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Use a gift card for youth money management education

There are ways to add education to any shopping trip that uses a gift card.

Has your child received a gift card for a holiday gift or birthday? Michigan State University Extension has a few tips to make the most of the educational opportunity presented.

  • Discuss the purpose of the gift card and how it can be used—all at once or over multiple purchases. Communicate about the amount of money on the gift card and how the items purchased have to be equal to or less than that amount.
  • Brainstorm ideas of what the child would like to purchase before going to the store. Talk about the estimated cost of those items. This will help the child have appropriate expectations of what can be purchased, as well as develop their sense of cost or value for their current and desired possessions.
  • Allow the child to make decisions about what they are purchasing while supporting the message that the items chosen have to be the same or less than the amount of money on the gift card.
  • For younger youth, plan to pay the sales tax so that the focus can be on the amount on the card and not worrying about calculating what the sales tax would be or how to pay any balance that exceeds the gift card. For older youth, help them calculate what the sales tax would be and how that would affect their total price.
  • Have a conversation about the different choices or options that arise. For instance, one item could be purchased for the full gift card amount or two lower priced items that add up to the gift card amount.
  • Discuss purchasing an item that is less than the gift card amount and saving the rest of the gift card value for a later date. This is especially good to mention to elementary and middle school youth. Even if they do not make that choice, presenting the framework begins to explore delayed gratification and opportunity cost.
  • Walk the youth through the transaction at the check-out counter. Keep the responsibility of the transaction with the child; they can provide the item to the cashier and hand over the gift card. At the end of the transaction, the youth can take the receipt and the bagged purchase to carry. This is their purchase from start to finish.
  • Create an experience out of the shopping trip; look, talk and discuss alongside your child. This process will create a memory that will last longer than the item purchased.

Using a gift card as a chance to discuss money choices allows for a teachable moment within a celebratory event. Beginning this process, even at a young age, opens the door to reflective consumerism and stronger financial behaviors as the child matures.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. As a result of career exploration and workforce preparation activities, thousands of Michigan youth are better equipped to make important decisions about their professional future, ready to contribute to the workforce and able to take fiscal responsibility in their personal lives.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth career preparation, money management and entrepreneurship programs, read the 2016 Impact Report: “Preparing Michigan Youth for Future Employment.”

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