Instilling Great Money Habits By Making a Game of It

December 8, 2016

Author: Judy McNary

The best way to raise money-smart children is to use the teachable moments of everyday life to develop good spending habits.  The holiday season is upon us and with it are annual food drives for area food banks. Contributing to a food drive presents a golden opportunity to do good, build money skills and have fun at the same time.  Play the Food Drive Challenge Game.

Rules for the Food Drive Challenge Game.

  1. If there is a food drive taking place at the grocery store, grab the list of the suggested items from one of the volunteers.
  2. Decide on a dollar amount of $10, $20, or some other number. Each player gets to choose what to buy with that money. Items must be suitable for the food drive and players need to stay within the budget.
  3. No calculators allowed. No pencil and paper – mental math only.
  4. Whoever comes closest to the target amount without going over wins.
  5. Pick a friendly cashier and have her subtotal as each person’s contribution is rung up. She and those around will get invested in what’s happening but the most rewarding part is yet to come.  The smiles on the faces of the food drive volunteers when you wheel your grocery cart(s) to them can’t be beat.
  6. Save your receipt for taxes; write on the back ‘Donation for Food Drive’ along with the name of the nonprofit organization so you get the charitable tax deduction.

Play the game a few times and you’ll see how your children modify their thinking about spending but also what the money is buying. Add your own twists.  How many dinners can you buy for $20?  How many breakfasts? What would be good food for lunches? And, you can’t forget cookies. Everyone needs a cookie now and then.

As a company, we took a field trip to play.  Five players, $50 budget each. Our competitive instincts immediately kicked into gear. Our groceries totaled $251.08 so, as a team, we felt good about coming in less than half a percent off.  Alas, the sales tax pushed four of us over the limit and out of the running. Our winner, Renee, earned the $25 gift card prize.  Community Food Share of Boulder County was the big winner; we filled several grocery carts with our donations.

Try this with your family or your work colleagues and let us know how it goes.  If you have other money games you have been playing with your children, share your ideas and suggestions on our Facebook page :


The company checking the totals as the cashier rings up items.



Community Food Share of Boulder County is the real winner!



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About Judy McNary

Judy is a founding partner of Confluence Financial Advisors. She transitioned to financial planning after a successful career in technology. She is passionate about helping families, individuals and entrepreneurs reach their financial dreams. She writes articles for University Parent and is the author of Coin: The Irreverent Yet Practical Guide to Money Management for Recent College Graduates. In her spare time, Judy enjoys skiing, swimming and scuba diving.