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1. Hit a yard sale
Yard sales are usually piled high with kids' stuff. Younger children will love picking out a book or toy at this "outside store." And older kids will quickly discover that their allowance money stretches much further here than it does at the mall. Afterward, you can bask in the glow of snagging a great deal.
If your family likes to sleep in on Saturdays, take the kids to the local thrift shop instead. Both are also wonderful opportunities to talk about reusing and recycling.
2. Visit the bank
Taking your child to the bank is worth more than just a free lollipop. Watching bank transactions helps kids understand what cash actually is. Let your child be involved as much as possible. Even preschoolers can hand a check to the teller.
As your child gets older, consider opening an account for him, and help him learn to track his savings. Many banks and credit unions have special no-fee accounts for kids, complete with educational materials and online activities.
3. Enlist your child as a bill assistant
While your kid watches from his booster seat, you swipe your credit card, push a few buttons, pump the gas, and abracadabra – it's off to swim lessons. Can we really blame kids for thinking of a credit card as magic and infinite?
Break through the mystique by letting your child help you pay the credit-card bill. "This will let him see the whole picture," explains Sharon Lechter, coauthor of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Go through the charges, and remind him what you're paying for ("Remember when we had to stop for gas on the way to swim lessons?").
Preschoolers and kindergartners can put the check and bill into the envelope and stick on a stamp. Older children can help record the check number in your checkbook or online accounting system.
Have your child help you with the other bills, too – utilities, rent, cable. Not only will he enjoy being a part of things, but he'll gain a whole new perspective on how money flows. There may be some nice side benefits as well; once your kid knows how much electricity costs, he may be more cooperative about turning out the light when he leaves a room.
4. Shop at a farmers' market
At the supermarket children don't see any sign of the farmer. Taking them to a farmers' market instead is a great way to help them understand the connection between work and money. Let your child be as involved as possible. As he helps you choose a bunch of carrots and hands the cash to the farmer, he'll get to see the market economy in action.
Explain that the farmer grew the blackberries himself, so he gets to decide how much they cost – and the customers then decide if they want to pay that amount. You can also explain that with the money the farmer earns, he can buy supplies to grow more blackberries.
5. Clip coupons
Before you recycle all those annoying circulars that arrive on your doorstep Sunday mornings, why not have a coupon-clipping fiesta with your child? Even if you're not a coupon clipper yourself, it's worth making the effort to teach your child about savings and discounts. He can help identify coupons that might be a good match for this week's grocery needs (even nonreaders can do this, because most coupons include pictures), help cut them out, and put them in a large envelope.
Next time you go to the grocery store, let your child be in charge of the coupons. Depending on his age, he can be the "coupon envelope holder," the "product finder," the "tracker of money saved," or all three. Afterward, talk about how much money the two of you saved and how you might use that money.
Or, if you can't stand dealing with coupons, use your grocery savings card at a participating market. While you shop, point out the deals marked for cardholders, and show him your family's savings on the receipt after you shop.
6. Volunteer and donate as a family
Integral to financial literacy is the understanding that some people have more than others – and that those with more can help those with less. "Families can do very simple things to get children in the habit of giving," says Laura Busque, Outreach Manager for the Ohion Credit Union League. "Try shopping together for food and delivering it to a local food pantry."
You can also match your child's interests with causes – if he's an animal lover, buy supplies for the local animal shelter or volunteer together to help feed the animals.
7. Encourage your child to make a little money
Earning money is not only educational but empowering for kids. The good old-fashioned lemonade stand remains a fine choice – and it has the added benefit of encouraging teamwork. "A lemonade stand is a perfect thing for siblings to do together," says Lechter. "The older one can handle the money, and the younger one can hand out the cups. And the older child can 'mentor' the younger child, which will help them both feel good."
Other money-making ideas for kids include selling outgrown toys and clothes at a flea market, helping to host a family yard sale, and doing chores above and beyond the usual around the house for extra pocket money.
8. Take a class
Many credit unions and banks offer seminars for children. You may think your kid will just roll his eyes at the idea, but give him a chance. "I never cease to be amazed at how interested kids are in learning about money," says Mark Hodowanic, who helps teach seminars at TopLine Federal Credit Union. Check to see what your bank or credit union offers.
9. Set a family savings goal
Is your child dying to go to Disneyland? Does he have to have a trampoline? Agree on a long-term goal and start a fund in a jar, suggests Sam Renick, author of It's a Habit, Sammy Rabbit! This makes the family work as a team, and, Renick says, "brings joy into saving." Your children can help deposit your loose change in the "pot" and can contribute part of their allowance from time to time.
10. Play games
The next time your child asks for computer time, let him try some of the online games that teach money skills. Many credit union sites have games and other activities, like printable coloring pages. For starters, check out Money & Stuff, Fat Cat, and the U.S. Mint site.
Of course, these days it's easy to forget about board games – remember those? But a good game of Monopoly or Life, even though it deals in fantasy, help hammer in ideas of earnings, savings, and loss.