5 Money Lessons My Newly-Minted Five Year Old Knows

We just celebrated our son’s fifth birthday–a whole hand!

While we are just getting the ball rolling on many financial things, like a formal weekly allowance, there are a few big money lessons he’s already learned.

Money is for Spending and Saving

I have to be honest! We were a little worried about this first lesson. One of our son’s first big exposures to any type of economy came from ABC Mouse more than two years ago. Instead of cash, you earn tickets that you can then spend in a cute little virtual world. And these tickets burned a hot little hole right in his hands.

The moment he’d have five tickets, his three-year-old self would rush to the virtual store to see what he could buy. Instead of saving up for furniture or games or toys or even pets for his virtual room, he’d click whatever was for sale for cheap that day. Kwanzaa candle? He had probably 7. Toy top? An easy dozen. Some kind of Christmas decoration? 5 or more.

When I asked him why he didn’t save up for things he actually wanted in his virtual room, he was completely puzzled.

Thankfully, he has a much stronger connection to US dollars than to ABC Mouse money. He’s definitely been burned on a few silly purchases in the past, but he is really learning to balance saving money in his piggy bank or the real bank and spending money on things he wants and has given some thought to.

Spending Other People’s Money is Fun

One of the first questions my son asks when we go to do something or buy something is, “Is this from my piggy bank or yours?” Basically, he wants to know who is paying!

While he’s still generally thoughtful with money, he definitely has an easier time spending our money than his own. Rather than be alarmed, I’m chalking this up to human nature. And I’m also insisting on good manners and thank you notes (when grandparents or someone else besides us buys him something!).

If You Want More Money, Work for It

Our son was playing with his friend next door and her bubble gun broke. He came over so distraught, asking to buy her a new one. He really didn’t want to spend the money from his piggy bank, but he wanted to be a good friend.

So we brainstormed a list of extra chores that he could do to come up with half the money. Since he was honest right away and it was an accident, we told him that we’d pay for half of the replacement cost.

He worked on chores off and on for maybe an hour, and we happily re-purchased the $3 bubble gun from Target for her. When our son walked the new bubble gun over to her, she was thrilled–and also admitted that she probably played more of a role in breaking her toy than he did (that’s another lesson, isn’t it?).

In addition to doing extra chores for us, he’s also super interested in selling things and dog walking/pet sitting. Most recently, he set up an iced tea stand at a family party and he’s also made some money last summer and this summer by looking after dogs (with our adult supervision, of course!). I’m so curious to see where this entrepreneurial streak goes!

Pick Up Pennies

Well, this is a no-brainer, huh? Of course I’m teaching my kiddo to pick up pennies…and nickles and dimes and quarters. There’s plenty of reasons why I still pick up pennies.

And I want my son to know money matters. It’s worth taking care of it. And it let’s us do fun things–even if it’s throwing your found coins in the nearest fountain!

Plus, I think that if you take time to notice money on the ground, you’re observant. You’ve moving through life just a little bit slower than most. Since the biggest goal for me money-wise is to live more intentionally, I really appreciate a momentary pause in our pace every now and then.

It’s Important (and Hard!) to Share Money

Giving is important to us, and it’s something we try to model for our kids. The concept, though, can be a bit abstract.

To make giving easier to understand, we don’t just give money to food banks. We buy groceries for our micro pantry. Our son helps us pick out non-perishable food items (for people and pets!) and he actually stocks the shelves when we pass by on our library visits.

Now, we are encouraging him to use some of his money for others in the same way. Right now, the majority of the giving he does is funded by us, but we try to encourage him to chip in a few dollars.

Tying giving to something he can see and feel (like a box of dog cookies at Aldi!) is easier for him to get excited about than just putting coins in a bucket or watching as we swipe our credit card online.

Finding Money Lessons for Kids

There are so many reasons why our son is already building a strong financial foundation. The biggest reason is his nature. He’s a naturally cautious kid who loves math. That’s a powerful combination when you’re given coins and a piggy bank.

We also talk openly about money. My husband and I try to keep things neutral, too. Rather than complaining about bills, we talk about why we have bills. (“You mean we have to pay for water? What!!”) We also talk about the cost of things we really want to do. When we took a trip to St. Louis for Spring Break, we paid for it with side hustle money. I printed out a chart, and we let our son fill each square with a sticker as we got to our $1,000 goal.

Another big reason why he’s starting to understand money is that we read about it. We love books like M is for Money and the Baobab Money Tree series that specifically address money. But we also talk about it as it comes up naturally in books about everyday life.

The lessons and teachable moments are always there–it’s just making time to touch on them.

Giveaway

I love to support friend authors, so I snagged another copy of M is for Money and the first book in the Baobab Money Tree series. If you have Littles at home (or at your work–teacher pals, I see you!), I’d love to send these books to one of you. Drop me a comment below telling me how you talk about money with the Littles in your life (and that your interested in the books!).

So Tell Me…What money lessons have you shared with Littles in your life?

7 Comments

  1. Jake S

    This article really resonated with me as I thought about what money lessons I have shared with my 3 year old son so far. Just yesterday, we were talking about the importance of work and why I have to work during the day and I explained to him that I get paid for my work. Then I use that money to pay for our house, food, electricity and so on.

    He seemed to understand and accept that as to why I couldn’t play with him at that moment. It’s been an adjustment now that I am recently working from home. It struck me that I need to be more intentional about teaching him lessons about money and passing on what I have been learning about FI and frugality. My wife and I have been talking about getting him his first piggy bank soon. I would love a copy of one of those books to help with our discussions!

  2. Emily

    We don’t have any money-specific books yet but we certainly talk about money with the kids. We regularly talk with our 4 year old about why she goes to daycare – so mom and dad can work and make money to pay for our food, clothes, etc. She’s showing more interest in money and has been saving a dollar for the next time we go to the swimming pool. She’s wanted to spend it a few times this week but we’ve been reminding her what she is saving it for.

    • I love that you keep reminding her what she is saving for! That’s powerful stuff…even for adults who are good at saving!

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  3. Marie

    We haven’t yet purposefully talked about money unless it comes up (grocery store etc). We also talk a lot about why we go to work and that we chose to spend our money on certain things. It actually comes up a lot now that I think about it! Would definitely love a book that talks about it as well!

  4. Awww, cute! Spud often asks how much he has and what he can buy, what things cost, and is also interested in counting and numbers. “Is [insert figure] a lot?” (Does this in lots of contexts – money, time, height, size…)

    He knows I work for money to pay for all the things! Was a bit stumped about why I have to pay for a house that we already have and live in. LOL.

    We give our excess fruit to the local neighbourhood food pantry thing (one of those letterbox type dropoff boxes) but I could definitely do a much better job of modeling giving.

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