Teaching Children How to Buy Things

Adults may find it second nature to shop for and pay for groceries and other items, but for children, the experience can be daunting. Teaching children how to buy things, like explaining sales tax to a 6-year-old who has already spent every cent she has, can be challenging. This is how parents can help their children understand what’s going on.

Practice at home.

Children enjoy pretend play, and the staged checkout line has to be one of their favorites. Have you ever visited a children’s hands-on museum that didn’t include a miniature grocery store with a cash register? Exactly.

Make your own home store. Allow your child to cut out paper pieces to make “money.” Allow him to place price tags on various items for you to purchase (stuffed animals work well). Then, take turns playing cashier and customer.

When your child is comfortable purchasing, replace fake money with real money. Children can count out pennies or stacks of dimes to make in-home purchases.

Price-watchers should be raised.

In addition to your “home store,” encourage your child to compare prices when you go grocery shopping. I give my children a coupon for something on my shopping list. My youngest recently discovered a Pillsbury Brownie mix (family size!) for a buck. When I combined that with my $1 off two coupons, my math-phobic first-grader was voluntarily doing calculations in her head. “That means we only paid fifty cents for each box, mom!” she calculated.

Training your child to examine grocery store prices carefully will transfer to watching for sales and discounts on other items they must buy (or rather, you must buy for them), such as new basketball shoes, school supplies, and clothing.

Practice makes perfect.

When your child is comfortable handling money and making pretend purchases, it’s time to move on to the real thing. Begin small. The dollar store makes it simple for your children to calculate the cost of items. Give your child a dollar, change, or a stack of quarters, and tell them they can only buy one thing.

Point out that the state requires everyone to pay a little extra or tax when they buy certain items, including toys, to maintain the roads and enforce the laws. Michigan’s state tax rate is currently 6% (this does not include any local or city taxes that may apply). Inform your child that in addition to the $1 listed price, she must pay six cents – either six pennies or one nickel and one penny. You can practice this at home or simply let her count it out at the register.

To ensure a successful purchase, I try to go when I know the store won’t be too crowded and we won’t be in a hurry.

Accept knowledge.

While the idea of exchanging something for something else, such as coins for Bakugan action figures, may seem intuitive after a few tries, you’ll probably have to remind your child to keep his receipt. My daughter has walked away more than once as the cashier waves a receipt. Teach your child to check the receipt after a purchase and before she leaves the store to ensure it’s accurate to help reinforce the importance of getting a receipt.

You could point out how much money you saved by shopping for sale items at the grocery store, or you could have your child count the number of items you bought from the dollar store and compare it to the receipt. Along with double-checking the receipt’s accuracy, explain to your child why it’s critical to keep it in case you need to exchange or return the item.

Buying something may appear complicated, but with a little effort, your child will begin to understand more and more!

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