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How to Teach Your Child About Personal Finance


Published March 29, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated April 4, 2022 at 8:03 p.m.


If you want your kids to be responsible and self-sufficient adults, it's important to discuss things like budgeting, investing and managing money. But it's not always easy, or fun. We reached out to two local educators to find out how they do it. Lisa Helme, director of financial literacy at the Vermont State Treasurer's Office, recommended relevant resources aimed at elementary and middle school students. For teens, we turned to George Cook, a business teacher at U-32 High School in East Montpelier, which won the 2014 Vermont Jump$tart Financial Literacy Champion award. We usually write about books in this column, but both Helme and Cook pointed parents to online resources where kids can learn about money management through reading, watching tutorials and playing games. Maybe learning about money can be fun?

Helme advises parents to explore what the State Treasurer's Office has to offer. Its Reading is an Investment program has generated six years' worth of lesson plans, activities and reading lists aimed at teaching personal finance to elementary-age children. All those materials are archived online on the Reading is an Investment page, one of the financial literacy links listed on their website. Here are some of her other suggestions:

Money-focused games — like Know Your Dough, which trains kids to spot the differences in U.S. currency — can be found at the Fun Vault at the DoughMain Education Foundation.

The U.S. Mint website hosts an interactive animated story that illustrates how a coin is designed and produced.

Biz Kid$ is a national initiative based on an Emmy Award-winning public television series about kids, money and business. The Biz Kid$ site includes video clips, lesson plans, and a game called Dollar a Glass that challenges kids to keep a lemonade pitcher full and customers happy. As the game progresses, students are asked to make business decisions to keep their stand open.

For middle schoolers Visa has developed two competitive, sports-themed games — Financial Football and Financial Soccer. Players move down the field and score points by answering multiple-choice questions like, "When should you report a lost or stolen credit card?" and "If you save $25 a month, how long will it take you to save enough to buy a $300 mountain bike?"

For helping high schoolers, Cook raves about the work of financial planner and New York Times columnist Carl Richards. Writing under the name "Sketch Guy," Richards shares simple black-and-white drawings and stories that address financial planning, investing and concepts like "Keeping up with the Joneses." Cook's students regularly analyze Richards' sketches. "Kids come in, they try to decipher them," Cook explains. "They're great conversation starters." Find Richards' work at Behavior Gap.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.