Teaching children to respect money over buying things

Christmas and Chanukkah were only a month ago, but almost the day after, the kids were already begging for a ride to Target to shop. Their list was a mile long. It wasn’t just things that they didn’t receive from the holidays, it was new “must haves.” And every day, that list of “must haves” changed. I cringed each time because, no matter how hard we try to teach them, the children continue to need to learn to respect money and that they should never settle for less than their dreams.

We all know how frustrating that is as a parent. I griped to my husband, “why can’t they just appreciate what they have?” and to my mom, “didn’t they get enough!?” And to the kids, “look at the bucket of brand new toys! You don’t need more things! Save your money to save for your dreams.”

But the kids instantly responded, “but we got money for Christmas! And a gift card! We can spend it, it’s our money.”

True. That’s something we’ve always said to them. When you’re gifted money, it’s your money and you have the right to use it how you wish. But more Beyblades? Another pack of Pokemon cards? Really? That’s how you want to spend your money?! What happened to saving for something big? What will you do with all your cards when, in 2 weeks, kids are bringing a different trading game to school?

In an effort to teach the children to respect money, my husband and I tried a few new tactics. When driving through town Middle requested a stop at Toys R Us to buy another Beyblade. My husband asked how much money he had with him? “TEN DOLLARS,” Middle proudly announced.

“Ten dollars?” the Huz responded. “well, you know. I’m really low on gas. What would you do if you only had your ten dollars, and no gas in the car? Would you drive to Toys R Us and buy Beyblades? Or would you put gas in the car?”

“I’d drive to Toys R Us,” Middle responded. “I want Beyblades.”

“Right, but then you’d be stuck at Toys R Us with no gas in the car and no way to get home,” he explained. Silence followed as Middle realized that gas was more important than Beyblades.

The conversation taught Middle to respect money. It gave Middle the idea that you have to make choices with your money and that sometimes there are more important things to spend on than the toy you really want, but don’t really need.

So, what to do with the money they earned from the holidays? A few years ago, we offered Big the choice: he could spend $60 on souvenirs from his trip to New York, or he could come home, deposit the money in the bank and we’d double the deposit.

He reminded us of this recently, when we told him that rather than spend a $50 visa gift card on Pokemon Cards, he should consider holding onto it for a bigger gift. In turn, he reminded us of his bank account, where we had already deposited a good deal of money and he was earning interest. So, why shouldn’t he be able to buy what he wants?

While he had a good point, I reminded him that I really wanted an iPad case for the holidays and I could, in fact, go buy one. But I was also saving money so we could return to the Outerbanks this summer for vacation. I asked him, which is more important to me: A trip to the Outerbanks for our family or a fancy new iPad case? Without pause, he jumped on the Outerbanks option. “You already have an iPad case!” he reminded me.

“You already have Pokemon cards! Dozens of them,” I countered.

“Yeah. But you have more money in the bank just like I do. And it’s fun to sometimes go out and buy things.” He grumbled.

He had a point. So I offered him this. “It’s very true that we spend our money on things we want. But we can’t spend it all the time, every time we want things. We have to save for future expenses. Things we know we’ll spend money on. Things we don’t even want to have to pay for but we need to. Like water, electricity, our phones and taxes. You’re lucky you don’t have to pay for things like that, yet, but you will someday. And your dad and I are trying to teach you to learn about saving now, so you won’t be so used to spending spending spending that you don’t know how to save when you need to.”

I’m sure that I’ll be revisiting these conversations with my children for years as we encounter new wants and more opportunities to teach them to respect money. But I’m also continuing to teach them to reach for what they really want, and to choose never settle for less than their ultimate goals.

 Continue to Never Settle for Less by Filing online at H&R Block or in an H&R Block Office. Thanks to H&R Block and Technorati for sponsoring this post.


mom of 3 and wife living in the Philadelphia suburbs, Julie is a former elementary school teacher and a Public Relations manager. She is the owner/editor of Julieverse, a merchandiser with Chloe + Isabel (jewelryverse.com) and founder VlogMom and Splash Creative Media. A marketing strategist and freelance education and parenting writer by trade, Julie attempts to carve out time to enjoy playing with her kids, PTO, cooking and exercise.

© 2012, Julie Meyers Pron. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    What an important lesson! It is so true that kids don’t automatically grasp that concept that the funds are not unlimited.

    We had a similar lesson with my son when he turned 7 and we gave his a $25 GC to Gamestop to get games for his new birthday DS. He picked a brand new title off the shelf and we explained that yes, he could get that but it would cost ALL his GC and he would only have one game. Suddenly he started bargain hunting and wound up with THREE games for his money! I was so proud that with very little direction he was able to make that connection and start thinking more wisely about her purchases.

    I grew up having to put half of my money into savings. It did me well when I needed to cover a few college tuition bills and later a down payment on a house. We were able to purchase a house (albiet a fixer upper) as soon as we were married instead of having to rent for many years like many couples. I’m not grateful to my parents for teaching to save part even though as a child it was painful.

    • says

      I was never required to save, though I watched my account with my parents and they made visiting the bank a part of my regular experience. Teaching kids to save is SO difficult. Great lesson for your son!

  2. says

    You know I love this post! :) I find too that talking to the kids when they are considering purchases always presents these very teachable moments for my kids. We’re having similar conversations with my 14 year old especially since he is inching closer and closer to having to pay for actual expenses on his own.

  3. says

    What fabulous lessons! I have had to have similar conversations with my kids as they have wanted things….and it was more important to use that money towards food. I think that it’s an important lesson to learn!

  4. Angelle says

    It is important to teach your children how to manage money and control buying not needed things. Children would be aware that money is not easy to have, it needs to work hard in order to gain it.

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