Playing store is a classic source of childhood merriment but becoming the proprietor of, or frequent shopper at, a pretend general store is far more than just a game – it can also help your child learn about budgeting, saving and living within one’s means, among other personal finance lessons. And not only is playing store educational, it’s also a simple and fun way to spend quality time with your kids using the stuff they already own.
What You’ll Need
- Stuffed animals, toys, pretend food, action figures, etc.
- Paper or index cards cut into small-ish squares
- Pencil or marker
- Money — bills and coins
- Pretend cash register (optional)
How to Set Up Your Child’s Pretend Store
Have your child collect a little bit of everything around their bedroom and play spaces: stuffed animals, CDs, action figures, video games, books, decorative pillows, pretend food, sports equipment, hats, scarves, etc. Basically, to have a truly great general store you need to stock something for everyone. Once they have their goods, find a convenient spot to set up the store. My girls often use the sofas along our walls because they provide three levels of ‘shelving’ (floor, cushions, back) but you and your kids should pick a space that works best in your home. Keep in mind this new pop-up general store may very well stay open for a few days, so the dining room table or other high traffic areas are probably not the best spots!
Next, price each item between five cents and two dollars. Obviously, this is not a representative pricing strategy, but let’s keep the math in a reasonable range for young children.
How to Start Teaching Personal Finance By Playing Store
Give your child an amount of money—their pretend paycheck if you will—using real currency and coins and then have them sit down to make a list for the store. Ask them to imagine a series of pretend scenarios. For example: they need to buy a birthday gift for a younger cousin, a new hat for themselves, a new CD for their older brother, some food for the weekend, and so on. Then set them loose to see what they can afford to buy.
After they’ve completed their shopping, have them tally up the cost of their goods to see if they have enough money to pay for everything. If not, ask them to make hard decisions about which items will have to wait until their next ‘paycheck’ or have them go back into the store to find less expensive alternatives. If they can afford the contents of their shopping bag, talk about the need to have money left for rent/mortgage, car payment, utilities and a little extra to save for a rainy day. Essentially, right now is a good opportunity to explain that living paycheck to paycheck is tough sledding and that spending every penny earned is going to make it awfully difficult to take a vacation or to treat yourself (or your dad) to something nice every once in a while.
After playing store with real money, your kids will quickly realize that allocating their funds for the things they must buy AND the things they want to buy, while keeping the lights on at home and having a growing savings account is tricky business and something that needs to be considered as they grow up into young adults and head out into the real world where Furby will set them back a bit more than $2 and Skylanders video game figures are unfortunately not 45 cents each.
Finally, don’t forget to take your real money back from the pretend store!