Spare Change

In the modern day of cashless transactions, cash still remains a popular mode of payment. According to the US Federal Reserve in 2019, cash ranks as one of the top two payment methods, used in 26% of transactions, just behind debit cards (28% of transactions). For children who don’t have a bank account yet, cash probably accounts for 100% of transactions. If cash is used so often, counting money is important for everyone, whether spending money or receiving money.

Take the following QUIZ to see how your children do when handling cash:

  • Do they know how to limit spending to what’s on hand? (i.e. Can $15 cash buy a $20 toy?)
  • If they get change back from a purchase, can they quickly verify that they received the right amount?
  • Working the cash register, can they count money quickly to make sure that the customer paid correctly?
  • If there are no dollar bills but a lot of quarters available, can they produce the right amount of change?

If your children need to brush up on these skills, or if they are just starting to learn about cash, below are several ideas that might help.

Ages 3-6: Sort change by denomination. Use clear containers/jars or an empty egg carton to separate pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters (or your own country’s currency, for international readers). Or whenever you have spare change, give them a coin and ask for the name of the coin and amount, letting them keep whatever they identify correctly.

Ages 5-9: Ever heard of the muffin tin coin counting game? Write small amounts onto paper cupcake liners (for instance, $1.10 on one liner, 88-cents on another liner, 63-cents on another liner, etc). Pop the liners into a muffin tin, and then provide a bunch of loose change for the children to fill each liner with the correct amount in change.

Ages 9-12: Now that multiplication and decimal numbers have been introduced, learn to add tax and/or tip. Looking at a menu, what can you order with $15, assuming you account for tax and tip? If you pay with $20, tally the change due using bills and coins. Take a handful of past store receipts, and calculate how much change you get back if you paid with the closest denomination of 10 (such as paying $30 for a receipt totaling $25.79).

What children can comprehend about cash depends on their age, but starting early will empower them to make their own decisions around money. When children become adept at counting cash, they can mentally tally against their budget when shopping or dining out. Keeping to a budget allows them to live within their means and save for the future. That’s why understanding cash is so important to becoming financially independent!

Homework: Try one of the activities above. For older kids who want an extra challenge, work with parents to decide on a spending limit the next time you dine-out or order food delivery. After everyone else in the family has selected from the menu, choose your own item(s) from the menu that will allow the total after tax/tip to remain under the limit.

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