Help Your Child Understand Spending Money

The last few summers I have spent time compiling and creating educational money-related activities for young children. In other words, I get to read creative, insightful picture books and experiment with fun hands-on materials! Then, during the school year, University of Illinois Extension staff and volunteers present these lessons to youth. I am very impressed with how curious children 4-11 years old are about money and how much information they absorb from our short lessons.

Children see us go shopping, pay bills and go to work, but we don't often talk to them about how we use money. I've found the children we work with have lots of ideas about money: some accurate and some not-so-accurate. We need conversations with our children to help guide their conclusions. Young children seem to especially like conversations about spending and sharing money.

For example, one of our lessons includes making coin rubbings from international coins. Who knew there were so many different coins – not young children who haven't traveled! A book that fits nicely with this activity is "My Rows and Piles of Coins," by Tololwa M. Mollel and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Recognized for its illustrations with a Coretta Scott King Honor Award, in this picture book, a young boy is determined to help his mother take farm produce to the local Tanzanian market and sets out to save coins to buy a bike. The story has a wonderful twist at the end that will easily lead to conversations about family values, as well.

Another activity revolves around the Max and Ruby story, "Bunny Money," by Rosemary Wells. Max and Ruby's adventures with money while they're shopping for a present for Grandma are engaging. Providing youth with their own envelope of money to spend along with Max and Ruby helps them practice spending (and budgeting) money.

Two other fun books which have inspired activities are "Follow the Money!" by Loreen Leedy and "Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique" written by Jane O'Connor and illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser." In "Follow the Money!" the travels of a quarter are followed step-by-step from its creation to delivery to a local bank and from one spending situation to the next. In Fancy Nancy, the concepts of earning and sharing are explored with delightful illustrations.

You can bring these stories into your home! Look for the books at your local libraries.

Also, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has created a "Money as You Grow Book Club" program facilitator's implementation guide to encourage parents, librarians and others to use stories as a way to begin money conversations with children. The CFPB website includes more information about this program plus other resources such as activities and conversation starters for youth at different ages.

For other money-related book ideas read the blog post, "Encouraging Young Entrepreneurs: Summer Reading." Another post is "Stories Help Share Values."

Use summer time to start a money conversation with a child. I think you'll be impressed with how much they are interested in the topic.


Reference to specific products does not imply endorsement by University of Illinois Extension, nor is discrimination intended against any that are not listed. Other excellent books about money exist. What are your favorites?