How can I help my child?

Experience is the best teacher, just ask a freestyler

Two parents, who believe that the best way to teach children to manage money is through experience.

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My husband and I are firm believers in the saying, “Experience is the best teacher”. When it comes to teaching our children how to manage money, it’s no different.

It’s hardly surprising, given that our parenting personas match that of Freestylers (want to know yours? Take our 2-min quiz here). Freestylers are those who believe that real-life experience is the best way for a child to learn how to manage money. So we sent our two sons, aged 8 and 5, on a shopping trip to the stationery store. Here’s how it went.

The scenario

We gave them each $5 and told them to buy whatever they wanted. We didn’t set a list of do’s and don’ts, and just waited outside the store for them to surprise us.

The backstory — this is actually part two for our older son. When he was about 4 years old, we did the same thing, although he was on his own then. We wanted to see if he remembered what he learnt from his past experience.

Our rationale? Simple. As Freestylers, we believe learning occurs naturally through trial and error. If they make a mistake, so be it; they will learn from it. We believe that constantly telling our children or micromanaging them does more harm than good; there really isn’t a substitute for real life experience to teach children how to manage money.


How it unfolded

Initially, the excitement, especially in my younger son, was almost palpable. He walked around the store with his eyes twinkling, intending to buy whatever that he could get his hands on. He’d confused $5 with $50, and assumed that he could afford anything with a number ‘5’ on it. Interestingly enough, his brother actually provided some guidance and they seemed to be working together (for once).

  • Analysing their spending power

Our older boy loosely explained to his brother how far he could stretch $5. He cited the example of his previous shopping trip, and how daddy showed him what was beyond his reach with the money he had.

He then summed it up by pointing at stuffed toys and electronics, and labelled them as impossible. Before they went further, he taught his brother the process of elimination, which we found rather interesting.

  • Planning was key

While our younger boy was running around in excitement, at some point, the older one had stopped him and said, “Why don’t we think about what we really want to get from here first?”

Our younger boy responded by saying he wanted to first see what there was. They took some time to walk around the store, before they stood in a corner, brows furrowed, in some serious discussion.

When they recounted this to me later, I was very surprised. My boys had internalised the difference between a need and a want on their own! If we were to plan such an activity again and tell them beforehand, we would definitely be interested to see if they come up with a list prior to setting off.

  • Controlling impulses

After they had filled their baskets with a range of knick-knacks, they had found an empty spot in the store and sat down to look through their selections. Much to my surprise, my younger boy had said, “Mummy always fills the trolley in the supermarket then puts some things back on the shelves, let’s do that too.”

Clearly they couldn’t buy everything, so they started putting away things they had taken on a whim as they thought about what they really wanted to get.

  • Stretching the dollar

My older boy applied the analysis his father had shared with him in their previous trip to the candy store. He told his brother that if they found things that came in sets or packs, they would be able to buy more for a cheaper price.

  • Don’t empty your wallet

When they were more or less set on what they wanted, they did a further check. They were both on the same page in wanting to bring some coins to deposit in their piggy bank at home.

My older son had learned this important lesson from saving his school allowance and the treats he got to buy at the end of every term, solely from his savings. Watching him, the younger one also understood that some money should always go into the piggy bank.

We are pretty glad that the habit of savings is already a part of their life. We are even more glad that they didn’t try to ask us for ‘top ups’ as we had clearly told them before that it would not happen.

Think of others

When the boys came out of the store, they were all smiles, jingling their change, but then they’d dashed back in. We were puzzled for a bit but were pleasantly surprised to discover that they pooled their remaining money to get something for their little sister.

They marched out a second time victoriously, with one holding a pink hair band and the other showing us that they did indeed have a few cents left! They had shopped by themselves, debated on their own and bought what they really wanted (including something for their sister — we hadn’t even considered that), and still had money left! Mission accomplished! That was the highlight of our day.

All in all, it was an interesting experience. We felt satisfied that our older son did seem to recollect his previous shopping experience and that he could guide his younger brother with his learnings.

We truly believe that our children have already started to understand the concept of what money can buy through their own experiences as well as their observations of our spending habits — just what we strive for as Freestylers.

I can’t say for sure if we are doing a truly fantastic job of teaching our children how to manage money, or if our style is fail proof. But from the way it looks, I think we’re off to a promising start on our money parenting journey with our children, and we look forward to creating more of such experiences for them to learn even more!

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