Kids & Money, Part 1: “I only have $20.”

Many of you know how I feel about young children at baseball games – I shared my feelings in a previous post about Education Days – and during this season’s Education Days and Camp Day, I once again found myself fascinated by one aspect of dealing with children and money that I normally wouldn’t think about.

Children – especially those in elementary school – have very limited concepts of money and how money works.

We do have kids who come up to the stand on their own during normal game nights, but typically the majority of our interactions with kids who are handling their own money occur during Education and Camp Days. While most of the kids have no problem figuring out how much money they need to hand over and what change they should expect to get back, there are many that seem as though they don’t truly understand how the different values of the different bills work.

Let me provide an example for you.

“Johnny” comes up to the window and asks to order some ice cream – he appears to be around the age of nine or ten. He decides that he would like a miniature batting helmet with chocolate ice cream and rainbow sprinkles. I tell him that his total is $5.50 and in return, I receive a blank stare. For a brief moment, a look of confusion flickers in his eyes and he lays a crumpled bill on the counter while saying, “But I only have $20.” It becomes my job to explain to him that it is ok, $20 is more than enough to cover the cost of his ice cream and he will even get money back. He continues to give me a confused look as I put his money in the register and hand him $14.50 in change. After a brief glance at the new bills in his hand, he mumbles a quick “thank you” and moves over to collect his ice cream.

This scenario happens more often than you would think and I always find myself biting my tongue in order to not laugh or make some sort of comment about the fact that they don’t know that 20 is higher than 5.50.

Now, I was definitely never the greatest math student and I am still not a huge fan of solving math problems, but when I was in elementary school, probably starting around 3rd or 4th grade, I could pretty much figure out that if the number on my money was higher than what I was told my item cost, I knew I had enough to purchase said item. It just boggles my mind sometimes that kids cannot figure out if they have enough money.

Confessional: What is one thing that happens to you at your job that still catches you off guard every now and then?

While I don’t think sending a young child under the age of 10 or 11 up to a concession stand at a crowded stadium by themselves is a good idea, I do know that there are many children who like to be independent and want to do things for themselves. (My niece is one of those children – however she is only 2 so her days of handling money for herself are a long way away.) Giving your children a chance to be independent is fantastic and I wholeheartedly agree with the idea, but there are some instances where their independence may need some help from you in order for them to succeed. I have helped plenty of children who come up to the window with a parent or chaperone and the child does the ordering and handles the money, but the adult is there to make sure they understand how much money they have and whether or not they can afford what they want to order.

Maybe it’s just me and maybe it’s because I grew up in a household of educators, but I seem to remember that money is something that they begin teaching pretty early on in school and if a parent believes their child is old enough to go to a baseball game with a certain amount of money and be able to handle that money on their own, they should make sure that their child understands how money works before they try to make a purchase.

In the end, I always make sure that every child knows exactly what they are paying for their food and how much money they are getting back in change. What happens to that money after they walk away from my stand is a mystery, but I will make sure they understand that $20 is enough to cover their $4 ice cream.

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