As inflation continues to impact American families, many are trying to find creative ways to stretch their spending power. Why not include children in that discussion and help them develop long-term financial skills as well?
Consider exploring these opportunities to teach fiscal responsibility in everyday “lessons” that may not come in textbooks but could end up benefiting your children for life!
Teaching opportunity 1: Discuss budgeting and economic principles as a family.
“Is it a need, or a want?”
My parents often asked me this question whenever I approached them as a child with a request to buy something. Of course, I had no idea at the time that they were launching my journey into differentiating between discretionary spending, or my wants, and non-discretionary spending, or my needs (such as food, shelter and clothing).
Children often don’t get to see our non-discretionary spending such as rent and utility costs. Try involving them whenever you are paying bills, even if it’s as simple as scheduling an online payment. Take the time to explain how rising fuel, electricity and water prices directly affect your household’s spending.
Read-aloud books can also introduce simple ideas of marketplaces, producing and consuming goods, and financial management to young children. Some examples are:
- “Ox-Cart Man” by Donald Hall
- “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Numeroff
- “The Toothpaste Millionaire” by Jean Merrill
Teaching opportunity 2: Buy in bulk to save on packaging and other retail costs.
Wholesale retailers typically get more business during tough economic times, and this year is no exception. In addition to well-known stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club, families may also want to consider bulk food distributors such as Azure Standard.
“Instead of using a middle man or expensive shipping, we make it affordable to pick up all your groceries, even bulk quantities, at one of our community delivery drop sites,” the company explains on its website.
Shoppers can keep adding items to their online carts before a cut-off date when the company will place orders on trucks that deliver on a monthly schedule. While customers can pay to have items shipped directly to their homes, it’s often cheaper to arrive at the community delivery drop sites to collect orders.
Whole families will often show up at the delivery drop sites, including babies and toddlers. This also gives older children an excellent opportunity to help carry boxes and learn more about food supply chains and storage.
Teaching opportunity 3: Cultivate local food sources such as farmers markets, area grocers and gardens.
Kansas City, like many other cities, enjoys a wealth of local farmers markets that meet at various times and locations. It also has several smaller grocery stores and chains providing specialty items that often can’t be found at larger, discount retailers.
Another possibility is to try gardening and growing your own food as a family. If your residence doesn’t allow for backyard gardening, consider volunteering at a nearby community garden and bringing your children.
Teaching opportunity 4: Schedule free outings whenever possible.
When families are looking for quick and easy entertainment options, the temptation can arise to spend more money on site than originally planned.
But with a little research and foresight, parents can see whether locations will offer discounted or even free admission on different days, weeks or months. For example, the Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead near Kansas City offers free admission after 2 p.m., Monday through Thursday. U-pick orchards will often give free admission and charge you only for the produce you take home.
Other money-free options include going to area libraries, visiting area parks and playgrounds, or planning an elaborate staycation complete with board game nights.
Teaching opportunity 5: Involve your children in meal preparation and planning.
From packing snacks to planning family dinners, your children can help! Even very young children can complete small tasks such as adding water to a recipe or snapping frozen beans into smaller, bite-size pieces to place into a crockpot.
As your children grow older, they can take more responsibility by cooking part of the meal, such as side dishes, desserts and appetizers. Budding entrepreneurs could even consider making specialty baked goods or meals to take to friends and family – for a negotiated price to cover production costs, of course!
Teaching opportunity 6: Provide a small allowance for luxury items.
Are your children consistently clamoring for purchases that may not necessarily break the bank, but are still outside the scope of your budget? Try placing the responsibility back on their shoulders through an allowance.
While each family may structure allowances differently, this option gives children real power to set financial goals for themselves – even if it includes things that you may consider frivolous or unnecessary. For example, if a certain toy is more than $20 but their weekly allowance is less than $10, they may need to save up for several weeks to make the purchase.
Saving up for a big purchase can help them deal with impulse spending as they see their stash disappear in real time. For very young children, cash allowances may help them grasp the concept of money more easily than credit or debit cards.
Teaching opportunity 7: Plan for all-family decluttering or downsizing sessions.
Whenever you’re planning your next fall or spring cleaning, make it a family project with every member involved in going through old toys, clothes, and other objects they no longer use.
Not only will your children learn to prioritize the items they really need, but they will also learn valuable organizational skills and introspection. Do they make a habit of culling stuff as it accumulates, or do they tend to keep items long after their use-by date? Do they really prefer a collection of single-purpose toys such as robots or remote-controlled cars, or will a multi-use toy such as balls or building blocks get more of their attention over time?
Some parents will host a garage or yard sale to help their children learn entrepreneurial skills while also adding a fun purpose to all that downsizing. Alternatively, you can donate or consign the excess items with your children participating. Any or all of these processes can remind them that they’re part of a wider community than just their neighborhood or district.
Implementing these opportunities will help your children develop real-life financial skills, useful no matter how the economy is functioning!