as I got home and never asked her for that return trip. That shopping tactic helped me avoid so many impulse purchases growing up and it’s one that I still practice today and hope to impart to my children. The lesson was if it’s worth the money then it’s certainly worth the wait. I’ve learned to be intentional and thoughtful with my purchases, though I’ll admit it’s been more difficult to do as my kids get a little older. There are so many precious things to buy and toys to pine over on television and saying “no” is difficult to do when a 21-month old looks up at you with a heart-melting grin asking “pease?”
Since graduating college and getting married, my husband and I have weathered our share of financial ups and downs. Through both the periods of feast and those of famine, we’ve remained committed to saving as much as possible and keeping that long-term perspective and patience that my mama instilled in me growing up. Now, we’re helping our kids do the same. Of course, they’re still very little, so complicated concepts like the stock market, cryptocurrency and the like are usually avoided. That said, there are a few easy ways that we’ve found really work when it comes to teaching them to be wise in how they handle their possessions.
1. Bring them to your bank. Sure it’s tough lugging a car seat and a squirmy toddler into the bank with me, but I get the chance to prop my daughter on the table and let her watch as I fill out deposit and withdrawal slips. She can’t read them, but I can explain to her in very simple terms what I’m doing. “I’m putting some money in the bank,” I tell her, “so we can buy things later on that we need.”
Then, we head over to the coin machine, where she can watch as her stack of quarters turns into dollar bills before her eyes. It’s sheer magic to a toddler and more than enough incentive to save her coins any time she gets them.
2. Get them their own bank. Nothing is more fun to a three-year-old than a piggy bank full of possibility, except one that rattles with the delightful noise of clinking coins. You don’t necessarily need to start shelling out allowance, but consider letting your child put a few coins into his or her bank after accomplishing a task (like practicing letter-writing for 30 minutes) or doing something especially helpful (like wiping down the table after dinnertime).
When the bank gets relatively full, take it to one of those coin machines mentioned above, or cash them in for an ice cream cone! If you choose the latter, remind your child that the reason you can get the treat is that he or she saved enough to buy it. (Side note: Feel free to think outside the porcelain piggy here. My daughter’s favorite bank is one where a little kitty cat does a fancy tap dance every time you put a coin in!)
3. Let them help pay. I was checking out at the grocery store the other day and my daughter immediately went over to the credit card machine and asked for my card. I was prepared to pay in cash, but she insisted I use plastic. It was then that I realized that I rarely use cash in front of her and she might think that swiping a little square and pressing some buttons is the way adults pay for things.
I read about an idea recently that I think is genius, so I tried it the next time we went shopping. I only bought one, small-ticket item: a $1.00 avocado. When we got to the register, I showed my daughter four quarters, a $1.00 bill and my debit card and let her decide which one we’d use to pay, explaining that they were all the same. She chose the dollar and it gave me an opportunity to explain how the different types of currency work.
So there you have it! We’re by no means financial experts and we’re still learning the ropes as we go, but these little practices have helped us impart a little bit of wisdom to the littlest ones in our family and that’s a big step in the right direction.
It also keeps us more accountable because there’s nothing like a tiny audience to motivate you to make smart decisions—with money, relationships and life in general. They’re watching and we’re leading, so let’s go down this road together.