Education Impact: Financial literacy

by Sarah Ostergard

It’s summer vacation. I know what you’re thinking — this is the perfect time to teach financial literacy. 

No? Please keep reading anyway.  

Parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents – we can have fun, keep the children occupied, and model financial literacy concepts through hands-on experiences this summer. Financial literacy is empowering and can have a positive, lasting effect on the children in our community for generations. True teaching of money matters begins at home with conversation and real life. Even if we adults do not have all the answers and we fall short ourselves, our children can learn from us and we can grow stronger together as a community. 

We do not need to create teachable moments for financial literacy since they are already all around us. Summer is a great time to demonstrate personal finance lessons in hands-on, meaningful ways in your home. And keep the kids engaged.  

Involve your child in the summer planning. Are you staying local? Download coupons from the craft store, hand each child $5-10 cash, and take an evening together to peruse all the aisles in the craft store and take home a crafty project that sparks interest and keeps them occupied. Talk with them about how much the coupon will reduce the price (mental math), help them read the fine print restrictions, and explain that tax will be added to the final price of the item. Give your child choice within limits, and watch as they make decisions and show ownership over their actions. If your family is going out of town, involve your child in the planning process. Get out a map and plan distance, cost of gas, and activities for the car (audiobooks are free at the library). Compare the cost of different modes of transportation. Have them plan meals they like to eat along the way and compare costs and calories of restaurant food. Look online at the attractions and parks along the way and prepare a budget. Work in those decision-making moments of would-you-rather choices. 

Even errands around town can be fun and engaging financial learning experiences when we involve the children. With a very young child, carry on a conversation about your decisions as you walk through the store. “Do we like green grapes or red grapes? What are the numbers on the sign? Now I weigh them to see how much these will cost.” Recognize the unconscious decisions you make at the store and speak them out loud to your child. If the child is older and capable of being unsupervised for a short while in the store, send the child to find an item and report back to you: “Cheddar cheese is on our list. Please find it and let me know which brand of shredded cheese is on sale.” Or send an older teen to the store with a list, a calculator app on the phone, and cash to make those purchases for you within limits. Keep your cell phone on for questions and be prepared for an “extra item” to jump in the cart, like chocolate milk or cookies. Empowering our children to make decisions also means letting go a little bit more, but the longer-term benefits outweigh the inconveniences.

Also, let your child see you paying bills. Briefly mention how bills work, that families pay for electricity for their lights and air conditioning, water for their showers, and rent or mortgage for where they live. Through you, they learn that life has expenses and how to handle them. You can demonstrate that you work to pay for these services, and you have to make choices at the store so you have enough money at the end of the month to pay for things like the lights. By talking through these decisions adults have to make, children will see you taking charge, being responsible, and weighing the options of how to spend your money. Saying “no” or “we have food at home” starts to make more sense when our children know some of the reasons and choices we balance as adults. These are powerful teaching moments that will serve your child well in years to come. 

Having fun together and taking advantage of teachable moments about financial literacy is something simple – and inexpensive – that will empower our children as they grow. But it does take patience and letting go. Be prepared for mistakes but also look forward to your children growing and gaining tremendously from these experiences.  

Families of all income levels can model decision-making and spend time learning and growing together. Bring on summer learning.