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Teaching Kids About Money

When I was young, my dad supported a family of six on a teacher’s salary. It was hard in the 1970’s, and I can’t imagine trying to do it now. I remember grocery shopping with my mom and watching her keep a running total of every item in the cart to make sure she stayed within her budget. In high school, after I bought a record album on impulse, my mom made me create a budget and show her my income, expenses, and bank statement each month. I hated it, but it taught me to live frugally and save money, which was an essential skill once I left home. I still love a good bargain and try to teach my kids the value of working hard and saving money. Sometimes I think they get it, and other times it seems like “job, budget, and saving” are foreign words to them.

This article is created by Nicole Young, a mother of two children, ages 15 and 18, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is available locally at the Child Parent Institute. To find a Triple P parenting class or practitioner, visit

Dear Child Parent Institute,

I want my kids to learn the value of money. My partner and I both work two jobs to make ends meet, and we live on a tight budget. Meanwhile, our kids (7, 10, 15) constantly ask for money and complain if we say no. My oldest earns some money from dogwalking but spends it as soon as she gets it. We don’t mind giving them money occasionally, but we don’t want them to expect it all the time. Got any suggestions?  

- Troy

Dear Troy,

Good question! Learning to manage money is an important life skill that’s necessary for independence in adulthood. Here are some tips to try:

Create a family budget. If you haven’t done this already, create a simple budget that shows how much you earn and spend each month on essential items like food, housing, transportation, utilities, child care, and other bills. This can help children see how much (or little) money is left for other things like clothing, entertainment, and school or social activities.

Teach your kids about the family budget. Kids are often unaware of the family budget because they’re not involved in day-to-day spending decisions. Although we don’t want children to worry about the family’s financial health, it’s still good for them to learn the importance of budgeting and saving for the future. This can be hard to teach, especially since kids might not see people use physical money very often. With more options to buy things online, by credit or debit card, or with apps connected to bank accounts, kids might truly believe that money magically appears. To make the concept of money and budgeting more concrete, try using play money from a board game to demonstrate how much money comes into the household each month, how much gets spent on essential items, and how much is left over.

Help them set goals for earning and saving money. If your kids want certain items, have them research the costs then prioritize one thing they want to buy. Help them identify all the ways they can earn and save money – small jobs at home or in the neighborhood, a job in the community, an allowance, or any money they receive as gifts – even if it’s a few cents at a time. Teach them to create a budget and keep track of how close they are to reaching their goal. They can create budgets using paper, a spreadsheet, or envelopes or containers marked “Saving” (money they won’t spend) and “Spending” (money for buying items they want). This can help kids make a concrete connection between working, earning, and saving money.

Encourage them to find contentment from things that don’t cost money. While it can feel good to buy things with hard-earned money, it’s also valuable for children to learn to experience happiness and contentment in other ways. One of the simplest ways to do this is to set a good example – talk with your kids about things that make you feel happy, content, grateful, and loved – including your family and other non-material things.

FINAL THOUGHTS: People often say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” and “Money can’t buy you happiness.” These sayings may seem old-fashioned, but they’re as true as ever. Teaching kids about valuing and managing money without relying on material things for happiness is essential for their future independence and lifelong well-being.


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