Financial Professionals Weigh in on Teaching Kids about Money at Halloween

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This Halloween, the National Financial Educators Council and others in the financial education space are encouraging parents to buy back the candy their children collect while trick-or-treating, and to use the opportunity to teach kids about money. We asked a few financial professionals their opinions about the “cash for candy” activity, and whether they had any further thoughts about using Halloween as a teachable moment to open parent-child conversations about personal finance. Some professionals offered alternative approaches to the candy buyback:

Author and educator at William Davies High School, Dawn Casey-Rowe, suggests that any holiday is a great time to talk with children about finances, given our country’s tough economy and the upcoming generation’s need for financial literacy education. However, Casey-Rowe adds, “I do not think I’ll be buying back my son’s candy any time soon. It’s a holiday – I don’t buy back his Christmas or birthday presents. He gets excited months ahead for Halloween. I don’t think the solution is giving him cash.” As an alternative, Casey-Rowe advocates sitting down with kids and watching while they trade items from their candy stashes after they get home. Children know the relative value of different pieces – for example, a Starburst is worth less than a Hershey bar. “This is a big step in understanding market value, floating currencies, and negotiation,” Casey-Rowe suggests.

“Personally, I think there are better teachable moments that parents can take around holidays than doing a candy buyback during Halloween,” claims Lee Gimpel, Director of Development with Lifewise Strategies in Washington, DC. “Money is, after all, a very difficult topic that most people are loath to discuss.” Gimpel proposes some other possibilities to promote financial literacy for kids at Halloween. One is to show kids the link between Halloween candy and making/keeping healthy habits. “Just as people are always trying to eat healthy, people are also always trying to be better with how they spend and save,” mentions Gimpel. “It can be hard to make good choices when the alternative – gorging ourselves on candy or just spending for today – is more pleasurable.” Being realistic also is important, according to Gimpel, when thinking about either eating right or saving for the future.

While Deborah Meyer, CPA and CEO of Worthy Nest in Missouri, likes the candy buyback idea, she also thinks it’s important that kids be open to the conversation. “My oldest son is 7, so he would be heartbroken if I purchased all the candy without giving him the option to retain any,” Meyer comments, explaining too that the buyback could get very expensive for parents. If parents do choose the buyback option, Meyer suggests a few points to start talking about money management for kids: 1) help children understand how you, the parent, got money in the first place – through hard work and employment; 2) run through a broad budget of what you spent on everything this Halloween, not just the buyback; and 3) discuss how kids will use the money. “Nathan Dungan’s concept of Share, Save, and Spend jars can be very effective…give your child flexibility on the amount of money going into each jar,” adds Meyer.

Fred Slater, CPA of MS 1040 LLC in New York City says that, although talking with kids is good, showing them is even better. Parents should teach by example – if they’re investors, they should model investment strategy for their children. “Did the parents set a price list before the children went trick-or-treating?” Slater asks, adding, “This might encourage their kids to be more selective in what they receive.” And “Did the parents offer a way to negotiate? Again, life is a continual negotiation and compromise.” Slater believes that, since all parents are human and will make mistakes, kids need to understand that they will make mistakes too – and learn how to deal with consequences. “Offering to buy back the candy is just the start. What is most important, is that parents make it clear that the subject to open to discussion.”

This Halloween, parents can seize a variety of opportunities to turn candy into key money management lessons for their children, and help kids form a knowledge base for building a secure future.


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