How to teach kids about money in the Money Idealist category using money books
Wondering how to teach kids about money? One of the reasons why this is such a difficult topic is because you might not know where the heck to start.
I mean, how much does your child already understand, and how much are they just nodding along with (like me in a conversation with a physicist discussing how the universe works)?
I’ve curated these books specifically for kids in the Money Idealist category.
What is a Money Idealist?
Money Idealists understand the basics of money − talking to them about coin values, how to make a transaction in a store or how to make change will likely get eye rolls because they’re beyond those topics − but they need some context of how money works in the real world.
They also believe that the money will show up, and probably make decisions based on their heart, their wants, and the idea that someone else will help them pay for it. They think that no matter what, the money will come from somewhere. They also tend to not have an idea about how much things really cost, and the regular, everyday in-and-out of money in a household compared with a salary earned.
This is not uncommon in kids, because let’s face it, they haven’t had to deal with many “real world” scenarios that would cause them to think more realistically about money. They might not even have gotten their first paycheck yet!
Curated Book List for the Money Idealist
The fact is, the Money Prodigy categories don’t necessarily correlate with the age of your child. Some preschoolers know more about money than tweens, and some teens still struggle with the basics (heck, so do some adults!).
So I’ve divided these book selections up into ages − preschool, pre-tween, and tween age − within the Money Idealist category.
Money Idealist: Preschool Age Book Selections
Money Book #1: The Ant and the Grasshopper, Amy Lowry Poole
Ages: 4+ years
This is a twist on the classic Aesop’s fable, where the ants consistently, and without hesitation, prepare for the winter months while the grasshopper focuses on games + entertainment in the Chinese Emperor’s Summer Palace.
The Money Lesson(s): Consistent, and sometimes hard, work pays off. Preparation for tough times to come − financially or otherwise − is a good idea.
Life Lesson(s): The ants may be super prepared for winter while the grasshopper is out in the cold, but there is something to be said for enjoying life more. The lesson here is somewhere along the lines of “work hard, but don’t forget to play hard. Play hard, but don’t forget to leave time for work.”
Bonus Money Activity: Relate this lesson to something in your own household that you do throughout the year in financial preparation. For example, when my sister worked for a school bus company she did not receive a paycheck during the summer months. So throughout the year she would need to save extra each month to make up for having no paycheck for 2.5 months.
Pre-Tween Money Idealist: Your Book List
Money Book #1: Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, Judith Viorst
Ages: 4-8 years
You remember Alexander, the kid who had that terrible, horrible, no-good day? Well, the poor guy can’t catch a break. Reading about his life is like watching the many trials and tribulations of Greg Focker in the movie Meet the Parents all over again (hmmm…I think I just figured out Alexander’s adult avatar?).
Can’t this poor kid have a GOOD day?
In this book your child will see that Alexander used to be rich (and by rich, he means he used to have $1 his grandparents gave him) until he spent his money a bit foolishly. Honestly, what barely-out-of-a-carseat-kid wouldn’t?
The Money Lesson(s): There are always “opportunities” to buy things with your money. But sometimes, they’re not opportunities at all. Like a one-eyed teddy bear.
Life Lesson(s): Hmmm…maybe don’t make friends with this Alexander kid? Haha:). For real though, spending choices are your own, and no one else’s. So make them wisely! (Wait…that’s another money lesson. Oh well).
Bonus Money Activity: Have your child identify what they think are “wants” that he spends his money on. Now, add up how much each of these wants cost Alexander. How much money would he still have if he had not spent on all his wants? What else could he have done with that money?
Money Book #2: Those Shoes, Maribeth Boelts
Ages: 5-8 years
Whether we like to remember this happened to us as tweens/teens or not, there is a lot of peer pressure when it comes to having “cool” clothes. And often the “cool” clothes cost more than parents’ paychecks can support.
That’s why I like this book. A boy gets transfixed by the newest trend of shoes at his school. His jealousy is palpable. Unfortunately, his grandmother can only afford to get him shoes that he needs − winter boots.
Even worse, his own “everyday” shoes fall apart at school. A helpful guidance counselor gives him a pair to have, but they’re what’s considered “baby” shoes and he gets embarrassed.
What happens? He finds that the one boy who didn’t laugh at his “baby” shoes actually was worse off than him. When he actually finds the shoes of his dreams − albeit one size too small − from a thrift store, he ends up gifting them to this other boy.
The Money Lesson(s): First off, I love how this boy figures out an alternative way of finding the shoes he wants for a price his grandmother can afford − the thrift store. I also love how the grandmother unabashedly told him what they could and could not afford instead of racking up a charge she didn’t need on her credit card to satisfy a current trend.
Life Lesson(s): Helping out someone else is hugely rewarding, just like when someone helps you out.
Bonus Money Activity: Have your child talk to you about something that they want that they cannot currently afford. Then ask them to think about ways they could get what they wanted for less money so that they could afford it sooner. Give them some hints to help this exercise along, especially if they’re not used to finding discounts for items.
Tween Money Idealist: Your Book List
Money Book #1: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin
Age Range: 8-12 years
In this jade-gem of a book, Minli and her family live very meagerly (poor according to American standards), but they have what they need. Though yes, just barely. The mother is always discontented with their circumstances. Her daughter is quite content, listening to her father’s stories are night, but she knows that her mother is not and she knows they have to work to the bone for the little they have.
So Minli decides to take some of the information from these stories and seek these people out so that she can change her family’s fortunes.
The Money Lesson(s): This is a beautifully written tale about greed, humbleness, dragons (yes, there are dragons!), and learning to be thankful with what you have.
Life Lesson(s): Being thankful with what you have, and feeling like you have “enough” is the secret to happiness. There’s also a strong lesson here about helping others along their journey, and accepting help from others along the way.
Bonus Money Activity: Ask your child these follow-up questions to what they’re reading:
- Minli and her family have very little money and very few possessions. Yet they have everything that they need. List out at least 4 needs that people must have in order to survive.
- Now from the list of needs you made, write down what Minli and her family have in order to meet those needs. For example, if you list “water”, you could write that she and her family go to the well to get the water that they need. (a home, rice to eat, fields to plant a crop in and harvest, water, clothes to wear, each other’s company)
- The only money Minli’s family has are the two copper coins given to Minli when she was a baby. And she spends one of these copper coins on a goldfish from some man who was selling them. Her mother is furious about this. Why do you think that is? What else could Minli have spent this precious money on?