The Best Money Tools and Toys for Every Age Group
It was almost four years ago that I initially researched the world of financial teaching tools for kids. At the time, I thought that many of the top-notch products on the market aimed at introducing children to money would be a great holiday gift. Now I realize that it’s never too early to pick up a reputable toy, tool, or application that can instill important money values into your child’s education. Here are some of the top picks I’ve identified, broken down by age group. (See also: This Season, Give Your Child the Gift of Fiscal Responsibility
Birth to Age 3
While they really can’t absorb many financial principles at this age, there are things they can learn about money. For starters, money doesn’t go in the mouth. They can also start to grasp a basic familiarity with cash by playing with toy piggy banks, complete with play money appropriate for their age group. (Look for toys that won’t become a choking hazard; they should be clearly marked for kids under 3.) The Fisher-Price Laugh n’ Learn Bank has been around for years, and it is one of the only banks on the market that’s approved for children as young as 6 months.
Preschool is an exciting time for kids! We like to get things rolling with a hands-on lesson in coinage and the appropriate names and values for each. In addition, we have found that DVDs are a major boost to the “wow” factor when teaching money. Our favorite is currently Munchkin Math: Counting Money, which has the kids singing the values of money and playing little games between activities. This is also the perfect age to teach basic business foundations by encouraging your little one to play “store.” There are dozens of amazing products on the market, but our favorites for durability and “kid appeal” come from Melissa and Doug. They offer some of the most innovative food and grocery sets around, and their play money seems to last forever!
For those who have grasped the basics and are now on to spending money and basic change-making skills, I find that the Rock N’ Learn: Money & Making Change DVD is great for kids with a short attention span. (Parents be warned, however; the songs are loud and you may not be able to tolerate it for very long.) My wiggly boys seem to absorb quite a bit via the Rock N’ Learn DVDs, and the recommended age for this DVD is spot on. You will also want to include them in basic shopping tasks at this age, which can include having them clip coupons, count out money at the register when checking out, or picking out the lowest price product at the store. (We always have the kids pick the cheapest “pink” milk from the grocer’s fridge.)
From age 8 on, I highly suggest that adults employ some kind of allowance system. The benefits for making kids work for their allowance are many, but even if you just hand them a couple of bucks a week for nothing, there can be a lesson made of the experience. There are many resources available to help kids track their earning, spending, and saving, and many of those I mentioned in my previous article are still around and awesome (including the Moon Jar and Money Savvy Pig.) Whatever you choose, however, try to avoid any banks or products that count the money for the kids. While it is neat to hear a robotic bank count out pennies, it defeats the purpose of having kids manage their own cash.
The Teen Years
Learning shouldn’t stop now, especially since kids will be exercising new freedoms with their money. For a fun way to reinforce basic economic facts in a way that football fans will enjoy, I think the Financial Football Game from Visa will help to engage bored students and break the monotony of textbooks. When you’re ready for a real-life application of using a budget, nothing compares to the concept behind Bill My Parents and their prepaid card for teens. Unlike other cards, which parents tend to load and forget, the BMP card provides updates to parents on every purchase made via text notifications and provides the control parents need to help get kids talking about where their money went.
College and Beyond
Parents, I’m pleading with you — PLEASE don’t forget about your college-aged kid just because they no longer live with you. They are going to make some of their most harmful mistakes while in their late teens/early twenties, and even with the new age limit for consumer debt accounts, there will be a need for preparation and practice. If you send care packages, now would be a great time to include a few choice issues of some of the better financial magazines on the market. If you find the hardcore economics reads to be too dry, an Inc. or Fast Company subscription will at least get their entrepreneurial juices flowing.
Are you incorporating an understanding of financial skills into your child’s daily life? Even with the classes offered in today’s schools, there are never enough “official” lessons being given to our youth. Take the lead as a parent, uncle, or friend, and see what the child in your life knows about money. The answer may surprise you, and the outcome to teaching them what they should know can only make our world a better place.