Teaching Kids to Spend Wisely: Or, Our Trip to Target with a Birthday Gift Card

Teaching Kids to Spend Wisely: Or, Our Trip to Target with a Birthday Gift Card Picture

Two weeks ago my oldest celebrated a birthday, and several people gave her gift cards as presents.  Yesterday, we took the troupe to Target. She asked if she could spend her card on a toy. She had $15, and (of course) we headed straight to the toy aisle after entering the store.

Now, $15 sounds like a lot for an eight-year-old, but as many parents these days know, that amount of money doesn’t go very far when it comes to purchasing toys. And of course everything a little girl of eight wants is priced well beyond that, because the toy that catches her eyes is filled with fifty pieces: pretty dolls, clothes that can be put on and off the pretty doll, and some type of moving vehicle in which the small doll rides around.

In the past, I’ve let my daughters take a dollar or two to the dollar store and spend it on what they want. They choose a toy, pay for it with their own money and out we go. I felt this was a good way to teach them about making decisions about spending, keeping some money in the bank, and saving some money on something they want.

Yesterday was an entirely different story. Every toy my daughter wanted cost well over $15; or it cost just below that, and she realized she would only get to buy one item with the card. As we walked down the aisles of the store, she would pick up a toy and say, “Wow, this is nice!” Then my husband or I would say, “That’s $10, so if you get that, it’s about all you can get.”

Eventually she got to the point of saying after each item, “Wow! That’s a lot of money!” Then she’d put it back.

Bingo! Suddenly she ‘got’ it. That items cost money, and money is hard to come by, and sometimes you have to make tough decisions on what to purchase.

I’ve been trying to drill this into her head for how many years? Each time we head to the store and she wants ‘just one thing’ and I say, “That thing costs ten dollars; that’s a lot of money!” Each time we see something on the television during commercial break and she says, “Let’s call and order that! It’s only twenty dollars!” Each time we head into the grocery store and she picks up the granola bars or rice treats that are not on sale and cost five bucks a pop.

All I needed to do was hand her $15 and tell her to pick out one toy and only one toy. Who knew?!
She finally settled on a package of dolls and clothes for under her $15, but she made the comment as we left the store that she couldn’t believe she could only get one thing ‘with all that money.’

I suppose now that she’s a bit older I should start letting her take a little more money out of her bank to purchase an item, so she can see the true cost of the items she wants. Teaching kids to spend is such an important task, and yet money is so abstract for them. In the past, she would say, “You buy that for me and I will pay you back when we get home. I have $5 in my bank.” To her, $5 meant little more than $1 or $25. She had no concrete understanding of what it meant to have this amount of money in the bank, or how much this money is worth.

Of course, this is one of my jobs as a parent: to teach my children the value of money. And yesterday, accidentally, I stumbled upon a way to do this. It’s not something I can do often, of course. We don’t purchase a lot of toys, although we do venture to the consignment store once a month and they do have lower priced toys than department stores. And now that she is older, I suppose it’s important to increase the amount of money she learns to spend.

Another bonus: yesterday, she used math skills as she figured out how much a toy would cost and how much she would have left.

How do you teach your children about the value of money? 

What do you think?

Teaching Kids to Spend Wisely: Or, Our Trip to Target with a Birthday Gift Card

Kathy Murdock works as a full time writer and web designer. Recently planted in the middle of the deep south from the busy streets of Los Angeles, when she's not coding Wordpress websites or writing about women in business and thrifty motherhood, Kathy spends time photographing alligators, playing with her family, and running. ... More

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  1. Profile photo of lisair lisair says:

    that is a neat idea, i never thought of that!

  2. Profile photo of kelly cannon kelly cannon says:

    teaching responsibilty at a young age is always better

  3. Profile photo of nancyk nancyk says:

    We had the same problem! Took my 6 year old to Target, and she was very disappointed at how expensive everything that she wanted was. She, too, had a $15 card. It was tough. The one thing she truly fell in love with was a Barbie purse, phone and camera set. It was $16!!! The only thing that made noises was the phone – the purse was cheap and would rip instantly and the camera was just a hunk of plastic that didn’t even do anything. I felt bad talking her out of it, but that was ridiculous. Another option is to "purchase" the gift card from your child and give them the $15 cash to either put in their piggy bank or let them use the cash at a garage sale and see how much more they get for it.


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