How to Use the Holidays to Teach Kids About Money

My kids love the holidays. They plan their Halloween costumes as early as March; they ask to help make pumpkin pie the moment there’s even a hint of chill in the air; and they have Hanukkah wish lists going nearly year-round.

My husband and I get a kick out of their enthusiasm. It helps us remember the holiday magic we felt as children. But in addition to being fun and meaningful traditions, holidays also offer parents the opportunity to teach their kids about money.

Before this year’s holiday season kicks into high gear, consider using the occasions to teach your kids the following lessons about managing money:


Your kids’ favorite candy-based holiday provides you with several ways to teach important money management skills.

Costume budgeting

Whether you are footing the bill for your child’s costume or you are asking them to use their own money, start by setting a dollar limit on the amount they can spend and offer to help them shop around. These limits will help your child understand the trade-offs they will have to make to stay within a budget.

For instance, your daughter might find that the Wonder Woman costume at the local party store would blow her budget — but she could save money by stenciling Diana Prince’s WW logo on a red T-shirt she already owns and adding white star stickers to a pair of blue shorts or a blue skirt. Recognizing that she could spend either money or time is an important part of learning to budget. (See also: 20 Simple and Cheap Halloween Costumes for Kids)

Candy negotiations

Not every candy in your child’s trick-or-treat bag can be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or a Snickers. There’s bound to be some candy corn, Good & Plenty, or even just Dum Dums that your kids aren’t particularly interested in. You can help them to learn the value of negotiation by fostering candy exchanges.

After they’ve finished with trick-or-treating, encourage your kids to trade with each other. These candy swaps can help your kids figure out just how much they value coveted candy. Is another Mars Bar worth three Twizzlers? Just how many Tootsie Rolls are equivalent to a Blow Pop? This kind of negotiation can help your kids learn how to compromise and determine what they value.


Thanksgiving is a time for family, but it can also provide your kids with an excellent opportunity to learn about the importance of tracking your expenses.

Track spending

The average household spent $342 over Thanksgiving weekend in 2016, according to Statistic Brain. You can involve your kids in your Thanksgiving expenditures by asking them to keep a running tally of your spending for the holiday.

Save your receipts from any Thanksgiving-related expenditures — everything from your purchase of pumpkin pie fixings, to the gas station fill-up on the way to Grandma’s house, to the 75 percent off fitness tracker you bought for Aunt Sue on Black Friday. Hand over the receipts to your child so they can keep careful track of just how much Thanksgiving will cost you this year.

Not only will this exercise in tracking your household spending help your kids to practice their math skills, but it will also help them see just how quickly expenses can add up.

Christmas and Hanukkah

Kids get understandably excited about the gift aspect of Christmas and Hanukkah, but these holidays are also a perfect opportunity to teach them how to manage their money.

Gift budgeting

It’s so easy to go overboard when buying gifts for loved ones, and it’s important for children to learn that you can give presents without breaking the bank. Even very young children can help you to create a list of everyone you want to give a present to. From there, decide on the amount of money you can afford to spend per person. Older children who will be buying their own presents for family can make this decision themselves, with your help. Younger kids can help by writing down the dollar amount you can spend.

You can then start brainstorming gift possibilities. Have your kids comparison shop for prices or figure out alternatives if certain gifts aren’t in the budget. This exercise can help your kids understand that generosity and spending too much aren’t synonymous.

Wants and needs

Holidays can often be a time of excess, which means it can be tough for kids to recognize the difference between their wants and their needs. One way parents can help their kids learn those differences is to institute the Four Gift Rule. With this rule, each child receives:

  1. Something they want.

  2. Something they need.

  3. Something to wear.

  4. Something to read.

Limiting your children’s wish lists to four distinct categories helps your kids focus on the things that they truly need and the wants that they value most. You can make it clear to your kids that they can put more than one item in each category, but that they will only receive one present from each category.

Not only will this system help save you money and time, but it will help your kids keep their gift expectations reasonable.

Holidays, with a side of money management

Enjoying the holiday season with your children is a perfect time to teach them some of the finer points of budgeting, negotiation, money management, and managing expectations.