Teaching Kids About Money With Books

Monday, September 5, 2016

I believe our relationship with money starts from a very young age.

My relationship with money was probably a lot like many others. Like many kids, I would ask for a lot of things. Like everything. I got a lot of “no’s” that prompted me to ask “why.” Which was met with “we can’t afford that” if my parents were tired and didn’t feel like explaining that we already have enough boxes of cereal. Or whatever crap I wanted.

I want my kids to have a more reasoned relationship with money. As I was researching children’s books about money, I saw this post that talked about the CFPB’s Money As You Grow book club.

You learn many of your money habits when you're young - from watching your parents, family, friends, and people around you. I discovered the CFPB's Money As You Grow Book Club and go through the books with my 5yo son.The book club has 9 books, all relatively short and meant for kids, and comes with an implementation guide that helps teach these concepts.

I thought it would be fun if I read the books with my oldest, who is 5, and see what he thought of them.

As a bit of background, he loves books but mostly the ones where you look at things. We enjoy looking for goldbug,Waldo, and the changing of the seasons (esp. the lantern party). Oh and of course this gem. 🙂

These are presented in the order we read them the first time.

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams

A Chair For My MotherThe story talks about a young child, his mother and grandmother, saving coins into a jar after work. They were saving up for a chair because they’d lost everything in a previous house fire. The community rallied around them to help, donating many of the things they needed, and they were saving up to buy a chair. They would eventually fill up the jar of coins, buy a chair, and have a chance to enjoy it.

He enjoyed the story but I could tell it was a little more complex and the fire part was a little scary. The flashback aspect of it, thinking back to the fire and the community helping, confused him initially but the illustrations were complex enough to keep him entertained while I read the text. He said “wow that’s a lot of pennies!” to a drawing of the filled up jar and he understood they were saving up to buy the chair, which they lost in the fire. It made him happy that “lots of people” helping the family who lost all their things in a fire but were themselves OK.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Setting goals, Earning, Saving, Follow-through

Sheep in a Shop by Nancy Shaw

Sheep in a Shop - Nancy ShawA very short, sweet, simple rhyming book about a flock of sheep going into a store to buy something, not having enough money, and trading their wool.

This book was quick to read, entertaining because of the rhyming and the chaos of the pictures of sheep playing in the store, but a little too simple for our son at the age of 5. He loved seeing the sheep cut off their hair and thought the shorn sheep looked hilarious as they bounded out the store – “Look, they don’t have any fur!” he exclaimed at one point. For a second he thought they were bunnies because they were hopping.

He understood that the sheep didn’t have enough money so they traded their own fur. We’ve talked in the past, especially when he wanted a toy another friend (or his sister) was holding, that trading is a way to get something you want (rather than fighting to take it or whining or calling us). This was an illustration of that and he understood.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Solving problems, Making decisions

Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sundayby Judith Viorst

alexander who used to be rich last sundayThis book shared the story of a young Alexander who foolishly spent the $1 he received last Sunday on a variety of silly things. The illustrations were in black and white and less complex than many of the books he enjoys, but he followed along. He might be a little young to understand many parts of it. Alexander loses money to betting, buying junk, etc — our son hasn’t ever placed a bet, hasn’t purchased anything at a garage sale, etc.

At points he lost interest, he told me the book was “a little boring and a little bit silly,” because Alexander kept losing his money and spending it on “silly stuff,” like a bear with one eye and a melted candle. He did think it was funny at the end because he only had bus tokens.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Prioritizing, Making decisions, Saving, Self-control

The Berenstain Bears & Mama’s New Job by Stan & Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears and Mamas New JobThis Berenstain Bears classic talks about work and hobbies and how one could turn a hobby into a business. Papa Bear’s carpentry results in furniture sales and Mama Bear’s sewing, in addition to the million things she does, results in a quilt business. One lesson in here that stuck out was that Mama Bear could be a “business bear,” which I imagine at the time of its initial publishing (1984), the idea of a woman working was more remarkable.

Our kids have long loved the Berenstain Bears books but we usually stuck to the shorter ones. This one, while not thick, had longer sentences and ideas that were new to our kids. What isn’t new is the idea that Mom works and Dad helps around the house cooking, cleaning, etc. Dad also works and Mom helps around the house cooking, cleaning, etc. We all have roles and responsibilities but they aren’t split down “traditional” (as in 1960’s) gender roles.

One funny moment happened when there was a discussion in the Bear family about Mama opening a store and becoming a “business bear.” Papa Bear says there’s only one “business bear” in the family and our son said laughed, “That’s silly, Mama Bear can be a business bear.”

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Setting goals, Earning, Spending

Just Shopping With Mom by Mercer Mayer

Just Shopping With MomThe book is a straightforward book about shopping and how you can’t get everything in the store on a whim. It follows a mom and three kids (mostly the older two are involved) as they go through a store and a mall to buy things. The sister keeps asking for everything and Mom says no. This repeats for many many pages.

This book was a little too simple for our son though he enjoyed exploring the pictures and it gave me flashbacks of our shopping trips when he was a little younger. 🙂

Our son enjoyed it but he already knew the lesson that you can’t always get what you want and you can’t buy everything, only the things you need.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Prioritizing, Spending, Self-control

The Berenstain Bears’ Trouble With Money by Stan & Jan Berenstain

Berenstain Bears Trouble With MoneyThis Berenstain Bear’s classic covers a lot of themes. It starts with a look at our relationship with money, as the Brother and Sister bear spend some of their money and then ask for more. It shows Papa Bear worried about money, how the kids don’t respect it, and so the kids start a business. They take many of the things they enjoyed (flowers, berries, honey trees) and sell them, collecting a lot of money – more money than could fit in their piggy banks. This upset the Papa Bear since the honey trees were a secret. (This felt a little like The Lorax) Eventually, the kids give the money to Papa Bear because he’s worried about money, they decide to offer an allowance, and then they go have fun.

Some of the themes might have gone over our son’s head but I can see the value in reading this as he gets older, it covers a lot in a few short pages. One of the surprising things he said, when I asked him why the kids couldn’t sell maps to the trees, was that you can’t tell other people’s secrets (the location of the trees was a family secret). Not a money lesson but a good life lesson.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Making decisions, Spending, Saving, Self-control

Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

Ox-Cart ManThe Ox-Cart Man is one of the older books in this set, published in 1979 and winner of the 1980 Caldecott Medal. It follows the story of a farmer in the 19th century and how the father uses the cart to take goods to market. They sell those things, make money, and use that to buy things they need – even the ox and the cart itself are sold. Then the cycle repeats itself.


Our son has a basic understanding that things cost money and has a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit, so he understood the idea that you make/grow things, bring them to market, but was a little sad when the ox and cart were sold. It took a little explaining before he understood that the socks and shawl were made from the sheep’s fur and that the cycle of making and growing started in the winter, but they were good lessons he picked up on.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Setting goals, Prioritizing, Making decisions, Earning

A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban

A Bargain for FrancesA Bargain for Frances follows the story of Frances saving up his money to buy a brand new tea set. Thelma also wants the new tea set so she convinces Frances to buy her old tea set – which makes Frances angry and he tries to get even.


This book was more than about money. I don’t think anyone in his class has ever tricked him and the idea of “revenge” was foreign, but he knew that Frances was tricked. He said that Thelma wasn’t nice because Thelma lied about how hard it would be to find a china tea set but then Frances lied to get the tea set from Thelma.

Of all the books, I liked this one the least. At some point, I know our eldest will cease to be this pure of heart child with no ill thoughts towards others. Whether that happens at six or sixteen, this book talked about how one raccoon tricked another and then was tricked herself into giving something up. I remember the first time I was tricked, in a very similar way, and it’s something that had an impact on me (it was over comic books, not tea sets!) even to this day.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Setting goals, Making decisions, Staying true to yourself, Flexibility

The Purse by Kathy Caple

The PurseThe Purse wasn’t available at our local library, the only one of the set that wasn’t, so it took a little effort to find a copy. it’s a sweet story about Katie, a girl who kept her coins in a band aid box, and how her sister convinces her to buy a purse to hold it. Except when she does, she has no more money to hold!


Our son has a piggy bank and when he finds coins outside, such as in a parking lot, he puts it in the piggy bank. I tell him that every time he saves a coin, I’ll put one in too. The money inside doesn’t really mean much to him, other than he knows things cost money and the coins ARE money, and he had no concept of a purse (it was just a bag). He didn’t have much to say about this book (which was his third book of the evening after a long day, he normally reads two) but he did say that it was silly that she bought a purse to hold money but then didn’t have any more money.

CFPB Book Club Lessons: Setting goals, Solving problems, Saving, Staying true to yourself

Parting Thoughts

For a 5 year old, some of the books were a little too simple and some were a little too long. This isn’t a complaint about the book club at all, just something to keep in mind if you hope to do this with your kids. The simplest books were Sheep in a Shop and Just Shopping with Mom, while A Chair for My Mother and Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday were a little beyond our son’s comprehension (and patience).

My personal favorite was A Chair for My Mother. Money skills are important and with time everyone can learn them. A Chair for My Mother is a bit about community and empathy, which I firmly believe need to be reinforced especially in our kids.

Overall, I think the set of books is great. As long or short as any of them were, our son was varying levels of engaged and interested throughout and I’m glad we did it. Our younger daughter also enjoyed them, especially the shorn sheep!

Thank you to Jim Wang for for sharing a fantastic book list for our little ones to get started on their road to financial literacy.  

Jim is a thirty-something father of two who has been featured in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.  He can show you the philosophies, strategies and methods he used to become financially independent and free to pursue what was important. He believes that managing your money does not have to be difficult. Or complex. Or scary.  

Learn more about Jim Wang and Wallet Hacks.


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