Chances are your child’s holiday list isn’t brimming with educational toys. But why not sneak in a gift that will teach them something about money? Here are some ideas:
Piggy banks have gone beyond the single slit for spare coins. Some banks now have four compartments — for spending, donating, saving, and investing. Parents can help their kids decide how to divvy up their money or allow kids to make their own choices. The Money Savvy Pig comes in a rainbow of colors ($16.95, MSGen.com). Then there’s the Moonjar, whose name originated from the phrase “shoot for the moon” ($7.95 for the basic version, moonjar.com). Creative Kidstuff has similar banks with pirate and ballerina themes for $13. And for artistic kids, why not purchase a kit and then decorate their own piggy bank? Several toy and craft stores sell them and they typically cost between $10 and $20.
One of my favorite toys as a kid was my brightly colored cash register. I spent hours taking the chunky coins in and out of the cash drawer. The Fisher-Price Fun2Imagine cash register brings me back. ($16.99, Toys r Us). For an older child, there’s the solar-powered Pretend and Play Calculator Cash Register. Creative Kidstuff Buyer Jennifer Dunne said it’s a perennial best seller ($40, Creative Kidstuff).
Ready to introduce your child to plastic? ATM banks come complete with an ATM card and a bill feeder. Most toy ATMs even keep track of your savings. There are several varieties available at Amazon that cost in the $18 to $40 range. Users rated the Youniverse Deluxe ATM Bank Machine highly. But Jim Silver of Time To Play magazine prefers the Summit Toys Real Money ATM Savings Bank (price and retailers vary).
Buy a real share of stock, framed and ready to display at oneshare.com. Stocks are available from dozens of companies that interest kids, including Disney, McDonald’s, Nintendo, and DreamWorks. The company’s “My First Stock” program comes with a stock certificate and a free e-book written for kids about the stock market. Prices vary depending on framing, engraving, and other extras you select plus the stock’s share price. For example, a share of Nintendo in a free paper frame with no engraving costs around $70, including the $39 certificate fee.
Board games that teach bucks
Everyone knows about Monopoly. But what about the Allowance Game? It gives kids practice making change and making saving and spending decisions ($14.95, Lakeshore Learning). Bingo-lovers might try Money Bingo, where kids must find the right coin combination for the called-out sum ($9.99, Lakeshore Learning). Dunne suggests Loose Change, a game that teaches kids how to count nickels and dimes while on a quest for exact change for a dollar ($14, Creative Kidstuff).
The gift of reading
Pick a picture book that teaches an economic concept at Rutgers University’s EconKids (econkids.rutgers.edu) website. (Your kids will never know.) Try Bunny Money by Rosemary Wells to learn about needs and wants. Or how about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl for a lesson on incentives?
I’ve left the most valuable gift for last — a contribution toward paying for college costs. It’s a tough sell to younger kids. But for older kids who appreciate the expense of a higher education, Minnesota’s 529 plan allows you to open an account for as little as $25. Then print out a certificate to note the gift. You can print out for several occasions including Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hannukkah. I love the certificates’ message: “Gifts come in many different forms. Some are more fun today, and some can be more valuable tomorrow. Down the road, you’ll appreciate this.”
Kara McGuire is a personal finance writer and a St. Paul mother
of three. Send comments, questions and story ideas to