Fridge Economics: Teach Kids About Money

Who needs a blackboard when a refrigerator will do? Pamela shares a fun and interesting way to teach kids about money – refrigerator style.

Kids these days. Despite the recession to end all recessions they still can’t understand the value of a dollar. The age-old adage “money doesn’t grow on trees” never seems to compute for teens, especially when it pertains to buying that new song.

Working for a school, I spend a lot of time around whiteboards. Perhaps that’s why it seemed only natural to use the surface of our refrigerator to track our finances so that our child could “see” the ebb and flow of our monthly expenses. I’ll confess the idea came about when my daughter threw a hissy fit one day because I refused to buy her a new pair of jeans. She just couldn’t understand where all “our” money went. (Our money, hah!) She’s a little too young to go out and get a job, although I was sorely tempted to tell her to do exactly that. Rather than risk a visit from Child Protective Services, I decided to show her why our cash disappears so quickly.

In big, bold Dry Erase markers I wrote our beginning checking account balance. Each and every time I used our debit card or wrote a check or paid a bill, I “withdrew” that money from our refrigerator account. In essence, I created a “live” version of our checking statement for her to see right there, in black and white, or hot pink and stainless steel as the case may be.

When we made deposits and increased that balance and our daughter started making noises about that new pair of jeans again, I explained the concept of upcoming household expenses and our budget. She got to see first-hand how much it cost to feed our family, and just as importantly, how much things like gas and those weekly Starbucks can chip away at an account balance.

It didn’t take long for our child to grasp the concept of home economics. She learned terms like “debit” and “credit,” and what an automatic payment was, and above all, that money really did get tight from time to time and perhaps she could wait for those jeans.

We didn’t stop there. Taking the exercise one step further, we taught her one other valuable lesson. Like many children, she has a hard time understanding the importance of turning off a light switch– so we started “charging” her. Using a calculator at CSGNetwork we figured it cost us approximately twenty-cents every time she left a light on in her room or bathroom (or both).

She was surprised to see how quickly those twenty-cent charges added up. By the end of the first week, she owed us the same amount as her allowance. When we demanded she “pay up” for the bad habit she balked. That “no big deal” attitude disappeared when it hit her own personal pocketbook.

That got me thinking. With a little creativity, parents could use “refrigerator economics” to track a whole host of other things, too.

  • Weekly allowances
  • A “refrigerator” savings account balance.
  • Loans are given out ahead of a weekly allowance (taking the time to explain the concept of annual percentage rates, etc.)
  • The cost of maintaining a pet
  • The grocery list

Okay, the last is something I actually do. Seriously though, using the face of a refrigerator was a daily reminder to our child that money really doesn’t grow on trees. It taught her fiscal responsibility, too, and the concept of a budget and what it meant to stay within that budget. It’s a life lesson that will carry on into adulthood.

Now, if we could just teach her how to take out the trash.

Pamela Britton-Baer is a staff writer for SuperMoney. Her mission is to help fight your evil debt blob and get your personal finances in tip-top shape.