Financial literacy made fun with these holiday gifts

By Alexandra Severini, personal finance writer

The holiday season is responsible for more than a healthy dose of cheer, it’s continuously the impetus for one of the year’s most significant retail surges. In fact, the National Retail Federation projects that 2016 will break a spending record with nearly a quarter of consumers planning to spend more than in years past.

This may not come as a surprise, but it should spur a larger conversation about the importance of managing your money. That way, when the holidays come around, you’re in a comfortable financial position to fully enjoy them. Lessons like these are best learned early, and there’s no better group to have this conversation with than the children in your life.

The early end of Generation Z (defined as those born between the mid-90s and late-2000s) has already aged into adulthood, but the later end is still in their formative years. Moreover, despite the fact that the Millennial generation is surpassing Baby Boomers, regarding their spending awareness and money-saving habits, the financial state of our future is still eerily uncertain. According to a 2014 Fidelity Investments Millennial Money Study

“39% of Millennials admit to worrying [about their financial future] at least once a week or more often.”

It is more important now, than ever, to teach financial literacy to our youngest generation.

This holiday season, an effective way to lead the charge is to give gifts that promote financial wellness. Teaching your kids the value of a buck, showing them how to best spend and save theirs, and keeping the exchange light, is best done with a fun and purposeful gift.

So, as you finish up any last minute holiday shopping consider our picks for gifts that will inspire financial health long after the snow has melted:

Piggy Banks (Ages 2+)

Did you know that piggy banks were first introduced as a form of money collection in the 14th century? There’s a reason they’ve been around for what feels like forever. They work. They’re a simple, tangible way for kids to see how money can add up over time. From basic to advanced versions, ceramic pigs to glass bottles to wooden treasure chests, there’s no exact way to do it right, what’s important is doing it at all. Looking for a quick buy?

  • Money Savvy Piggy Bank - Fat Brain Toys has created a slightly more sophisticated piggy bank that separates money into different chambers aptly labeled “Save,” “Spend,” “Donate,” & “Invest.” Each category offers you the opportunity to have a constructive conversation about what each means and then it is up to your child to consciously organize their savings into the categories they care about.

  • Automatic Digital Coin Counter - A nice way to see exactly what’s going in, this modern piggy bank counts the money your child saves for them. It’s a great exercise in mathematics. Give them a small handful of coins and have them drop each in one by one while reciting the new amount. Take it a step further and have them predict the new amount before the counter calculates it. The association will help them learn that while the big, shiny nickel may look more significant, the little dime actually increases the overall value of the bank.

Coupon Books (Ages 4-8)

It might not sound very exciting, but there are plenty of ways to emphasize the merit of this little packet of paper to your mini me. Just like your coupons work for you, helping you save on products and services, so can homemade coupons help your kids understand the value of an exchange. Instead of each coupon being worth a specific dollar amount, they will denote desired prizes and activities.

  • Premade Coupon Book - If you want a finished item that your child can open on the day of your celebrated holiday, buy or download any of the numerous coupon templates available on Etsy. This one from Orange Lady Bird has 24 premade coupons that you can download, print out, and package up with next to no effort on your part!

  • Do-It-Together Coupons - Take the lead and get creative! Gift your child with colorful paper, safety scissors, crayons, and any other preferred crafts like glitter, beads, and glue. Sit down together to discuss at least ten things they consider a treat. Whether it’s watching two episodes of their favorite show, eating a piece of candy before dinner, or staying up 30 minutes past bedtime, the 2 of you get to make that decision together.

Play Money Sets (Ages 4 - 8)

Do you remember being a kid desperately trying to act like an adult? I recall spending entire afternoons walking around the house in my mother’s heels, carrying a purse with nothing more than a technicolor slinky and hairband inside. The only thing more exciting to me than that was money. Kids observe your spending earlier than you may realize and you can be an active participant in their financial learning process by gifting them with their own money to practice with. Similar to the coupon book concept, make a game out of day-to-day events by using play money and asking that they “pay” for whatever it is they want.

  • Holiday-Specific Tip: Give your child a play money set as their first present and ask that they divvy up their money to pay for each of their remaining gifts.

  • The same can be done with a pretend checkbook where they write a check for an arbitrary amount assigned to each gift. Checkwriting - something I certainly wish I’d learned earlier in life!

Financial Board Games (Ages 5+)

A fun and inclusive way to teach children how money works is through strategic gameplay. By assigning value to fake money, incorporating hypothetical, playful situations, and making it a group activity, kids learn about money management and grow to appreciate the concept of commerce. Moreover, who doesn’t love gathering around the table for a rainy day of board game play?

  • Monopoly Junior - Just like its classic counterpart, Monopoly Junior offers a simple, fun, easy-to-understand way of using money to make purchases. However, instead of buying property, kids are encouraged to buy amusements like bowling alleys, movie theaters, and burger joints. This game can be played with kids 5 and up.

  • Managing My Allowance - Perfect for kids in grade 3 and up, this game offers valuable insight for hypothetical first money experiences. Using fake coins and bills, players make purchases, handle allowances, compute change, and make savings deposits. Rewarded for accuracy and “smart spending,” this game helps to prep kids for the financial future by simulating real life scenarios.

  • Cashflow for Kids - A youthful take on the more advanced game, Cashflow, this version is fit to be played with kids as young as 6-years-old. Developed by investment tycoon and author of famed financial best-seller, Rich Dad Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki, this game promises to teach the fundamentals of cashflow, assets, capital gains, and liabilities in a fun, easy-going manner that any child can understand.

Credit/Debit Card (Ages 13+)

There’s certain skepticism that surrounds the topic of opening a credit or debit card in your child’s name, and we don’t intend to minimize the responsibility that comes with it. However, we know that when managed correctly, this can be an invaluable asset. Establishing a sound credit history and helping your child understand the credit/debit system that they’ll inevitably walk into as an adult, is worthwhile. Please note that our credit/debit recommendations are contingent on your having already been teaching financial literacy to your child(ren). Naturally, each child grasps the concept of money, saving, and spending depending on their own level of maturity. This step should be one of the last before financial independence.

  • Authorized User - By adding your child as an authorized user on your credit card, they’ll have permission to legally use your card for purchases, but you will be responsible for paying the balance. The best way to utilize this method is by keeping the card in your wallet. When your child is with you and you are making a purchase for them, pull out their card, have them swipe it and sign for it. When the bank statement is available, make time to sit down and review the statement together. Explain to them how interest works and emphasize the importance of not only paying the minimum amount required.

  • Debit Card - For many parents, the idea of signing their child up for a credit card is daunting. After all, it’s not money that their child technically has. Instead, a debit card is less intimidating. Consider adding a certain amount to the account as their holiday gift. Throughout the year, any birthday money, allowance, graduation cash, etc. can be deposited directly into their debit account. Show them the process by which you do this by either taking them to the bank, showing them how to use the mobile check deposit feature, or transferring funds from your account to theirs. They’ll never be able to spend what they don’t have but they will get a sense of a declining balance and learn to manage their money accordingly. It’s important to remember that while this is an effective way of teaching money management it won’t help your child build their credit.

This year, make the holidays your opportunity to introduce - or hone - the concept of money with your children through gifts that both entertain and educate.

Written on December 19, 2016

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