One of the most interesting ways to teach kids about money involves the snack that smiles back

Kids have a hard time learning the value of saving and how to earn money but they always love a good game. Teaching your kids about money may come down to turning something as simple as a jar of crackers into a bank account.

Today’s essay is by Ivetka O’Malley, a student at Maricopa Community College. She shares how her grandmother’s financial lessons turned into a great game to teach her how to save money.

Check out Ivetka’s story and please share on social media. The most-shared essay on how parents can teach their kids about money will win our $500 personal finance scholarship, announced August 31st!

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A Generational Personal Finance Lesson

“Do you want it or do you need it?” That was the question that my father asked me whenever I had the intention of purchasing an item. This family phrase was started by my grandmother who was born in the Netherlands in the 1920’s during the reconstruction period brought on by the damage of World War One.

As a result of economic hardship, my grandmother based her entire life’s financial strategy off of frugality. Once she immigrated to the United States of America, she instilled this lifestyle into all of her children to ensure their financial stability.

This philosophy was then passed down to me by my father who taught me the importance of making money, saving money, and budgeting via “the snack that smiles back”: Goldfish crackers.

How Crackers Can Become a Bank Account

When I was a little girl, my father would use Goldfish crackers to teach me the value of money, in preparation of me becoming an adult and handling the hardship in the real world. He had this huge jar on the kitchen counter next to a weekly chart on the refrigerator titled “Goldfish for Chores.” Each task was assigned a certain number of Goldfish crackers which later on could be exchanged for real money.

For example, putting my toys away awarded me two Goldfish crackers which equaled ten cents. Brushing my teeth in the morning and in the evening awarded me five Goldfish crackers which was twenty-five cents; but brushing my teeth only once per day came out to only two Goldfish, or ten cents.

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At the end of each week, my father and I would sit down on the floor, sprawl out all the Goldfish I had earned, and then we would tally up how much money I made. However, sometimes I didn’t quite like counting all the Goldfish, so my father gave them funny names to encourage me. He would say something like, “Okay, this little fishy’s name is Bob, this fishy’s name is Goldie, this one is Shelly, and this last fishy’s name is Tiny!”

This method of earning Goldfish crackers is how my father taught me the importance of making money; but there was a catch. “Okay honey, now that you’ve made money, you’re going to save it,” said my father. This meant that yes, I did make money by completing chores, however I couldn’t use the money until I had enough to purchase a toy or some item I thought was super cool.

Of course as a kid, the notion of not getting a toy when I wanted it seemed pretty unfair, but when I finally got to spend the money, I was metaphorically “a kid in a candy store”; except it was often a toy store I chose to shop at. One time, we went to the toy store and he let me loose into the endlessly filled aisles of Barbie’s, Beanie Baby stuffed animals, and Lisa Frank art kits.

I eventually found this really cute stuffed toy puppy and I asked my father if we could get it. He chuckled, “Honey, do you need the toy puppy or do you want the toy puppy, because it costs $10 but you only made $7 from your chores. So now you have two options: you can either go find a cheaper toy or wait until you have more money saved up. Which is it gonna be?”

Naturally I didn’t like my father’s response but this was his way of introducing me to the real world problem of budgeting. That day I left the toy store empty handed but I learned a valuable lesson: making money means being able to save up more, and therefore have a higher budget to purchase more toys.

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From Goldfish to Saving Money

As an adult, I’m not earning my income in Goldfish anymore, and I make significantly fewer trips to the toy store, but the concepts and principles that I was taught as a child still ring true.

From growing up in post-WW1 Netherlands to immigrating to the U.S., my grandmother instilled in her children, which then my father instilled in me, the philosophy, “do you want it or do you need it.” This philosophy epitomizes the idea of living within one’s means; from budgeting for everyday living costs to saving up for big expenses and shopping splurges.

While I do still snack on Goldfish crackers from time to time, these days it is more so my bank account that “smiles back” from the good financial choices I make.

I want to thank Ivetka for her essay an interesting game to teach kids to save money and manage their finances. Be sure to support Ivetka by sharing the article through social media and check in August for the winner of the personal finance scholarship.

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