Simple ways to talk with young children about money

Simple ways to talk with young children about money

Many parents grapple with how to talk to their kids about a certain sensitive topic. They want to know: Are the kids old enough to understand? Am I talking about this too late, or too early? Will I explain things clearly, or just confuse them?

I’m referring, of course, to the money talk. And I’m a firm believer in the idea that no kid is too young to get it.

That’s why I was so thrilled when Sesame Workshop asked me to be an advisor on “For Me, For You, For Later,” a national financial literacy initiative that launched last week. Who better than Sesame Street to help teach kids about something as tricky as money? I even got to teach Elmo on camera about spending, saving, and sharing. You can see the results – free videos for kids and helpful guides for parents – at

Even if you agree that discussing the building blocks of money basics is important, it can be tough to know where to start. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult. Focus on concepts when you talk to young children, not math. This is not teaching that five pennies equal a nickel, but about how we make decisions about using that nickel.

Here are a few lessons that even preschool-age kids can grasp:

  • We make choices every day. Sometimes you choose to wear a blue shirt, sometimes you choose to wear a green shirt. When you go to the store, you have a finite amount of money. Maybe you only have $1. You can buy two oranges or one grapefruit.
  • You can keep money in 3 jars. If we get money, like from our grandma for a birthday present, we can put it into three jars: some of it is for spending, some is for saving, and some is for sharing.
  • Sometimes we have to wait. You wait for the swings, and you wait for your birthday. Likewise, if you save the money you earn from working and that you receive as a gift, you can buy something you really want but that you didn’t have enough money for when you first saw it, like a new scooter or a dollhouse.
  • People work to make money. A teacher earns money. A police officer earns money. The librarian earns money. And you can earn money by doing jobs like recycling cans, washing the car, or raking leaves for a neighbor.
  • It’s good to help others. You can share your time, your talents, and even your money. Sometimes it’s fun to share money with a friend who has less. And there are lots of ways to help people that don’t cost any money.

What roadblocks have you stumbled upon when teaching kids about money?

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