By Sarah Mahoney

Most kids love the holidays -- and all the giving and getting that goes with them. So why not tap into that enthusiasm for a quick lesson in money management?

“If you want to teach kids that buying decisions should involve time to think, holiday shopping is the perfect moment,” says Joanne M. Seymour, aka “The Money Godmother,” a financial educator based in Des Moines. “That's why it's called holiday shopping and not spending.”

Here are six lessons you can start teaching your children right now:

1. Help children see money three ways

When Ava Kofke, a kindergartner in Hoschton, Ga., gets her weekly allowance, her parents give it to her in very small change so she can make deposits in three jars -- marked “Saving,” “Giving” and “Spending.” “When she sees something at a store -- like a Strawberry Shortcake doll she wanted -- we say, `Let’s go home and see if you have enough,’” says Danny Kofke, author of How to Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) on a Teacher's Salary. “If she does, we have her actually bring in the jar and count out the money herself.”

Although the Kofkes started the ritual to teach her financial discipline, they’ve been amazed at how it’s fueled her generosity. “Recently, she took money from the Giving jar to buy a ball for her sister, Ella, who is 2,” he says. “And our church just had its canned-goods drive, and she asked if she could take money from her Giving jar to buy food.”

2. Make a shopping list

Shopping with a list reduces impulse buys and keeps everyone on budget. “Kids -- and some adults -- might even go so far as organizing by the envelope system,” says Seymour, “labeling envelopes for each person, putting the budgeted amount inside and writing gift ideas on the outside.” (Ask your child to put the receipt in the envelope afterward, in case something needs to be returned.)

3. Reward kids for finding bargains

Using the "price per unit" displayed at grocery stores, challenge them to find a better deal than you’ve found when holiday food shopping, suggests Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist and consultant to the Lending Tree Web site. If you’re shopping for gift books, tell them the budget is $10 each, then set them loose to find the best low-price alternatives in the store. Tally up the money you’re saving because of their sharp eyes, and say something like, “That’s enough for pizza twice this month ... when should we do it?" Let them mark those dates on a calendar.

4. Help your children cost out homemade gifts

Kids can make some wonderful homemade gifts, but even those usually aren’t free. Help them calculate the total costs of projects, whether it’s making reindeer chow or cookies, creating photo albums, or planting a flowerpot with herbs or bulbs. Then calculate the cost per gift and help them estimate how much they saved with their DIY effort.

5. Be giving, from start to finish.

Toy drives are great but impersonal. So, Michelle Tingler, founder of the Web site O-mama takes her kids -- ages 10, 7 and 3 -- to the Angel Tree near their home in San Clemente, Calif., where they each pick a wish left by needy children. “Last year, one girl asked for a pair of black Converse shoes for her brother, another child asked for socks and one for school supplies,” she says. “My kids were like, ‘They don’t have pencils?’ And I got to say, ‘That’s right, they don’t have a lot of things.’” Tingler and her kids decide how much to spend on granting these wishes, and then they shop together.

6. Let Children goof up

Carrie Rocha, a financial planner in Minneapolis who blogs at Pocketyourdollars, says that once you’ve made a plan with your kids -- let’s say you’ve agreed to give them $30 to buy gifts -- the most important lessons kids learn may be from messing up. “Kids need to learn early on to face the music for their poor financial decisions,” she says. “So if they spend all their gift money at the movies, you need to let them face people empty-handed -- not bail them out with more money.”

Available at

How to Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) on a Teacher's Salary


Parenting - Raising a Child That's a Smart Spender