Teaching Basic Money Concepts
Most of what I learned about basic money concepts as a child I
learned from observing my parents. It was easier to learn this way
back then because I grew up in a day when most transactions involved
trading cash for goods. We live in a different time now so kids
might not easily grasp concepts and need to be taught.
Teaching basic ideas about finances to kids while they’re young
helps you lay the foundation for sensible habits when they grow up.
One of the first basic facts you’ll need to cover with children is
what money actually is, and why people use it.
Begin by explaining about cash itself: different types like coins
and notes, how change works, as well as some more abstract ideas
such as checking accounts and debit or credit cards.
What Money Is and Why We Use It
Very young kids may be confused of the whole idea of cash and
trading value. The idea of a straight swap or exchange is more
natural to most kids. You can introduce the idea by setting up a
simple pretend shop with play money
in your house. Give your child some play cash and coins and let him
or her “shop” for items, and explain how much each thing costs in
relation to the play cash (keep prices simple, $1 or $2 at first).
Explain that it’s easier for people to use cash to buy all sorts of
different things, rather than trading for them, because money is
something that everyone can use.
Coins and Notes
Children may at first be confused about the fact that notes can be
worth more than coins. After all, many kids think the value of cash
is in what it’s made of – how can paper be worth more than silver?
You can also explain this with play cash – five of these coins is
worth one of these notes, for example.
To help older kids learn the value of the coins you can play
a simple game
Give each child several coins of each denomination. Write an amount
on a piece of paper and see who can come up with the most ways to
match the amount you wrote down with the coins they have.
For example, if you write down 45 cents, they could do 4 dimes and a
nickel, a quarter and two dimes, etc. This will not only reinforce
the values of the coins but will also give them counting practice.
Try these worksheets for printable counting activities
changes with coins
For younger kids, the gumball machines
at supermarkets are a
great way to teach them how cash is used. Allowing them to put in a
dime or quarter to get a gumball will teach them the basic concept
of exchanging money for goods.
a gumball machine teaches
kids about money concepts
Teaching Basic Money Concepts- Change
After they've learned how notes and coins work, you can get in the
idea of change. This can also be done through your home play store.
(Your child will need to have basic counting skills before you
attempt to teach this). Simply have your child buy a $2 item with a
$5 note, and give the appropriate $3 change. After you’ve done this
a few times and the child understands the idea, switch roles and
have him or her play the shopkeeper and calculate the right change.
a simple cash register game
Ideas About Money
As well as the fundamental practical side of dealing with cash, it’s
important to teach kids some abstract basic money concepts. With
some of these ideas you’ll have to wait until the child reaches a
certain age and level of intellectual development, but a few basic
tips can be explained to kids at quite a young age. For example:
- Money is important and shouldn’t be wasted. Explain that most
of what you have in life is paid for with cash. Let the
kids know the house, car, their clothes, and the food they eat
is paid for with cash. Money is an important tool and should be
treated with respect.
- Earning cash requires work.
Kids need to understand that money doesn’t grow on trees. Let
them understand that you work to earn cash, and when you start
giving out an allowance,
make sure they work for it by doing
chores around the house.
You can make teaching basic money concepts part of everyday life.
See our Teaching Money Skills
for more games and worksheets to print.