There’s so much talk about teaching kids about money. When do you start? How do you start? What’s saying too much versus saying too little? I can’t claim that I have that entirely figured out. Heck, I can’t claim that I have anything about parenting entirely figured out. But I do know that our toddler does already have a fairly firm grasp of the value of a dollar.
Easy. Ice cream!
Every single time that we make the trek to IKEA, HP gets an ice cream cone. At the IKEA closest to our home, an ice cream cone costs exactly one dollar. Therefore, in HP’s mind, the value of a dollar is precisely that: An ice cream cone.
All of this ice cream eating, it turns out, might be more of a money lesson than it seems. (And the money lesson isn’t that dental insurance is expensive! That’s another post for another day!)
It’s One Quarter…No Four!
Of course, our toddler has no real concept of money. But he does know that he can throw pennies in fountains and that Mama always looks for a quarter before grocery shopping (hey, Aldi, hey!).
He also knows that a dollar is made up of four quarters.
That doesn’t mean that I expect the kid to be counting back my change anytime soon, but he is slowly and surely starting to understand that money is more than just a piece of paper (OK, fine a piece of linen and cotton).
The first time he held up a dollar, he called it a quarter. Time after time, we hold up a dollar bill and talk through the idea that the dollar means four quarters. Even if you can’t really see them.
“It’s ‘retend!” Close enough.
The Value of a Dollar
As gross as our currency is, we’re big on letting HP hold money. At the grocery store, he puts my credit card in the card reader. He still squeals with delight over this. One weekend, it was just too delightful and my credit card is now creased thanks to his enthusiasm. (Apologies to the fine folks at Discover.)
But we want him to do more than swipe. We want him to actually understand the weight and purpose of money. That’s why–germs be darned–we let him hold the paper dollar.
It’s a bit of a gamble since paper money is not indestructible, but the dollar’s already earmarked for him. It wouldn’t be a huge financial loss if he ripped it. (It would be
a meltdown a teachable moment, though.)
We do coach him by saying things like:
- “If you rip it, no ice cream.”
- “The worker can only take it if it’s in one piece.”
- “We only have one. Don’t lose it.”
So far, so good.
RELATED POST: Why We Take Our Toddler Grocery Shopping Every Week
More Than Money Lessons
When I was pregnant, one of my friends took me out to lunch. His not-yet-Kindergartner tagged along. We were standing in line waiting to order, and I watched this kiddo head straight up to the counter, place his request, say thank you, and step to the side while his dad finished up ordering.
The worker and I were equally stunned.
When we sat down with our food, I begged my friend to tell me everything. He laughed it off by saying, “I have four kids. Do you think I can remember all of their orders?” Of course, it was so much more than a joke.
That moment stuck with me.
When I push our cart up to the register at IKEA, the sales associates look at me. I smile and point to HP, who is always excitedly clutching his dollar. Even when he hesitates to speak, I fight my instinct to place his order for him. I know he knows what to say because we rehearse it over and over again in line (and prior as we wind our way through the labyrinth of a store and on the drive over).
Our last visit went like this:
IKEA worker: Hi, what can I get for you?
Me: Hi! (gesturing to son in cart holding dollar)
HP: (long pause)
Me: (smiling and hoping for patience from all parties)
HP: Ice kem, pweze.
IKEA worker: Alright, little dude. You got it!
HP: (hands over dollar) Tank you! Tank you! Mama, I said tank you!
Do I get funny looks for letting my toddler eat ice cream in the dead of winter? Absolutely. But those looks are worth enduring to see the sheer delight of the people who work at IKEA. Never mind the absolute joy that radiates from HP when he finally clutches his prized cone.
What really warms my heart is that our son seems to truly understand that money has significance and so do the people we interact with. Watching him to take the time to say please and thank you is such a powerful reminder for me to always do the same.
Final Thoughts On Ice Cream & The Value of a Dollar
I don’t know all the money lessons we’ll try to teach our son. I’m sure some will flop and some will fail. But I hope that by making money a part of our lives and our conversations, he will take note of it. Ultimately, I want him to know that money is important because it is a necessary tool. With it, you can do a lot of good and live a life you want.
And you can enjoy a whole lot of ice cream. (Hey, it’s called values-based spending!)
So Tell Me…Do you have any money memories from your childhood? Are you trying to teach money lessons to any young people in your life?