Toddlers are amazing. Don’t think that it’s far too early and that they won’t grasp the concept. Sure, they won’t be doing your taxes before the year is out, but at least they’ll have both feet firmly on the path to financial wisdom. Basically, if they aren’t eating the coins then it’s time to start teaching them what they are, how they work and their importance.
It may also stop the “Can we go to the shops, Mommy?” or “You can just buy me another one.” I had the latter the other day. My daughter looked earnestly into my eyes and suggested I just go and buy more gloves after she’d lost the second pair this week. It was, I realised, time to start teaching her two or three important things and the first of these was that Mommy is not a limitless bank.
Before you start it’s a good idea to sit down with your partner and discuss exactly how much you want your kids to understand about the value of money, how money works and what it means. Some parents aren’t entirely comfortable with dumping financial concerns onto a three-year old’s shoulders but others don’t believe that you should hold back the reality of this world.
How you proceed, how much detail you divulge, is entirely up to you.
There are several clever ways that you can follow to start things off. After doing a poll of the mothers I know and interviewing several others, it became clear that most of them initiated proceedings by taking out their wallets and setting the different types of money down on a table.
Start out easy at first. They are just coming to grips with numbers so introduce them to the different coins and notes slowly. Show them the different colours, the different markings and talk them through what they mean. You can place various items from around the home, like toys or furniture or clothes, into the room and ask them to guess how much they cost.
This is also a good time to implement a fiscal reward system. So if they hang up their coat, they get 5p, or if they leave a mess then that 5p gets taken away. Give them tasks to fulfil that help them to “earn” money and then take them to the shops at the end of the month so they can use that money to buy themselves whatever they can afford.
This has a wonderful double benefit, of course. If they can’t afford to buy their latest desire because they’ve spent the month being naughty and having their money deducted then it’s a great lesson in behaviour as well as economics!
The older they get the easier it will become and the more benefit it will have for them.
For younger kids you can also consider buying a cash register and mini supermarket. These are not very expensive and you’re bound to get a great deal by looking online at places like HotUKDeals. Using these life-like role-play toys you can introduce the importance of money in day to day life. Do transactions, run a shop, let them tell you what things costs and gradually they will develope a clear understanding of money. You may find yourself having enormous fun with the entire game. Until they bankrupt you because they’re so good at selling you stuff...
You can even incorporate a measure of creative play into your lessons. Do coin rubbings, one for each type of coin, and write the value beside each one in big letters. Stick these on the bedroom wall so that the constant reminder enforces what they have learnt.
Consider introducing play money instead of real notes when helping them learn to save money and when paying them for achieving big tasks. The value is the same but you run less risk of the notes being coloured in, torn or hidden under the sofa.