Here’s How Cooking Can Help Your Kids Learn to Budget

The kitchen and the grocery store are great places to kick off important conversations with kids about saving, spending, and budgeting. Here’s how to get started. 

By Tanya Edwards

If you spend time cooking and grocery shopping with your kids, you know they always have lots of questions, no matter what their age. While you may be used to taking them through your beloved recipes and trying new treats with them, are you talking to them about how you budget for food and meal planning? Regardless of how intimidating it might seem, it’s so important to have conversations with your kids about money early, in an approachable way, and continue them into their young adulthood.

And, says Colleen McCreary, phief People officer and financial advocate at Credit Karma, “Many adults feel that more should be done to help students get a head start. A Credit Karma survey found that more than two in five American adults (41%) say they had to teach themselves about personal finance, and one-third (33%) of American adults feel that their level of financial knowledge keeps them from making financial progress.”

The kitchen and the grocery store are great places to kick off these important conversations. Here’s how to get started. 

Keep it age-appropriate

Many parents start their kids in the kitchen early, as did mom of two Paige Casey, who tells Parents that her kids started helping with cooking “from the time they could stand up at the counter, really.”

“I am an advocate of starting the conversation early, and by early I mean even before they start going to school,” says The Penny Hoarder’s Nicole Dow, who is a parent. “You can start with simple things, like coin recognition or counting dollar bills. That’s just the basic introduction to money.”

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Discuss prices while shopping

Many of us take the kids with us when we’re grocery shopping, and if you’re able to, this is a great time to start bringing prices into the conversation while buying food for the week.

One way to do this? Compare prices and talk about the differences, says Dow. “Point out the cost of different items and how there might be a name-brand grocery item compared to the store brand, and maybe try the store brand to see, is there a major difference?” she explains. “Do you like this brand? Because you can save money with this brand, you might be able to buy more of that or more of other things because we get to have those savings there.”

Teach budget-setting

If you’re putting together a plan to make cupcakes with your child, put together a list of what you’ll need and then help them make a budget, as is age-appropriate.

For example, “I have a seven-year-old,” says Dow, “When she’s going to a birthday party, we’ll go to Target and say, ‘Hey, you have this amount of money to spend for your friend’s gift. What can we find under that limit?’ That’s a real-life example of teaching kids about budgeting.”

For older kids, give them a set dollar amount and have them shop for ingredients themselves. This will teach them to comparison-shop and prioritize; maybe it’s worth splurging on the name brand chocolate, but not the organic flour.

Or, says McCreary, “You can turn your trip to the grocery store into a game: Who can save the most money and get everything you need as a family? Who can find the best deals? Show them the labels on the shelf to help them understand price per unit, and ask which one is a better deal and why. Every aisle is a chance to use fractions, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.”

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Give them a tangible savings goal

Context is everything, and no matter your age, it’s a lot easier to save if you have a specific goal in mind. While you might be saving for a home, or a big purchase, it’s better to frame savings as a more attainable goal for your kiddos. Depending on their age, it could be a new toy, electronics, clothes, or a vacation. 

Dow explains that “it’s always good to have a goal in mind because some kids are natural questioners. There’s always going to be the response, ‘Well, why?’… You can point to, ‘Well, we want to save up for this vacation,’ or ‘back to school season’s coming along. We’re going to have more expenses with getting school supplies.'”

Talking about money doesn’t have to be scary

“Budgeting can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. A good budget acts as a north star as they save for their financial milestones,” says McCreary.

For example, says Dow, “I don’t like to overwhelm my child with the bigger picture of how much we have to spend for the month. Instead, I like to take a more bite-sized approach and tell her, ‘Well, we have $15 to spend for your lunches for school for the week. What can we buy under that amount?'”

And it’s all about how you position it to your child, says McCreary, “If a budget sounds too daunting, reframe it as making a plan for their money so they can spend it wisely. They can keep it basic; they can just write down any money they have coming in, from jobs around town or the house or any allowance, as well as any expected expenses, like gas or entertainment. Then, they can compare that income with what they want to spend it on—whether that’s the latest gadget, or a night at the movies with friends—and see how long it will take them to save.”  

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Confidence boosting

Beyond the very substantial conversations about budgets, the process of planning, shopping and cooking is a huge confidence booster for kids—and having confidence will help them navigate difficult financial situations (among others!) as they grow up. 

“Our resident baking child will watch YouTube videos of processes and techniques and practice and try until she gets it,” says Casey. “She loves showing off what she’s made—be it a fancy batch of cupcakes, biscuits, or a side dish or meal. Her decorating skills have exceeded our own, so there is pride in getting to show us up, too.”

As parents, the goal is always to raise our kids to be functioning adults. Casey explains it’s a big part of her parenting strategy, “Teaching our kids to be capable in the kitchen is part of our mission to create ‘good roommates’ for the future; no one wants the helpless, sloppy roommate who can’t take care of themselves!”

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