The Surprising Place I Taught My Daughter About Money

by Travis Pizel · 34 comments

I never would’ve imagined that a simple trip to Target could have evolved into such a great financial learning opportunity for my eleven-year-old daughter.

The automatic doors opened before us, my daughter’s purse slung over her shoulder. We headed to the video section, as she was looking to purchase her very own copy of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which had recently been released. She mentioned she also wanted to get a slushy from the deli on our way out.

“You sure you have your money with you?” I asked. She opened her purse, carefully counted out twenty five dollars, and nodded her head.

She removed a copy of the movie from the display, priced at $19.99, and we headed to the register. While we waited in line, she placed a package of mints and a pack of gum next to her movie.

“Daddy, do I have enough?”

Financial Lesson #1: Don’t forget about sales tax

  • I had her take out her cell phone and open the calculator app
  • We added up the price of all three items
  • I had her multiply the total by 0.07 (7%) and add it to the total

I explained to her that the amount we pay in sales tax is given to our government and used to provide things such as schools, roads, and police officers.

“They make kids pay for that stuff?” she asked, as she rolled her eyes.

It was close, but she had enough. When the cashier scanned the items, the total came to just over $24. My daughter received her change, and we headed for the door.

“Oh, Dad, what about my slushy?” she asked.

Financial Lesson #2: Stick to your spending plan

We walked to the deli and discovered that a small slushy would cost $1.08. Her face filled with disappointment as she realized she didn’t have enough money.

I asked her to sit down with me at one of the tables, and we talked about the concept of a spending plan:

  • Without knowing it, she had created a spending plan before she left the house, planning to purchase a movie and a slushy
  • Her spending plan wasn’t complete, because she didn’t know exactly how much each item cost
  • She broke her spending plan by purchasing items not in it
  • The consequence was she didn’t have enough money to buy the slushy

She nodded, and got up to leave. Then, smiling, I said, “I’ll buy you a slushy, if you want.” Her face lit up, and she wrapped her arms around me.

Two financial lessons AND a hug. Not a bad trip to Target at all.

Where was the most unexpected place you taught your child a financial lesson?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Jazz says:

    I think its great that she got a lesson on budgeting and planning. However, my concern wasn’t why an 11-year old had a cell phone, but why did her dad tell her to whip out her cell phone to do some simple adding? Round out the numbers and do some quick adding and percentages in your head. For an eleven year old, she should have been able to do that rather quickly… a bit sad when I go to the store and if the cashier put in the wrong amount, they can’t calculate it in their head, and doesn’t believe me when I give them the answer right there. They need to go find a calculator to make sure… can everyone start using their brains for basic skills rather than replying on technology? *Sorry for the rant, but its a pet peeve*

    • Jazz says:

      Mean to say ‘relying on technology’

      • I certainly respect your perspective, Jazz, however in this instance my goal wasn’t a math lesson – she gets lots of practice with that with her school work (I know because I check it and work with her on it every school night). The goal here was a lesson in shopping, spending plans, and finances – something she gets zero practice with in this country’s educational system. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • This moment is so precious. Kids can never be too young to learn about finances.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      You definitely have to gauge the child’s age and maturity lesson with the lesson, though. But since my daughter is now 12, she can handle some pretty complex lessons. 🙂

  • Annie says:

    You are a nice dad. You really care about teaching
    Your daughter about spending and priorities. I wish my dad did that with me.
    You are awesome 🙂

  • Great post. I try to do the same with my 9 year old grand daughter whenever possible. I really like your approach.

  • Ted C says:

    Why does an 11 year old have a cell phone?

    • David Ning says:

      Karik earlier in the comment section had the same concern, which Travis addressed. There’s no right or wrong answer, so please let Travis know how you feel about his decision.

    • As David mentioned, I typed up some of the reasons my (now twelve year old) daughter has a cell phone, and how they can be useful. I should also mention that the phone she has cost us $1, and adding her line to our plan is very inexpensive.

  • Wow, that is such a great way to teach kids about money! Wish I had thought of that with my kids. It was a lot easier for them to understand it once they saw it in action though. Thanks for sharing such a great story!

    • David Ning says:

      Don’t worry about missing out, because situations you can turn into a teaching moment will come up again and again. Just be in tune so you can recognize them!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Teaching opportunities are everywhere….if you miss one, there will always be another one coming around. And if you miss the opportunities with your kids, you can always have those teaching moments with your grandkids – one of the previous commenters is doing just that!

  • Taylor says:

    This is the coolest story every. Instead one of those lecture moments where kids hear blah blah blah… she saw it in action! Keeping this in mind for when I take on parenthood.

    • David Ning says:

      Life situations make theory real, and that’s also the only way kids will turn basic principles into a life long habit. Good luck in advance to being a parent! 🙂

    • Both my kids say this phrase a lot regarding their school work : “We’ll never use this stuff in real life.” So, being able to put finances in a real world example seems extra beneficial at a time in their lives when they’re looking for validation that what they’re learning will be useful later in life. It takes a little bit of time out of a shopping trip, but I think they actually kind of enjoy it too!

  • David Ning says:

    Awesome Travis,

    I love how the outcome was so positive for everybody involved while getting the job done. Bravo!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      Thanks, David, and I agree. While it’s important to have her understand the consequences, I also don’t always want these lessons to end on a negative note. 20 years from now we’ll still remember the time we shared a slushy at Target after she spent all her money on some movie, gum and mints. Well, at least I will. 🙂

  • I recently had a teaching moment at Target too. My dog has been scratching herself a lot, so I took my 3 year-old daughter shopping for a dog shampoo. As we walked down the isle, she saw this Hello Kitty toothpaste and said she wanted it. I asked her if she wanted to buy the toothpaste or the shampoo for Molly (our dog)? We only have enough money to buy one item. Surprisingly, she chose the shampoo!

    Sometimes we don’t get what we want.

    • David Ning says:

      Life offers full of teaching moments. We can either let it go to waste or use the opportunity to help our children grow into responsible human beings. By choosing the shampoo, your daughter has already shown us that you are doing a great job as a parent!

    • Travis Pizel says:

      that’s a great story AND lesson, David! Were you prepared to let her get the toothpaste if she chose that instead? LOL. That would have also been a great lesson to teach her why her choice was incorrect. 🙂 thanks for stopping by!

  • Alex says:

    Ahh isn’t the hug worth much more than dollars though? Good Frugal training, though.
    You could say we/society have taught our children to be greedy so the concept of saving up gets lost in translation when we try to explain it. I know I was sometimes after another bag of sweets as a kid, even after I’d just filled my face with sugar already.
    Another argument is at a young age it’s simply not possible to have the same awareness of financial issues and sharing.
    However, you are clearly doing a great job!

    • David Ning says:

      I don’t think it’s so much society that teaches us to be greedy because we are wired to be selfish right from the start. One of the first things toddlers know how to say is “MINE”, so it’s pretty much self taught.

      We as parents can do a lot to help them learn how to save and share though. And I totally agree that Travis is doing great in this department.

      • Travis Pizel says:

        Thanks Alex, appreciate the support! Given our issues with debt it’s very important to me to give my kids a great financial education before they head out on their own. There’s just so many real life opportunities to teach them about finances…I just cannot resist. 🙂

  • Karik says:

    I appreciate the fact that taking every opportunity that you can to teach your kids about money, but was somewhat interested in the fact that an 11 year old had a cell phone. An eleven year old can’t possibly pay the cell phone bill, never mind the responsibility. If it’s being used as a safety feature, why would an eleven year old be any where on their own to have to use it? Hmm I must be getting old….

    • David Ning says:

      I notice this too, but that’s not the worst. I took my daughter to ice skating class once and during the free skating session, I saw a girl (around 10?) skate to the side of the rink, pull out a plastic fake smart phone and started punching the front that resembled the fake screen.

      That pretty much explains “Keeping up with the Jones” right there.

    • Travis Pizel says:

      I can understand your perspective, Karik. There was a time when I would have agreed with you 100% – however there have been times when my daughter having a cell phone has come in very handy. For example, she is in dance class with two of her friends. We carpool with the two other families, so we only have to drive once every three weeks. One week, when it was not our turn to drive, we received a call from her saying their ride had not arrived. The family that was driving that week had run into a situation where they were late, and didn’t have the ability to let anyone know. We were able to pick up the girls, who’s class was the last of the evening and the the dance studio was closing for the evening. Another time was when she was at Confirmation class, and class let out early. By the time she realized she needed to call us, she couldn’t find anyone at the church to let her use a phone – luckily she had her cell phone, otherwise she would have been waiting for a half an hour for me to pick her up. this is not our situation, but many families no longer have a home phone… each family member having a cell phone is the only way to get a hold of each other. Just some examples. 🙂

  • I love having those moments you can teach your kids about money that are in more mundane settings. It can be so easy to let them slide by, but I like to be on the alert for those as I think it really helps them understand it at their level. I had a similar experience with my daughter at McD’s recently and cherish those moments.

    • David Ning says:

      I look forward to those moments too! I’ve been telling my 4 year old daughter that we can only buy things that we “need”. So whenever she has a request now, she makes sure to stress that she NEEDs it.

      I’ll have to keep learning 🙂

    • Travis Pizel says:

      The best place to teach kids about money is real world situations, John. It gives them something to identify with, as well as makes the consequences real – unless you turn around and buy the slushy anyway. 🙂

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