Teaching Kids About Money with Books: The CFPB Money as You Grow Book Club

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 Sunday by 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. 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

Make Your Kid A Money Genius (Even If You're Not) by Beth Kobliner

Kobliner starts the book out with fourteen rules about how to talk to your kids about money. These rules are about the approach to a conversation, not the subject of the conversation, and they're things you learn if you speak to a lot of children. Ideas like “use anecdotes” (#3) and “Never fib about how much money you have on you” (#6) are things you realize over time, but having a list is a powerful reminder.

Also important are the 7 things you don't need to tell your kids – like your salary and who makes more. Like many things in life, it's about balance and finding that balance of inclusion and exclusion is very difficult. I find that the best approach is to share enough to include your children in the decision process without sharing so much information that they get lost or fixated on the details.

The book is structured on money management concepts. Saving, debt, spending, insurance, etc.

In each chapter, there's a discussion on how to approach the concept at each age group. I flipped through each chapter so I could read through the Preschool and Elementary School sections in detail while giving a peek towards Middle School and beyond.

The Preschool sections are really about teaching awareness. In debt, your goal is to teach your preschool kids that buying stuff costs money and you can't always get everything. As you'd expect, it's not about interest rates, credit card debt, or anything like that – but it's about how there's a limited amount of resources and you have to make choices.

The Elementary School sections start introducing bigger concepts like time, security, and instructions for parents too (ie. don't give your elementary school kids a credit card!)

As kids get older, you can introduce them to more concepts but obviously these aren't hard and fast rules. We know that some kids read at 4 years old and others read at 5 and others don't read until they're much older. Our son was born in August and he's in the same kindergarten class as other kids who are going to be nearly 20% older. So the frameworks are loose but that's good enough.

As I read through each chapter that applied to our kids and looked ahead to the ones that they'd soon face, everything made sense. More importantly, it creates a checklist. I can't remember everything and a framework makes it so I don't have to. I can focus on passing on the lessons. I enjoyed it.

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!

(and if you want the best books for adults, here are a few timeless classics)

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  1. Stefanie O'Connell says

    So this weekend I had a first birthday party to attend and I was at the store looking for a kid’s gift and it was all CRAP! I just kept thinking about how a good book would be so much better. Now I know where to look 🙂

      • Lee Gilmer says

        I’ve been buying books at garage sales for my niece and nephew since they were babies. Many are in like new condition and only cost 50 cents to $1. But, before buying them, I read them completely. They can’t understand how their Aunt always picks such great books! I’ve sent up around 150 in the past 3 years. Now that Owen is in 2nd grade (reading at 4th grade level) I still try to read a few pages before buying one then finish it at home. I’ve found a lot of Caldecott and Newbury Medal winner and honor books this way and know I don’t have to read these.

        I keep a spreadsheet of the books I have and those I’ve sent so I don’t buy duplicates.
        I also include the age range – found on the computer if not noted on the book – and if they have gotten awards. In each shipment, I wrap a few so their mother can use them as a reward if they have been very, very good or a distraction if they are getting on her nerves. They don’t watch much TV and really enjoy reading and playing games with the family.

        • Jim Wang says

          This is such an awesome idea — I’ve found that those awards are typically pretty accurate in finding good books. I think it’s sweet you read the books before sending them alone.

          I know this might be a little forward but would you be willing to share the list?

          And a book as a reward is brilliant. Way better than cookies or TV or some other not good for your “treat.”

          • Lee Gilmer says

            I have to do some updating but will send it as soon as that is done. Owen couldn’t believe I’d sent him a Boxcar children book as he’d just discovered them and wanted to read them all. The only thing is, I have to write letters to go along with some of them explaining how things were when they were written, especially those from the 30’s thru the 60’s segregation.

          • Jim Wang says

            Yeah, context is important. The whole “only one business bear” in the house thing was normal 50 years ago (or even 30) but today… many households have two business bears. 🙂

          • Lee Gilmer says

            In second grade, my parents gave me an allowance (50 cents = $4.40 today) but I had to save 1/2 of it – in those days by buying saving stamps at school. The bank my father worked for sent someone over every week so we could put our quarter in a machine and get a stamp that we put in our savings book. When we filled it we’d be able to turn it in for $10 at the bank. My parents also matched any money I saved up from my allowance to spend on vacations.

  2. Mary Weinand says

    Hi Jim,
    I really enjoyed reading your post and your family’s responses to the books. It is clear that your son is very bright for his age and understands many complex concepts and I loved his comment about not sharing other peoples secrets! It just reinforces the idea that financial socialization is more than a discussion of money. It is an opportunity to discuss values, happiness, empathy, planning, sharing, and so much more.

    • Jim Wang says

      Thank you for the kind words! Socialization of all kinds, especially financial, is crucial for young kids and these books were great for walking through the material in a way that engaged our son — I really enjoyed it and thank you again for the suggestion to do this in the first place!

  3. Nadine Perry says

    Hi Jim,

    Stephanie is right—there is so much crap in the stores. Our family is just “Not Buying It” (that’s a great read by Brett Graff). We encourage focus on 3 categories, college savings, books, and clothing. So thank you for providing me my holiday book buying list for the little ones in our tribe!

    And you are spot on, 4-5 is a great age to introduce financial literacy .


  4. Stephonee says

    Awwwwww! I had most of these books when I was a kid 😀 Even though if you’d asked me, I couldn’t have named a single book about money that I read as a young kid, but I guess I read several!

    I’ll have to save this list for later – gotta get this kid out of the oven and wait some time before we reach the “books” phase. 😉 But thanks for sharing how it all went over with your 5-year-old – good to know which ones might be the best to start with and which ones to hold off on until they’re a little older.

  5. Latoya @ Femme Frugality says

    I have to join this book club, asap! I only have Trouble With Money! These seem like they will be enough to keep my 6 year old interested and teach her some valuable lessons. Thanks for sharing this, this is awesome!

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