Life Skills – Buying Stuff

I think one of the huge advantages of homeschooling my kids is that I get to teach them life skills. It’s not that “traditional” school kids don’t learn these, but homeschooling affords me the time and flexibility to teach these creatively and as a part of our lives.

Right now my kids are 11 and 12, but I started teaching them to “buy stuff” when they were little – about 5 or 6. Here are some of the progressions of how we teach “buying stuff”…

Ages 5-7 : Making change, basic ordering, adding up coins
Buy dessert at counter service places. Zaxby is my favorite place to buy bad-for-you fried chicken strips, so when we went there when the kids were little I would take a pile of change with me. A cookie at that time was $0.99, plus tax. It worked out to $1.08. If the kids wanted a cookie – which they always did – they’d have to count out the proper change. Not one to be easy, I would never have 4 quarters and pennies. It always required some thought and working through the change. Then, they’d have to walk up (with me watching from the table), order the cookie, and pay for it. We rehearsed it, and practiced looking the server in the eye, and proper manners. At first it was scary, but with more practice they got both the ordering, and the change part.

At this age we’d also play restaurant at home. I’d make up a play menu (you know – what I was making anyway) and the kids would “order” and “pay” from the change pile. Again – no easy adding or change making. They LOVED this. (I may reenact this one with checks now…)

Ages 8-10: Ordering, checking change, tax, tips
Once we master basic ordering, we move on to more complex stuff. I would have the kids politely order their own food, or mine, or all of ours. Then, they’d have to pay, and after getting the change they had to check to make sure it matched with the receipt. Sometimes they would catch errors – and either have to amend an overpayment, or ask for a more change.

At this point we would also work with discounts and taxes. “If it’s normally $10, but is 50% off, how much is it?” stuff. We’d also check whether 50% off was the same as 20% off and another 30% off. This was great after Christmas or other major holidays when they were trying to talk me into buying a treat! “Mom, it’s 60% off so it’s only…” I’m a sucker for good math!

I would also have the kids figure out change for tax. We’d buy the same cookie as before, but I’d have them buy it with exact change that they had to figure out how much that would be. If they were off – I’d get the cookie! (We’d do it beyond cookies, but that’s an easy example. Basically, any time they wanted to buy a treat out was a great time to practice money, and it lessens the guilt of the treat!)

At this age, we also started having “budgets” for certain things. At the base pool, they have a snack bar. The kids love to get treats there, so we started a weekly budget (with money they would have to earn at home). They would get the cash on Monday in the “pool pouch” and then they’d have to manage it throughout the week. If a friend came – they had to manage the treat cash, or make sure to pack stuff from home. It was a great training tool to see that money isn’t endless (and it makes a MUCH bigger impact when it’s cash out of “your” pocket).

Around 10 I would start having the kids run into the donut store for me. It is a SUPER small store in a SUPER small town – but it was huge to the kids. I’d give them money and send them in to order donuts for the three of us. They knew to be polite or someone in there would call me! LOL!! Again, it was scary for them at first and they wanted to go together, but as they got used to it they’d ask to go solo. 🙂 Growth is cool!!

Sometimes this “send them in” taught really great lessons. One time I sent the kids in to buy a half dozen donuts and all I had was a $20. Little threw all the change into the tip jar, and Big almost collapsed. She came out in tears that they had “wasted” the money . To me it was $20 well spent on a great lesson on tips, etiquette, generosity, and wise spending. I’m sure my friends in the shop loved it, too!!

Ages 11-12: Working toward independence…
We’re at the stage now where ordering food is not a big deal. Change and handling money are easy-peasy. One place we’re focusing on now is the grocery store. We’ve talked prices, price per ounce, coupons, and sales for YEARS and both kids are pretty savvy shoppers. I don’t worry about them going crazy and buying a prime rib over flank steak or ground lamb for ground beef. 🙂

With the self check out it’s easy for the kids to practice checking, scanning, price checking, and paying for groceries. They have to deal with the quirkiness of those scanners, and they have to politely interact with the staff working the checkout. They also have to use the store loyalty cards, and pay with a debit card. It’s all excellent training for adult life. Right now I still go into the store with them, but for quick runs I’ll tell the kids what I need, send them off, watch them check out, and walk out with them. I really don’t do much of anything. It’s really amazing to see them grow and to have them catch deals and savings that I miss!


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