When Money Has No Value

One problem my daughter faces with money is its value. She can add up the numbers on the front of the notes, but she doesn’t always have judgement about whether something is expensive or not. Inside her mind isn’t that checker that says, ‘Ten pounds for a coke, no way!’. But we are determined to persevere and model to her some basic money skills which will help her one day live more independent of us.

Knowing whether something is expensive or not is experience and common sense. But money is rather abstract, so why should we be surprised if someone thinks that a piece of paper, regardless of number on the front, is worth less than a can of coke. Coke equals pleasure. Money equals something you carry around.

Naively, when our daughter was younger, we hoped that by getting her to pay for things at the cashier in shops would teach her something about money. All it taught her was the process of paying. A process she now understands very well.

More recently we have helped her open her own bank account with contactless card. If the numbers on the front of notes mean little to her in relation to products, we need to try something else. One day she has to have freedom to use money.

That is not to say, of course, that she will have unlimited access to anything we might leave her; that is the ability for a fraudster to swindle her out of home. But it does mean that if she is to be independent she needs to have freedom to access money and spend it. What that means is we need to teach her that we don’t spend £1,500 on a weekly shop at the supermarket. As she helps us with the food shopping we hope she will start to see and understand how much is spent each time.

This maybe shopping by rules rather than intuition, but we need to be practical. £5.99 on a pen at a tourist attraction doesn’t seem expensive to my daughter; I know I could buy a better quality pen for half the price at a stationery shop. But one pen has a memory attached.

However, breakfast cereal should always be no more than three pounds could be a rule. Likewise, coffee in a café shouldn’t be more than £4, otherwise that morning boost could be an expensive, budget-draining top up. Less than a hundred pounds for items of clothes can be another (although this can be tricky, because it should be much much less in some high street shops).

In effect, if we can’t teach her the value of money in a felt sense, we need to have stock standard rules about what we spend on what things. in some ways it is giving her a script to follow, only in numbers not words. We started this process with Rooster Money, a virtual pocket money app, but we are trying to move towards Wally, another app which is a spending tracker. Tracking what she spends not only gets her into a good habit it also helps her then look back at how much she has spent on things, and we can then discuss that with her.

The point I’m trying to make is my daughter might not ever really have a grasp of the value of money. But with rules, and us modelling what we pay for certain things, she might get an idea of how much she should spend on what things. This may be what we do already, use previous knowledge to compare whether what we are paying for something seems right – having rules is just another way of doing this. A rule is more logical. It’s more of a yes or no answer. Something is more expensive than we are supposed to pay, so we say no. Something isn’t, we say yes.

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