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Teaching Kids How to Buy Stuff

Counting money. Calculating sales tax. Checking receipts. There's lots for kids to learn before they make purchases of their own. Let's break it down.

While buying and paying for groceries and other goods might seem commonplace for adults, for kids, the whole process can seem overwhelming at first. (Just try explaining sales tax to a 6-year-old when she's planned on spending her money down to the last penny!) Here's how parents can make the process make sense.

Practice at home

Children love to play pretend – and the staged checkout line has to be a favorite. Have you ever been to a children's hands-on museum that doesn't have a pint-sized grocery store, complete with a cash register? Exactly.

Create your own store at home. Let your child cut out pieces of paper to make "money." Have him add price tags to various items for you to buy (stuffed animals work well). Then, take turns as the cashier and the customer.

Once your child gets used to buying, substitute real money for the fake money. Kids can count out pennies or put together stacks of dimes to make their in-home purchases.

Raise price-watchers

Beyond your "home store," encourage your child to check prices when you go grocery store shopping. I try to give each of my children a coupon for an item that's on my list. The other day, my youngest spied Pillsbury Brownie mix (family size!) for a dollar. Match that with my coupon for $1 off two, and my math-adverse first-grader was voluntarily doing calculations in her head. "That means we only paid fifty cents a box mom!" she figured.

Training your child to look carefully at prices at the grocery store will carry over to watching for sales and discounts on other items they have to buy (or rather, you have to buy for them) – like new basketball shoes, school supplies and clothes.

Practice makes perfect

Once your child feels more comfortable handling money and making pretend purchases, it's time for the real thing. Start small. The dollar store makes buying items easy for your children to calculate. Give your child a dollar and some change or a stack of quarters and explain that they can buy one item.

Point out that in order to maintain the roads and enforce laws, the state requires that everyone pay a little extra money, or tax, when they buy certain items – even toys. Currently, Michigan's state tax rate stands at 6 percent (this doesn't account for local or city taxes that may apply). Let your child know that along with the $1 price listed, she'll have to pay six more cents – either six pennies or one nickel and one penny. You can practice making this change at home, or just let her count it out at the register.

To make the purchase a successful experience, I try to go at times when I know the store won't be too crowded and we're not in a rush.

Receipt know-how

While the whole concept of exchanging something for something else – like coins for Bakugan action figures – might make sense after only a few tries, you'll probably have to remind your child to take his receipt. More than once, my daughter has walked away as the cashier waves a receipt at her. To help reinforce that you need to get a receipt, teach your child to check the receipt after a purchase, and before she leaves the store, to make sure it's accurate.

You might point out on your grocery store trips how much you saved by shopping for sale items, or let your child count the number of items you bought from the dollar store and check it against the receipt. Along with double-checking the accuracy of the receipt, explain to your child why it's important to hang on to it in case you need to exchange or return the item.

Making a purchase can seem complex, but with a little effort your child will begin to understand more and more!

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