Money Math in 3 Easy Steps

Build Math and money skills and set your kids on the path to independence at the cash register and in life.
By Maggie McGuire
Apr 03, 2013



Apr 03, 2013

Sometimes my two boys have a little bit of their own money to spend on something. When they have an opportunity to buy something with their money, a trip to the store provides huge lessons in the value of money, comparative shopping, pricing, quantities and number comparisons -- all essential skills they need to succeed in school and in life.

1. Money Talk and Understanding Money’s Value: Before they understood the value of pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars, I would talk to my boys about what amount of money they had to spend ($0.50, $1.00, $5.00, $10.00). We’d lay out the amount of money on the kitchen table for them to see and talk about -- and then they’d get to put it in their pockets or wallets. Sometimes, we even got out the paper coin rolls and we counted and rolled up pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters. This gave them a familiarity with the coins and we talked about how many of each coin they needed to make a one dollar, five dollar and ten dollar rolls of coins.

2. Price Shopping and Price Comparisons: At the store, as they looked at items on the shelf, we had to find the price and together we would talk about whether it was greater than the amount they had to spend or if they had enough and what might be left over.  We started this when they were in preschool. Sometimes, I would write down the amounts for multiple items they were looking at on a piece of paper so they could see how we would add the amounts together to figure out how much everything would cost. I talked about the computations I was doing because they didn’t yet know how to do this on their own. And then there was (and still is!) always the decision about what would have to be put back on the shelf because they didn’t have enough money to cover its cost. They had a lot of thinking to do to make up their minds about what they eventually purchased. 

Eventually, on their own, they started to look at what they would get for the money and ask how many Lego pieces are in this kit vs. that kit? or what item gave them more of what they wanted?  This is all incredibly important numbers-thinking and “math talk” as I say in my laymen’s terms. Giving them room to think and talk about these questions is important. (Yes, it does elongate the shopping experience, but it’s worth it in the end!)

Over time, as they began to recognize numbers and understand the value of money on their own, now, at 8 and 10, they are quite independent when we shop together and do quite a bit of price comparing before selecting a final item.  There’s always a big discussion about what you get for the amount of money and is it a better value than something else. If they ask me what I think, I absolutely share my thoughts but most of the time I let them work it out together. Or, I’m there to ask a few questions to get them thinking. They have great discussions about how they could put their dollars together to afford something “bigger” and both benefit.

3. Money Independence: At a certain age, I also made sure that when they approached the cash register that they independently put their items on the counter and counted out the right amount of money for the salesperson. Occasionally, I’d help (if there were/are a lot of people waiting in line) but giving them the power to count and determine the right amount of their own money is an invaluable and practical skill that they’ll use forever. 

With respect to money management, I remind them that managing their money means saving some, giving some and spending some. So before we even get to the register they know that a percent stays in the bank at home for savings and a percent gets earmarked for giving.  Hopefully this will stick with them for life too!

Check the Related Content below for additional resources for supporting essential math skills and an understanding of math and money in everyday life.

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