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Pint-Sized Financial Dealings: Elmo Says Prioritize!

Ask a young child about money and they will invariably have something to say. Most likely they will talk about how their parents don’t have enough of it or how they themselves want piles of it (to do what with? We don’t quite know). But even at a young age, most children have an inherent understanding that money is coveted, desirable, and holds some sort of value. But the value is vague and abstract and sadly, many children and teens move into adulthood with an equally vague and abstract notion of how to handle money and financial matters. This, as is evidenced by our mounting national debt along with our severe personal debt, is an enduringly troubling issue.

But finances are boring. Xbox 360 is so much more fun! Still, if your children don’t possess a suitable and applicable financial education those Xbox 360s they so amorously covet will be something they can only hope for.

In light of the 2008 collapse of financial and credit markets, early childhood educators are starting to get more serious about teaching valuable lessons about money – namely how to save, spend, and share money in a responsible and sensible way. Sesame Street, that paragon of progressive children’s television programming, has dipped into the subject of recent with a slew of financially themed videos hosted by that eternal toddler, Elmo (see video below):

I think Elmo, that unrepentant Keynesian, sums up the sober and sensible approach to toddler economics with his declaration, “Sometimes it’s important to think about what you really need first, and then you can go for what you want. You pri-or-i-tize.” Maybe expect to see Elmo in committee on Capitol Hill on the first Monday in October.

But to rely upon Sesame Street, and maybe a few earmarked Jr. economics books checked out from the library, won’t likely be enough to help your child get a grasp of how to handle money. Instead of shielding your child from financial matters, and sparing them the woe of having to think about money, you can gently introduce your child to a certain money consciousness. A practical mode of cultivating this consciousness is having them count money (and believe me, they love to do it) and learning the value of each denomination (pennies, quarters, dollars, gold bars, what have you). Another way to motivate such counting (if your children lack that accounting gene) is to institute a weekly allowance, which helps the child learn about money as well as the value of services rendered (I personally like to tie allowance to tasks, chores, and responsibilities). Having an allowance gives children the opportunity to, not only handle money, but save money as well, and if they so choose, to spend it on items and experiences they deem worthy of their hard earned cash. This is where it may get tricky, but also offers up an opportunity for parents to teach children that most essential lesson in how to delay gratification.

How do you manage your dealings with money around your children? Do you feel you are imparting wisdom or keeping them from the ugly truth of financial entanglements? Are there methods and lessons you have found to be essential in dealing with children and money? If so, please share.

Read more: Children, Family, Make a Difference, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


+ add your own
11:05AM PDT on Jun 28, 2011


11:33PM PDT on May 28, 2011

Good advice!

10:52PM PDT on Apr 30, 2011

So important to introduce children to the concept of selecting what they want -- not many of us can afford everything (certainly not all at once). Prudence is a great virtue.

5:48AM PDT on Apr 24, 2011

thanks for sharing

1:59AM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

I think we should teach children about money with the cartoon version of Das Kapital.

1:58AM PDT on Apr 23, 2011

@Diane If you want to talk about profanity, write an article and get Care2 to publish it. Don't walk in on a discussion and ask people to sign an unrelated petition, or you may be on the receiving end of some profanity yourself.

8:36PM PDT on Apr 21, 2011

My hope is that Sesame Street can reach children at a young age to teach them sharing, not to be greedy and succumb to conspicuous consumption and extravagance and overspending. To teach children not to have to 'keep up with the Joneses' and to be morally and ethically responsible. I just saw a wonderful news story about a 7 year old boy who had taken up the cause of recycling crayons and selling the new product and then converting the profits from selling the new crayons ($1000) into a community garden. It was extremely inspirational and touching to see children at that age coming up with such creative and thoughtful ideas for Earth Day.

8:30PM PDT on Apr 21, 2011

A penny saved is a penny earned.

5:16PM PDT on Apr 21, 2011

When my children wanted something achievable we'd sit down with a bunch of envelopes and work out how long it would take to save for it using a percentage of their pocket money. We'd number the envelopes and arrange them in order from highest to lowest. Each week they'd put the money in an envelope and could see just how long they had to go. Being able to see from the envelope numbering that there were 4 weeks left, 3 etc seemed to work better than a pie in the sky ballpark time frame.

2:23PM PDT on Apr 21, 2011

At my elementary school we had a store that sold fun items like erasers and stickers and when we were good in class or completed a task we were awarded with fake money that could be used to purchase items at the school store! The whole class would take a weekly field-trip to the store and then we would compare our purchases with our friends'.
Also, when I was young my mom had me help her with balancing her checkbook and adding up the numbers on her taxes...I guess I really liked math but also it gave me a sense of responsibility and a chance to contribute to the family!

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