What Do A Child’s Earliest Interactions With Money Mean?

I have a fifteen month old son, and in the past I’ve discussed in great detail some plans for providing a strong financial education for a child. In almost every case, I’ve basically started looking at solutions for when he is older, usually at least four years old.

However, in the last few weeks, my son has actually taken at least a sideways interest in money. He has a piggy bank on his dresser that I’ve occasionally been putting pocket change in with the intent of eventually moving it to his 529 college savings plan. About two weeks ago, he watched me put some change in the bank, after which he pointed at the bank and asked “That?” (which is his fifteen month old way of asking what exactly something is).

I put the bank on the floor between us and gave him some pennies to put into the bank. It challenged his motor skills quite a bit to get the coins in the slot, but he managed to get all of them in. Since then, when he notices the bank, he wants to repeat the activity.

Even though this just seems like a simple child’s game, I’m a strong believer that the games you play earliest in your life have a strong influence on how you turn out. For example, my earliest favorite game was rolling around on top of the family dog and I still dearly love dogs.

Thus, I’ve started to transform the idea of putting coins in the bank into a reward. When he helps us pick up his blocks in the living room, I fish a few pennies out of my pocket. He gets excited and races into his bedroom, where I get down the bank and he puts the coins inside. He’s seeing putting money away as a good thing at this early age.

Of course, he has no concept of what money is at this point, so I’m already devising plans to work on that. At the local grocery store in our small town, transactions are all done by cash, so when I take him in there, I make sure to use change to pay for at least one item. He sees the change and wants the change, so then I hand it to the checkout girl, who hands me the item I’ve bought, which I then hand to my son to hold (I usually do this with an item that he likes, such as yogurt). At fifteen months, I’m already trying to show my son what money is and how it works.

Does he understand what’s going on? Probably not, but I think he is aware that there is something going on with the money. The full connection may or may not be fleshed out in his mind between the game of putting money in the bank and the trip to the grocery store, but if I keep it up and keep showing him again and again how it works, he’ll understand that you use money to buy things you need and you also save money to buy things you’ll need later. It’s a lifelong lesson that I never really understood until I was an adult; I don’t want him to have to go through the same painful processes that I went through.

Do you have any other suggestions on how I could get these fundamental concepts across to my son? Please share them in the comments.

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