Be a smart cookie: How you and your kids can learn money lessons this holiday season

The Smart Cookie’s holiday money tips

This little guide brings together two of my obsessions—sharing holiday baking with my family and helping people save some dough (!). Here are five finance-savvy treats that can help you keep to a budget, teach your kids valuable money lessons, and focus on what really matters this season and beyond. Plus: zero calories!

Instead of gifts, give your kids experiences this year. Your family will remember a special day out together—think pottery classes, baking lessons, a show, or ice-skating—long after this year’s superhot toy is gathering dust. Bonus: Skates never need fresh batteries!

Coordinate with your family members to set a spending limit for gifts this year. Anyone who goes over has to clean up the wrapping paper and tinsel! (Grandparents can be tough to convince; they just love any chance to overindulge the grandkids. Here’s my advice on how to handle that delicate conversation.)

Make sure that you and your kids spend those gift cards in full—before they expire. Unused balances are just free money for the retailers—a total of about a billion dollars a year. On the flipside, tell your kids that the value of the card is all they can spend (even if you have to toss in a buck or two for tax). It’ll teach them a lesson about setting and staying within a budget that’ll last a lot longer than the video game they download.

Have your younger kids give a fraction of any holiday cash—say 15%—to a charity of their choice. Don’t worry if they’re not totally on board. Weirdly, “fake it till you make it” actually works when you’re trying to raise more charitable children. Research shows that kids whose parents make them give actually grow up to be more altruistic adults.

We’ve all been there: You go way over your gift budget, but the cashier offers to set things right with a sizable discount. The catch: You have to sign up for a store card. Don’t fall for it. The sweet initial discounts are tempting, but store cards typically come with a much higher interest rate than other credit cards. If you don’t pay it off in full each month, that superhigh interest will wipe out any money you saved at the register. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

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