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Teaching Kids About Money While Shopping at Target

August 13, 2013

One of the things I’m facing as a parent right now is teaching Sophie the value of money, how to distinguish between your “wants” and “needs,” and the fact that the bank is not an endless supplier of free cash.

These issues came out in full-force during our most recent trip to Target, which was highlighted by tears (Sophie) and frustration (me). But like many of motherhood moments when I feel at my worst, I try to focus on the parenting lesson to be learned. That is what happened at Target this week.

A few weeks ago, Sophie wanted to write a Target shopping list. She grabbed a sheet of paper and pen, and began stating the items she wanted to buy and asked me to help her spell them. The first item on her Target list: toilet paper. Great, I thought. This is very practical list!

Then the list continued:

Chew bone (for the dogs)



Pretend gun

Sofia the First’s amulet necklace

Plastic pool

When I said we’d be going to Target yesterday, Sophie ran to her room and proclaimed, “I need to get my list!”

Armed with her list in hand, we entered Target where she immediately began pointing toward the party decor area for the piñata. I held her off, saying that I wasn’t sure we’d be getting a piñata today. Disgruntled, she followed me to get toilet paper — an item that was on both our lists!

Sophie proceeded to the toy aisle to look for Sofia’s amulet (along with about 20 other things she found worthy of buying) when I told her that we wouldn’t be getting everything on her list.

“Fine,” she said. “We don’t have to get the plastic pool.”

What a relief!

Things went from bad to worse when I told her I was also not buying a gun (plastic or otherwise) or the amulet. This must have been the last straw because then she broke down in Target, claiming that I wouldn’t buy anything off her list.

“But we got toilet paper,” I reminded her.

This statement was not a comfort to Sophie (or as funny as I thought it was).

Sophie was very upset she wasn’t getting the things she wrote on her list. I tried to explain to her that we can’t always get everything we want (thank you, Mick Jagger). And that we have to save our money to buy the fun things.

I went on to explain that next time we go to Target, Sophie can bring her $20 bill and buy an item if she wants. “No,” she said. “I want YOU to buy the things for me.” That’s when I explained that I have to spend our money on groceries, gas and other things that we need before getting fun items.

“Then why did you help me write that list?!” Sophie yelled at me with tears streaming down her face. “It’s a stupid list!”

I reassured Sophie that it was a very well-thought out list and that writing down the things you want is important to do. I told her that even I have a list of fun things I wants, and sometimes when I have a few extra dollars, I buy something from my fun list.

It’s tough being a parent, especially when it comes to money and teaching your kids the value of a dollar. No mom or dad wants to see their kid hysterical in Target, and you want to buy them the things they want. But even if I had an abundant supply of disposable income, I know buying her the world isn’t good parenting either.

And as Sophie gets older and has a lot of “wants,” I have to start helping her understand the value of money and how we don’t always have the cash to buy fun things. I also learned from Target this week is that it’s best to set up expectations before getting into the store.

Sophie did calm down and seemed to understand some of what I explained. And she was happy when I let her pick out a $1.99 chew bone for Casey (from her list).

What became of the rest of the items on the Target list, you ask?

They have now become the beginning of Sophie’s birthday wish list, along with a new item added to the mix: Target gift cards.

sophie target list

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2013 3:54 am

    Yes it is a hard to make them understand. Already the eldest grandson knows about stores and if a toy breaks you should just go buy another one. I remember when my eldest son (father of above mentioned kid) was into Magic Cards that could cost quite a bit– it was a fantasy card game that I never understood only that you collected these very artistic cards. He explained how one card he had acquired somehow (they trade them), was “worth” $60. I tried to explain to him, he was about 9 at the time, that it was only worth that if someone else was willing to pay that amount. Not sure he got that part. Good luck! I think setting a limit is good and also having her spend her own money she gets from gifts and chores. Funny how that quickly curtails the list!

  2. Linda permalink
    August 13, 2013 10:15 am


    I think you learned the hardest lesson of them all, learning to say “no” (not that this is a new lesson) and feeling okay with your answer. For Sophie, she was able to set her own priorities which is a fabulous lesson. What I love the most, is she chose to get something for someone/animal other than herself. Sounds like she has already learned the lesson and value of “giving”. Great job, Mom!

  3. August 13, 2013 11:15 pm

    Money is such an intangible concept for children — and honestly, for many adults! You are doing a great job, and your little girl sounds like she’s really interested in trying and learning the rules. This line was great, “sometimes when I have a few extra dollars, I buy something from my fun list.” Makes it all worthwhile, that hard work!

  4. August 31, 2013 4:23 pm

    Leah, I feel like this is a constant battle or lesson that I have to teach Alana. I’m glad you shared this because now I don’t feel alone 😉 you did the right thing, and it’s very important to teach out children the value of money and that we don’t always get what we want. I like that you turned her list into a bday wish list!

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