A long time ago while raising a 7 year old alone, I decided it was time for yet another money activity and learning opportunity for my son. Fortunately I had opened what used to be called a “Christmas Club Savings Plan” at my credit union and that money had been regularly deposited from my paycheck throughout the year. So I had about $300.00 to spend for holiday gifts and that seemed, at that point in our lives, like a lot of money!
I decided to go to the credit union and draw that $300.00 out in cash. I then took it home and the conversation began. I told my son that we were going to sit down and plan our holiday shopping and that, after we knew exactly how we’d spend our money for each person on our list, we would go to the mall and spend a day doing our shopping. I also told him that we would list each gift recipient and an amount to target for the gift for that person on the back of an envelope and put the $300.00 inside. We would assure that our gift list added up to no more than what we had and be sure that we accounted for taxes as well. Then the big surprise – I told my son that HE was going to be responsible for holding on to the envelope while we were shopping, that HE was to write on the back of the envelope the exact amount we spent for each gift, and that HE would use his calculator to keep a running tally of where we were in our spending.
Needless to say, my wonderful son was horrified and worried that he might make a mistake or not be able to do his part of this task. But we listed, we added up, and we went shopping; and HE did his job perfectly, although nervously for sure.
The point is, children love to participate and they need challenges and trust offered to them for them to grow, particularly when it comes to handling money. Maybe today it isn’t so realistic to take cash in an envelope – but maybe in smaller amounts it could be managed – at least for a few items on the list just to practice.
Let children understand that joy that comes from giving and selecting special items for special people in their lives while also teaching them the value of planning to spend within limits. These invaluable lessons will last a lifetime if they are stamped early and often.