My toddlers never took to no very well. They were, however, more cooperative when I gave them a convincing and logical explanation for that no.
In early childhood, storytelling became a powerful tool for both raising my toddlers, and teaching them about more complicated things—including money. Specifically, spending, saving, and adopting a frugal mindset.
Frugality isn’t about just spending less, but about making smart spending decisions, and it’s learned best as early as possible.
Here are some basic ways to use storytelling for raising a frugal and money-conscious toddler.
1. Share a story about the life cycle of money.
Start with a simple story like, “Daddy goes to office to do his work. He works really hard and then brings money home. Mommy, Daddy and Sammy will take the money and go buy our food from the store. And yes, we can also use the money to sometimes get ice cream.”
Since I work from home, this is the story I shared with my little one as soon as Dad left for work everyday. It took about a week for Sammy to make the association: no office means no money, and no money means no food or fun.
2. Connect money to everyday life.
Have conversations throughout the day about why it’s important to switch off lights in the home and to save water. Tie it to something that’s important to Sammy, like watching a movie. “We should switch off the lights here because we don’t need it anymore and it costs money. Let’s turn it off, so we save our money and can have more fun when we go out.”
Try not to bring up too many physical things, like toys—that could backfire.
3. Explain your reasons for borrowing instead of buying.
Have conversations with your little one on the way to places like the library or community center. “We have to give the books back to the library so the other kids can read them. We don’t have all the money or all the space to buy and store ALL these books, do we? Plus, sharing books are more fun.”
4. Make it exciting to choose homemade.
When you make gifts at home instead of buying them, tell your little one why it’s special. “Aunt Sarah will love it when she gets this gift because we made it especially for her. You worked so hard and put so much love into it—how exciting!”
5. Talk often about things other than money.
Frugal choices often have other benefits, like spending time together, or caring for the earth. Remind your child about how much fun you had at the park the other day, about the joys of music and dance. Talk about how repurposing items instead of buying new means nature can stay clean and grow.
Incorporate these experiences into your everyday chats. Make a big deal out of these little daily things.
Teach your little one that your family doesn’t need a lot of money to be happy, and as early as possible. You don’t have to talk about money all the time to teach a toddler about a frugal life. Share how frugal choices result in a richer life.