Keep the change, kid: Teaching about money the Aunt Pam way

April 09, 2015 | Pam Leibfried

It started by accident. My now 10-year-old niece was visiting me for a weekend when she was three years old, and she asked me if she could pay when we were checking out at a convenience store. Because I am famous for being “the spoiling aunt” who lets the kids try activities when mom and dad might say no, I immediately said, “Sure, honey.” I gave her a $10 bill, which she handed to the clerk. When the clerk smiled, commented on what a big girl she was and asked her age, my niece was overcome with a sudden case of shyness, grabbed my hand and stared down at the floor. I laughed along with the clerk, answered the question about my niece’s age and got her change.

In the car, I made a deal with my niece. I told her that at our next checkout, I would let her pay again. But this time, if she said please and thank you to the clerk and answered any questions clearly and while looking up at the clerk instead of staring at the floor, I would let her keep all of the coins that were in the change she got back. Then she could take the coins home and put them in her piggy bank when she went back to Wisconsin. My goal was to help her combat her shyness while motivating her to be polite. A side benefit was that she would have some extra money for her piggy bank. The result? She paid, smiled, answered questions clearly, and said please and thank you. Success!

That was the start of a new family tradition for all of my young nieces and nephews. They know that when they visit, they will go home with coins for their piggy banks as long as they remember to be polite and courteous to clerks and waitpersons. I normally pay with my Alliant Visa credit card and don’t carry much cash, but when one of the kids is visiting, I get extra cash so the kids can make cash payments and keep the coins. I even keep small ziptop snack bags in my purse so that the kids don’t have to carry the money around themselves. That was a painful lesson learned when my nephew was distraught over losing coins out of his pocket while at the Brookfield Zoo playground.

Now that the kids are old enough to do a bit of math in their heads, they hope for a lot of coins with every checkout, and the results are sometimes entertaining. There have been a few audible groans when a clerk said that the total purchase was X dollars and 97 cents (three measly pennies = bummer!). Once, there were arms raised in triumph as a clerk said the total due was X dollars and two cents, but that exultation was soon followed by confusion and near despair when the clerk grabbed two pennies out of the penny dish and handed him back only paper bills! I ended up giving him one of my singles to console him for the loss of his 98 cents, and we discussed the concept of a penny dish as we walked to the car. 

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