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Money Smart Kids

Quick Alternatives to Traditional Thank-You Notes

Digital expressions of gratitude can be just as nice as printed appreciation.

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One of my goals in writing this column is to give practical advice on teaching kids about money that parents can easily incorporate into their busy lives. So I was taken aback when my colleague Stacy, the mother of two young children, told me she was "stressed out" by my column that offered five tips on teaching kids to say thank you. That prompted me to reread it. I still think the advice is manageable, but I also think it would be worthwhile to add a postscript to tackle Stacy's concerns.

See Also: Do You Know How to Handle Awkward Money Moments?

Stacy's stress stems from a double whammy: Her daughter Serena's birthday falls soon after the holidays. "I've always figured that thank-you notes were unnecessary for holiday gifts because that's an exchange usually done in person, so obviously we'd say thank you in person," says Stacy. "Do I have to do holiday and birthday thank-yous all at the same time?"

I'll climb out on an etiquette limb and say no, you don't. Follow tip number 1: "Use your judgment to match the expression of thanks with the gift." A verbal thanks is fine for an in-person gift. It's when a gift is extra-special or extra-generous (think graduation) or comes from an out-of-town relative that something more is in order.

Start a tradition.

That something more can take forms other than a traditional written thank-you. In Stacy's case, for example, she already follows tip number 4, "Use social media creatively," to text videos of 3-year-old Serena saying thanks. "It's easier and cuter for her to say thank you than write it," says Stacy, "and then it's a message actually from her, as opposed to a note that I write and she colors or puts stickers on. Serena videos are always a hit!"

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An e-mail may not be as personal as a video, but it can also be efficient and effective. Stacy recalls that after Serena went to another child's birthday party, the boy's mother sent Stacy a message thanking her for bringing Serena with her younger brother in tow. "She said she knows how hard it is to do all the toddler stuff with another baby," says Stacy. "Plus, she detailed how happily her son reacted to opening our present. I really, really appreciated it."

Regardless of the form a thank-you takes, the key is to teach your children how to express gratitude so that when they grow up they'll write a note (or send a text or make a phone call) on their own and pass along the tradition to their children.

When I got home after writing my column, I found an unexpected thank-you card in the mail from my son John and daughter-in-law Sara. It's posted on my refrigerator.