Kids and Shopping: Teaching Money Skills & Play Value

This post is brought to you by BillMyParents SpendSmart pre-paid debit cards for teens, a great solution for teaching financial skills to teens. To learn more about my partnership, please see my disclosure.

Toys to Teach Money Skills

TOYS. Love them (or hate picking them up) they are a big part of any parent’s life. I’ll admit we’re kind of choosey about our family’s toys. I prefer to spend my money on things that have and will last through multiple kids or that all our kids can play. Classic toys like wooden blocks and Lincoln Logs have long been favorites in our house. Toys that inspire imaginative play and include building like Thomas trains, LEGOs and PlayMobil are also family favorites. Video games and computer programs also are high on our list of must-haves, and often last for longer than we expect. We even play ‘classic’ versions of some games that my husband and I played as kids!

Since we’ve had kids for 15 years we’ve challenged ourselves to find toys that have long-term play value for decent prices. Online shopping makes it easier in some ways, but it’s still a challenge to find great toys on a budget. So being choosey serves us well since we have 4 kiddos (plus nieces and a nephew who we can pass things on to as well), and we know many of the toys will be stashed away for the next generation in our family. (That’s the ultimate in recycling toys!)

While it may seem a little harsh to deny the kids plastic junk, they get plenty of trinkets as well as spending their own money on things they want. Our kids have all gone through cycles of buying their own toys with their money only to realize most toys don’t stack up to their expectations. They’ll quickly leave those toys behind for the toys we know are tried and true in our house. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but they eventually change their tune from “I MUST HAVE ALL THE TOYS,” to”Meh, that looks fun, but I’d rather save my money for something special.”

As our kids get older their tastes seem to get more expensive. We go from a little kid wanting a $10 LEGO set to a teen who wants the latest video $50 games, pricey game systems, or computers.

No matter their age we aim to teach them financial skills through their shopping habits, and we teach them about the value versus cost. We call that ‘play value.’

What is Play Value?

Play value is the value of spending on a toy that will be used in a variety of ways by multiple kids and/or for a number of years. This might mean spending slightly more, but it always involves thoughtful shopping. The idea of ‘play value’ helps set kids up to understand the long-term value of bigger choices such as their college choice, car or home purchases, and even career choices.

Toys with Play Value

Toys that have good play value have some/all of these qualities:

  • encourage creative play;
  • require imagination;
  • often involve building or moving parts/pieces;
  • made of sturdy materials;
  • made for a large age range (often including adults);
  • digital and electronics should be adaptable for most ages;
  • and anything that can be added to over time.

Play value doesn’t always have to mean spending a lot of money though, we have found some foolproof methods to help us keep the budget in check.

Ways you can find good deals on toys that last:

  • Look in your parent’s attic. Chances are they kept something you loved to play with as a child that’s still awesome. Little People, anyone?  

1980s Little People

  • Shop consignment sale, yard sales, and thrift shops.
  • Look for coupons. For instance AC Moore sells Thomas train tracks and you can use their coupons to save 40% on retail pricing.
  • Shop online, especially eBay. You can find older toys this way, collectibles, or even gently used toys. Be aware of retail value and shipping costs, though. Those can add up fast.
  • Shop post-holiday. Many stores stock toys for the holidays. For instance I picked up some classic card games for 10 ¢ each after Valentine’s Day.
  • Know sale cycles. Depending on what you’re buying you may find sale cycles as new lines come out, or older sets are replaced. This can be for everything from swingsets to LEGO sets.
  • Get gifts. Whenever a holiday or birthday rolls around family members and birthday invitees usually start asking what they can get. If someone asks offer a suggestion-just make sure to include an affordable option. 😉
  • Trade. Whether you consign your ‘little kid’ toys, head to your local video game store to trade, or trade with friends you’ll stretch your original purchases further.

Teaching kids about play value happens over time. It’s a difficult concept for a toddler to grasp when they have something they MUST HAVE in their little hands, so we’ve developed some strategies for helping them whether they are 2 or 12.

Teaching Money Skills Through Shopping

Kids and Money- Smart Shopping

Let kids make mistakes. We learn best by making mistakes, so let your kids experience the natural consequences.

Talk about advertising. We all know advertising affects our purchases (even if we’re cynical), so teaching your kids that the ads aren’t aways honest, and even if they don’t buy they may still be effected by advertising.

Set parameters or guidelines when they are young. This will help them understand your values better. You may have guidelines about materials, where toys are made, and other considerations. Or like our family you may not buy toys outside of holidays or birthdays often, which means your kids will have less expectation of getting something every time they walk into a store.

Savvy saving. Reward your kids for saving either with some ‘earned interest’. For instance giving them a $10 bonus when they save $100.

Teach kids to plan ahead. Do you have a family calendar? Mark down vacations, special outings, or field trips where they may want to spend some of their money. This will help them plan for the long-term a vastly underrated financial skill.

Plan purges and cleanups. While it may tough for young kids to grasp as kids get older they often ‘age out’ of toys and books. Teach your kids to purge their belongings and give back to others. This will create space for new treasures.

Help kids become mini-entrepreneurs. Do they have a skill they can use to earn extra cash? Will they do extra chores for cash? Offer kids opportunities to work hard and they may  surprise  you with their  entrepreneurial  skills.

Give them their own money. When kids are young it makes sense to give them a piggy bank and cash, but as they get older having a pre-paid card can give your child ‘training wheels’ to learn how to spend and save larger sums of money without going broke. Likewise setting up a savings account will help them save for long-term goals like college or summer camp.

What Money Management Tools to Give Kids

For young kids we use cash and an allowance book where we keep track of their income and their deductions. They can access it anytime to see where they are at financially, and make choices based on their savings. We do not allow them to go into debt. We experimented with that a few times, but it only encourages instant gratification and they are less likely to followup with their promises.

Our teen has a pre-paid card as well as gift cards we purchase occasionally for his app store purchases. This makes it easier for him to track his money, and helps us keep tabs on his spending without having to approve every purchase.

I think pre-paid cards give teens room to make mistakes, make choices, and learn to be smart spenders without getting into debt or going overboard.  The SpendSmart card is our card of choice to help our teen manage his money without annoying overdraft fees and cash that gets lost.

You can lean more or sign up for a BillMyParents SpendSmart card here  or learn more on their Facebook page.

What are some ways you teach your kids money skills?  


Disclosure: This post is sponsored by BillMyParents SpendSmart. All opinions are my own.

About Kelly

Kelly Whalen is the founder and editor of the Centsible Life blog. She started the blog 6 years ago as her family faced a mountain of debt. The blog became a resource to readers and a hub for everything you need in life for less. Kelly lives in the Philadelphia area with her superhero husband, 4 awesome kids, and one adorable dog. She still believes you can have it all....just not all at once.

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