How to Turn Your Daily Errands into Financial Lessons

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This post, written by Kelly Whalen, was originally published on Citi’s Women & Co.

According to a recent national survey of more than 1,500 parents released by Citi Community Development in support of the Teach Children to Save campaign, 70 percent of parents see themselves as the primary source of financial education for their kids. That’s why Citi celebrates Teach Children to Save Day, a national campaign promoting the importance of financial literacy and saving for the future. By using everyday opportunities like your daily errands, you can impart financial skills in real-life settings that make a big impression.

The Grocery Store

Going to the grocery store with young kids can be a recipe for disaster—or a great way to teach them about budgeting, if you have a little extra time.

  • Start with a meal plan and a shopping list: Task your kids with helping to choose a week’s worth of meals; then create a grocery list together that fits within your spending range. In addition to budgeting, this teaches kids to plan ahead by looking for what’s on sale, clipping coupons, etc.
  • Guess when the price is right: According to the Citi Community Development survey, 49 percent of parents use comparison shopping as a way to teach their kids about money. Challenge them to identify the best deal based on weight or number of servings. (Bonus: This also helps them improve their math skills!)
  • Make smart choices: Allow kids to help decide between several options, such as brand name versus store brand. Savings can add up fast, but the store brand is only a good value if you like it enough to consume it.
  • Match coupons and/or store sales with items: This scavenger hunt is worth it for your bottom line—and your kids’ future bargain-hunting skills.
  • Give kids a snack budget: Let them spend on their own treats within a certain price limit. This allows them some freedom without blowing the budget.
The Bank

While banking can be done online, it’s a good idea to take kids into the actual bank with you from time to time. Sixty percent of the parents who responded to the Citi survey use trips to the bank to teach their kids about money. Not only will they better understand in person how banks work, but they can also set up their own savings accounts to add to each week.

  • Save coins: Take coins to your bank for deposit into its coin machine or your child’s savings account.
  • Explore educational resources: Ask your teller or banker if they have any kids’ savings programs. Banks may offer everything from informative coloring books for little ones to classes for teens and young adults.
  • Show them the money: By going to the bank, you can teach kids about cashing and depositing checks, how an ATM works, and more.
The Big Box Store

Any big box store you visit will have not only loads of merchandise, but also plenty of things your kids want (toys, clothing, games, electronics). A parent’s worst nightmare? Perhaps. But also a teachable moment.

  • Talk marketing: This is a good place to discuss how the economy works. You can start by explaining to your kids that the store is set up to maximize profits for its owner or owners. How is it organized and laid out? Why are they selling so many different things? You can also take a look at packaging and discuss the pros and cons of buying in bulk and taking advantage of two-for-one deals, as well as product claims (i.e., “value size”) versus the actual product.
  • Define discount: Big box stores often have amazing post-holiday and post-season sales. By showing kids the clearance aisle, you can teach them about the markups most stores make, and how patience and smart shopping can save them money. On the other hand, you may want to note that buying something they don’t need just because it’s on sale might not be such a smart move.
  • Perform a cart “audit”: Before checkout, instruct your kids to go back over what’s in the family cart and reassess.
    • For pricier items, have they comparison-shopped to make sure that it’s a good deal?
    • Is it a need or a want? Wants get put back.
    • Check for coupons (paper and/or smartphone).

Whatever the venue, think creatively about how errands can teach your kids saving and budgeting techniques—real-life financial skills that, one hopes, will last a lifetime.

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