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Teaching Kids About Money in a Debit/Credit World

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My daughter is going to the third grade and over the summer, I’ve been working with her on her math skills. Her second grade teacher gave students a math packet to work on and hand in on the first day of school to their new teacher. I appreciated her teacher for doing that because children tend to forget some things during the summer. The packet consisted of word problems, which were great because that was my daughter’s weakness.

Another thing we have been working on is money! I remember the last time I met with her teacher about her progress, her teacher said to show her how to use money in the store. I quickly responded with, “But I use my debit card.” The teacher realized what I said and responded, “You’re so right. I do too!”

My daughter knows the debit card so well that she tells me to pay with it. When we used to play store, she would ask, “How do you want to pay, debit or credit?” That was what she was hearing the store clerks ask each customer. I had some cash in my wallet and I showed her what actual dollars and cents looked like. She was not going to have a debit card for a long time so she had to understand how to handle cash and change.

Mini ATM Bank Coin Note Money Drawer Counting Savings Machine Kids Creative Toy. Photo:

Our children are learning the automatic way of doing things that they don’t understand the old fashion way of doing it. I still use a checkbook, but I don’t balance my checkbook; I simply look online to see how much money is left and if the checks have been cleared. We have direct deposits and other ways of getting money electronically. When do we really use cash? One time, the tooth fairy forgot to put money under my daughter’s pillow, so she told me to check the mailbox for a check. Our children don’t really have the concept of how we get money other than we go to work, it’s in a bank, and on a nice looking card. The green paper and coins with presidents’ faces is starting to become foreign to them.

At my job, I take a group of students with disabilities to the store to practice life skills using money. My daughter started to tag along with me and I would carry cash for her so she could learn how to count. If something came up to $1.49, I would give her $1.50 or $2.00 so she could learn how much money to get back. If I gave her only a $1.00, she had to learn what she could buy up to that amount. When we would come back from the store, I would give her a worksheet where she added up the things she bought, and then subtracted that from the money she had. For most children, they need a visual to understand why we do math a certain way. Doing worksheets doesn’t mean they can apply it in the real world.,g_1:black&imgrc=PQHRe9QAIFIZKM%3A

Teaching kids money matters. Photo:

Since I’ve been doing this exercise with her, I actually like carrying cash (just $5 or $40). It’s nice doing some things the old fashioned way. We have to remember that our phones and computers may not work and we have to rely on the traditional way to get things done. I never thought I would sound like my mom when I say I like doing things the old way, but in this instance with finances and math, the old ways work every time. We have to condition ourselves to think and not rely on technology so much. Our children are the future and they can process things faster, but they need to understand that the old fashioned, basic way of doing things can be useful in the future.

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Joy Elan

Joy Elan

Joy Elan is an award winning author and spoken word artist from Oakland and Berkeley, CA. She received her BA degree in African American Studies at UC Berkeley and her MA degree in Education at Stanford University. Her books are available on (poetry, non-fiction, and fiction genres). For more information, go to