Kids can understand that money is a number

Kids can teach us simple truths about money–if we pay attention. Recently a young mom I know had a rummage sale. Her children, ages 6 and 4 had put many of their toys, games and books in the sale after deciding what to give up.

“Some new kids can play with these now,” they told me, obviously pleased with their involvement in the rummage sale. The mother told each of kids that they earned $30 to go shopping because they sold their toys.

“What are you going buy,” I asked the youngest. She thought for a moment and said, “I want to buy an umbrella. I’ve always wanted an umbrella.”

She later went shopping with her mother and came home with the perfect umbrella. Mom paid for the umbrella with her credit card, after explaining that the $14 would be about half of her money. “That’s okay,” said the 4-year-old shopper. “I’ll still have some money left to buy something else.”

So at home, mom gave her daughter  $16 to put in her piggy bank. The little girl twirled her umbrella. It was purple, her favorite color, and had a butterfly appliqué and antennae sticking up from the top.

What did this young girl learn from this experience?

Money doesn’t have to be cash. Mom paid with a credit card, a non-cash transaction. The little girl only needed to know that the umbrella was paid for.

Money gets stuff. The girl’s rummage sale proceeds got her a new umbrella. At this point, it wasn’t important how she got the money. What was important is her understanding that money, in whatever form, can be exchanged for something she wants.

Money is a number. She didn’t take  cash to the store. But the numbers told the story. After starting with $30, subtracting $14 for her purchase, she had $16 remaining. Doesn’t matter what the $16 looks like; it’s still $16 to spend another day.

As for the little girl she now has, as she put it, “my first umbrella,” and one of her first lessons in how money is a number.


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