School is out and the kids are home. If it hasn’t happened already, chances are it won’t be long before you hear those famous words: “I’m bored.” Now would be a good time to use that boredom to teach kids a little something about finance in ways that are fun. The more kids learn about finance, the better (hopefully) they will be at managing money as adults. Teaching opportunities start early, and the long days of summer are a good time to begin or continue that instruction.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of ideas and activities for kids that are designed to teach them a bit about personal finance without seeming like “work.”
1. Play finance related board games. My favorites are Monopoly, The Game of Life, Pay Day, Acquire, Trump (as in Donald) The Game, Stock Market Tycoon, and Settlers of Catan. There are also games for younger children such as Monopoly Junior. Each one teaches different financial lessons including managing money in daily life, mergers and acquisitions, and managing the fortunes of an entire civilization. I prefer the original versions of some of these games that use actual money as opposed to the newer versions that use credit cards simply because I think that handling and counting money are important skills that can’t be taught by the newer credit card games. Plus, I’m not certain that teaching kids to use credit cards is a good thing.
2. Play the stock market. If your kids are old enough to understand the basics of investing, have them play the stock market at home. Have them pick a few stocks that interest them (i.e., companies that they know like Disney, Apple, Sony, Gap, etc.) and let them buy and sell the stocks on paper for the summer. You can track stock performance online, in the daily paper, or via television networks like CNBC. At the end of the summer, see how much they made or lost. You can choose to do this with real money (maybe you gift them a certain amount to play with) or you can just do it on paper. If you have multiple kids close to the same age, you can have a summer-long contest with a prize to the highest earner at the end of the summer. Either way, it gets them thinking about investing and understanding how the market works.
3. Open the classic lemonade stand. If you have budding entrepreneurs, let them open a lemonade stand or other business (dog walking, babysitting, lawn care, etc.) to earn a little pocket money. They’ll learn about responsibility and keeping customers happy, as well as what it feels like to earn money and then decide whether to spend it or save it.
4. Watch finance related movies or television shows. Television and movies make great starting points for discussions about financial matters. There are a lot to choose from here and your choices will depend upon the age of the child and how much they already know about finance. Some places to start for television: Little House on the Prairie had several episodes related to debt and money problems and Schoolhouse Rock (available on DVD) had several financial episodes. Some movie titles include: EZ Money, the Money Mammals, The Money Pit, Arthur’s Money Matters, and For Richer or Poorer. Unfortunately, some of the best financial movies such as Wall Street, Other People’s Money, and Trading Places are rated R, so you’ll have to decide if your kids should watch these. There are also several educational DVD’s about the basics of finance available, such as the Standard Deviants series. Older kids can benefit from documentaries such as “Maxed Out,” “What Would Jesus Buy,” or “In Debt We Trust.” Search under “finance,” “money,” and “kids” at Amazon.com or Netflix/Blockbuster for more title ideas.
5. Play free online games. A great source of free financial related games is the Financial Literacy page at the Utah Education Network. Here you’ll find a collection of links to easy online games and learning tools. These are primarily for the younger set, although older kids who are just learning about finance may find them fun, as well.
6. Play finance related video games. If you have a PC, there are several games available that incorporate money management and business skills. One good example is The Sims. As part of managing your Sims’ lives, you have to find them jobs, get them to work every day and then spend their money wisely so they can upgrade their lives and afford some fun things. The Open For Business Expansion pack takes this even further by having your Sims open and run their own businesses while dealing with the attendant problems of start up costs, cash flow, and customer satisfaction. Other choices include Roller Coaster Tycoon, in which you open your own theme park and manage its daily operations, others in the Tycoon series such as Zoo Tycoon, Cruise Ship Tycoon, etc., and Sim City where you manage the daily operations and problems of your own city. You can also play versions of Monopoly and The Game of Life on your PC.
7. Include your kids in your finances. OK, this one isn’t as fun as some of the others, but you can make it into an enjoyable evening. Now that the kids aren’t rushing off after dinner to do homework, take the opportunity to sit them down and explain to them how you pay bills, where the money comes from, how you’ve set up your budget, and what your money choices are. You don’t have to show them every penny, but kids need a sense that money isn’t unlimited and that there are choices that have to be made. You can do this by piling up Monopoly money on the table in the amount of one months’ expenses and then showing kids the bills and the money that goes with them. By then end of the exercise, the kids will be able to see where the money has gone and that any leftover is then allocated to savings, fun or other goals. Make a favorite meal, do this exercise, and then play a game or watch a movie to create an evening of financial literacy.
8. Visit your local bank. Some banks offer resources for kids such as educational coloring or activity books, special accounts for kids, or other activities. Some banks even offer summer savings programs for kids that match interest earnings or offer prizes for goals reached. Ask at your local branch about activities they offer. Even if your bank doesn’t specifically offer things for kids, open a savings account for your kids and let them put money into it to learn how interest works. Let them put their chore money, allowances, gifts, or other earnings into the account (take them with you so they can see how the transactions work) and show them their statements each month so they can track their money’s growth. Maybe you can throw in an extra incentive like matching their earned interest at the end of the summer or a prize of some type.
There are other fun options as well including reading money-related fiction and non-fiction, playing counting and money identification games with younger kids, combining travel to foreign places with currency conversion lessons, or visiting places like Fort Knox or the U.S. Mint as part of your summer travels. Your choices are limited only by your creativity.
So many kids only understand the spending aspect of money because that’s all they see. Take some time this summer to teach them about investing, saving, and money management. If you combine play with learning, the lessons don’t have to be hard or feel like school. If you’re lucky, your kids won’t even realize they’re learning anything.
Image courtesy of Conlawprof