If you’ve ever walked through the toy department with your child, you know early on that kids think money must grow on trees. They want everything they see – no matter the price. They want that $500 Lego Star Wars Death Star Kit as a reward just for having to come shopping with you. (The fact that there is a Lego kit that costs $500 is crazy in itself. $500 just for 4,000 little pieces of plastic – which you know, inevitably pieces will get lost, so they’ll probably never build it, and someone’s going to end up stepping on one of those painful plastic bricks. Save your money.)
You can’t actually blame kids for thinking money’s free. After all, they probably have seen you walk up to a slot in a wall, type in a few numbers, and money just comes spitting out. So, for your own good, sooner than later, take your child on a trip to the bank. You can make it into a fun “field trip”. You can take your child up to the teller and ask for a print out of your account. If you get a friendly teller you can explain to them why you are there and maybe they can also educate your child on what a bank does, that you put money into it that you have worked for, and they keep it there for safe keeping until you need it. Maybe they can even show your child where the bank vault is.
They usually have comfortable chairs in a waiting area, where you can then sit your child down and show them the print out of your account and explain to them a little about what it shows you. Talk to them about the money you have in the account, how your family earned it, and how it’s used to pay for the house you live in and the food you eat. You can then tell them how the ATM works. Have them try it out by first depositing some money or a check, so they can see to get money from a bank, you need to put your own money into the bank. Then have them take some money out of the machine. Explain that though it looks like the machine is just giving you free money, it’s actually giving you back your own money that you have been keeping there. Talk to them about how the money they just took out, will be used to buy gas for the car or groceries for dinner.
Hopefully this outing will help them understand a little better that money is not free, that it is earned by working and that it is just kept at the bank for safe keeping. Also, that there is not an endless supply of money, that there is only a certain amount in your family account and that you first need to spend it on needs (house, food, car) and then prioritize your wants in the way you can spend some of your discretionary money. I’m sure it won’t fully change their behavior the next time they find themselves in the toy aisle but it is a first step.