Lessons for Kids From the Crisis

One of the greatest opportunities presented by the pandemic is to give children an appreciation for the workings of the economy.

mother and little daughter wearing surgial mask
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When I’ve written about kids and money in the past, I’ve always emphasized the importance of teachable moments—everyday tasks and events that let you slip in a lesson about managing money without your kids even real­izing it. And the coronavirus pandemic may be the ultimate teachable moment. “There’s a lesson in every crisis,” says Annamaria Lusardi, director of the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University. “The lesson here is to learn the basics so we’re better able to face a shock.” (Lusardi’s group has developed a Quick Guide for Parents with activities and resources.)

For starters, working at home gives your children a firsthand appreciation for what you do for a living. If you’re unable to work, “reassure your children that it’s because of a once-in-a-lifetime event and not through any fault of your own,” says Tim Ranzetta, founder of Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF), which provides personal finance curriculum material to teachers and parents.

Kids will pick up on any concerns you have about how to pay the bills. Be honest—tell them you have savings or unemployment benefits, for example—but don’t overwhelm them. “Focus on what’s in your, and their, financial control,” says Yanely Espinal, director of educational outreach for NGPF, who has developed a series of lessons parents can use with their kids. In a video on budgeting, for example, she explains how to use dried beans as a hands-on tool to help younger children divide money among various expenses.

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Budgeting leads naturally into a discussion of needs versus wants—you need to buy food, but the summer vacation you want to take may have to be put on hold. Shopping online presents opportunities for children to compare prices. And with so much at-home time, kids can earn money by lending a hand around the house. A survey by RoosterMoney, an allowance and chore-tracking app for kids, found that during the lockdown, 80% of the top 10 kids’ chores involved cleaning the house—the top three were cleaning their bedroom, looking after pets and doing the laundry—for which they earned an average of $7.91 per week.

Make it fun. Money activities are a painless way to teach financial lessons while you’re home-schooling your kids or just looking for ways to pass the time. As part of an online lesson about counting change, for example, my 5-year-old granddaughter made a bank out of an oatmeal box.

And don’t discount the importance of toys, games and books. Think traditional board games, such as Monopoly and Monopoly Junior, or the Allowance Game or Buy It Right Shopping Game. Among my favorite money-related books are classics such as Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday, by Judith Viorst; The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money, by Stan and Jan Berenstain; and A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams.

One of the best opportunities presented by the pandemic is to give kids an appreciation for the workings of economy. Goods and services they take for granted have disappeared or been severely curtailed; businesses have had to scramble with innovations, such as contact-free food pickup; and we’re looking to drug companies to come up with a treatment or vaccine for the disease. There’s a newfound respect for grocery workers and delivery people.

Will the pandemic leave a permanent scar on kids? “The intensity of an experience depends on its duration,” says Ranzetta. If any one thing sticks with all of us, it’s likely to be the need to save for a rainy day—or for a pandemic.

Janet Bodnar

Janet Bodnar is editor-at-large of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, a position she assumed after retiring as editor of the magazine after eight years at the helm. She is a nationally recognized expert on the subjects of women and money, children's and family finances, and financial literacy. She is the author of two books, Money Smart Women and Raising Money Smart Kids. As editor-at-large, she writes two popular columns for Kiplinger, "Money Smart Women" and "Living in Retirement." Bodnar is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University and is a member of its Board of Trustees. She received her master's degree from Columbia University, where she was also a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Business and Economics Journalism.