Give Credit Where Credit Is Due: Teaching Kids About Money With A Swipe Of The Card

The first things little children learn about money are: it can get them things they want, and their parents always seem to have it. In fact, if we’re not careful, money can take on a magical quality to them.

When my son, Rhett, was three, we were out together, and he saw a toy he wanted. Naturally, he asked me to buy it for him. I told him I didn’t have any money with me – which was true. Like any other parent, I’m capable of saying the first thought that comes into my head in certain moments of weakness, but I never lie about money. Too much missionary zeal, I guess.

“Oh, don’t worry, Mommy,” he said. “You don’t have to use real money. You can just use that magic plastic card you carry in your purse.”

That taught me a few things — not the least of which was the resourcefulness of a small child bent on getting what he wants. It also brought home to me the necessity of making sure that even our little ones begin learning the value of money.

Magic card or no, it’s the tangibility of money that makes it a useful tool for very young children when you are teaching them about the way the real world works. Real bills and coins show visually and viscerally the value that money represents. They can see it and feel it; they can see it being used, and they can quickly grasp the general concept of how it’s used. (As a matter of fact, Rhett was right, and I was wrong in that toy store – I did have money in the form of my little plastic card. I explained to him about the card: it didn’t mean I got things for free or by magic; it was a promise to pay the money at the end of the month. I also had to tell him no, I wasn’t going to buy him that toy that day.)

Cashless Society

I am a proponent of teaching young children to count and handle real money first because they can better understand that it denotes buying power. We do not want to confuse money with another virtual game; however, when they become adults, real money will probably be a relic sold only at antique stores.

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