Teaching kids about money: want it or need it?

It’s not easy to teach your kids about money. But don’t worry, parents – we’ve got your back.

I think we all wish there was something we’d learned about finances when we were younger. From building good habits like budgeting to understanding concepts like savings and interest, when we learn things as kids, they stick.

But talking about money with your kids can be hard. I know firsthand.

It’s not easy knowing how much to share without overwhelming their tiny brains or turning them into an anxious mess. That’s why I’m so excited about this new blog series. I’ll take you through some kid-friendly lessons I wish I’d learned. Each lesson has a core concept, some discussion help, and an activity you can tailor to meet your kids wherever they are.

Parents – let’s get started!

Up first: wants, needs, and where money comes from

It’s good to start by asking a question or two. I started with, “What do we use money for?”

Initially, the kids replied with a steady stream of their favourite things to do and eat. That’s where follow-up questions are key. For example, my five-year-old answered, “We use money to buy Tim Bits!” because, well, we do.

“Well, how do we get there?”

“In the car!”

“Right! So, the car is something we need. And what makes the car go?”

“… gas.”

“Right again! And do we get gas for free? Or does it cost money?”

“It costs money. We should put gas on the list too, Daddy.”

After you make your list – with some coaxing, ours grew to include our house, clothes, food, art supplies, etc. – it’s handy to establish where money comes from. That’d be jobs! Ask your kids to talk about what your job is. If it’s applicable to your family, include your partner’s gig too. Draw a clear connecting line between working for money and having it for what we need.

Activity time! Ages 4-8: want it or need it?

Visuals help us learn – especially kids. If you’ve got the art supplies around, have kids draw a bunch of the things you’ve talked about. Draw some of their favourite foods, a picture of their home, the vehicle you use, maybe some toys too.

Of course, modify the kind of art you’ll make to fit your kids. If they’re older, or just really tech savvy, have them grab images from Google and make a collage. You can use something as simple as Word or free online tools like Canva.

Have your kids cut out the images if you’re using paper or make a file with two columns if you’re doing this digitally. With all your pieces, help the kids sort the different things into needs and wants.

Ask them, “Is that something we need? Or something we want?” This is a game-changing concept for kids. It may take a follow-up question or two, but they’ll quickly understand the difference and organize their chart. We need groceries. Do we need to eat at restaurants every day? Nope – that’s a want. Explore the thing on their list, and before long you’ll have a pretty good foundation.

Here’s where I’d probably call it a lesson. It’s important not to overwhelm kiddos with a ton of info in one shot. The next lesson, “How (and why) we save money” builds off this one – including the kids’ chart or collage!

Some final things to keep in mind

  • Keep it fun. Conversations and lessons may go off track, and that’s ok! Teaching kids about money is a process and keeping it fun keeps it going.
  • Trust yourself. You know your kids. You know how to reach them and when to call it a day. Use these blogs as a guide and adapt them to fit you, your family, and your goals.

Remember parents, just by reading up on this stuff, you’re taking an important step towards helping your kids learn some really important concepts. It doesn’t always pay off right away, and that’s alright. We have a whole series on teaching your kids about money. With conversation starters and activities for different ages, they’ll help you improve your kids’ understanding of finances step-by-step.

Remember – you’ve got this!

Check out our next teaching kids about money post, How (and why) we save money.