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How I Use Halloween Costumes to Teach My Kids About Money

What started as a way to make our lives easier as parents turned out to have some practical benefits.

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The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

Negotiating Halloween costume options with kids can feel like a doomed endeavor. Weeks beforehand, their developing brains begin to short-circuit in anticipation of the copious amounts of refined sugar and red dye they’ll receive from every adult they encounter. Finding a costume that meets their exacting stylistic preferences while staying within a budget is no small feat.

Three years ago, my wife decided the haggling needed to end. In an effort to defuse the annual debate, she made our three kids a blanket deal. They would each receive $20 to spend on a costume. If they preferred to go with an upgraded outfit, they were welcome to earn or save the extra money to do so. But if they demonstrated frugality in their selection, whatever money remained was theirs to keep.

While the proposition was designed simply as a way to make our lives easier as parents, it turned out to have some unintended benefits: namely, it provided our kids with three important lessons on managing money.

The Relative Value of Money

For young kids, dollar amounts can be a fairly nebulous unit of measurement. The costume exercise gives them the opportunity to figure out how they value various goods that are similarly priced. Instead of simply trying to get as close as they can to the budgeted number, a more complex comparison occurs when they have the chance to explore how far their money can go across various categories. Our 3rd-grade son loves the process of seeing how well he can stretch his dollar. His younger sister, on the other hand, places a high value on the polished look of licensed costumes that portray strong female characters. While she has typically invested the entirety of her budget into her costume, she has made for absolutely stunning renditions of Rey, Elsa of Arendelle, and Moana.

The Art of Comparison Shopping

Not all costumes are created equal. Neither are toys, for that matter. As online shopping continues to grow, the art of deciphering user reviews has become an increasingly important skill. Our kids have improved their critical-thinking skills as they learn that a product rated five stars can still be a risky purchase if it’s only received a handful of reviews. And while not reading online comments is generally good life advice, doing so when shopping is necessary. Evaluating these information points helps kids develop practical evaluation know-how and increases their shopping savvy.

The Benefit of Doing It Yourself

In a world where just about anything can be delivered to our homes overnight, kids need to see how making something themselves can change the way they allocate money. While a DIY costume made by a grade-school student might lack the finish of its purchased counterpart, there’s an immediate tangible payoff to reinforce the value of making something yourself. Plus, they’re being creative, completing a goal, and boosting their self-esteem. Last year, our son decided that the desire of his heart was a new Lego set. By putting together a convincing Union Army drummer boy outfit with a trip to a thrift store, a repurposed and decorated plastic bucket, and handmade drumsticks, he was able to add to his building block collection with the rest of the money.

Halloween 2018 has introduced a new wrinkle to the system. Our daughter has ventured away from her established brand to join her parents and baby brother as the visual representation of the Baby Shark song. Participating in the pop culture phenomenon was a strong draw. It didn’t hurt that her mother also offered to outfit her as a tutu-clad shark while still letting her keep the costume money. Even a well-hacked system deserves the occasional tweak.

Christian Dashiell is a father of four living in rural Kansas. He is passionate about justice issues, and decompresses by telling jokes and honing his BBQ Jedi skills.