Money Makes the World Go Round…


This may sound like the most cynical title, but we know it’s true. There are countless poems and songs with this very line in it. Lets talk about teaching special needs kids about money management and financial responsibility. I know many parents’ goals is to help foster independence with their special needs kiddo so they may be able to function as an adult with minimal help, or when it is our time to go… (I understand this isn’t possible for every situation, but these steps will help in higher functioning cases). This is also going to be a long article because there are options available. I’m doing the leg work so you don’t have to.

Step 1) Identify Your Biggest Hurdle:

This is key. Individuals with vision issues will need to learn how to use apps on their phones to identify and count money, along with being able to identify money by touch (there are many ideas on folding paper money differently based on its denomination). Individuals with intellectual disabilities or Autism often deal with concrete truths rather than abstract ideas. People with dyscalculia may need help with the money calculations, but may be able to understand the concept of money management.

Step 2) Start Early, Start Young

Teaching children to count is as natural as teaching them the alphabet, shapes or colors. However, most people don’t think about teaching them about money identification until the school starts doing it. Down here, it is in 1st and 2nd grade (two different ISD’s).

colorful play money
realistic play money

Something to keep in mind about teaching them about money early on is be aware of the play money. Up until recently most play money was brightly colored and looked nothing like real money. (to be honest, we do use these in lieu of an allowance, I will explain bellow). But they don’t help the kids learn how to identify money or count it. I had to find play money at Staples years ago. Now they’re everywhere and even Melissa and Doug has a nice set. If your child has learning issues, repetition is key, recognition is key, so getting something as close to the real thing as possible is important.

Take them to the store. It may make the store trip take longer, but once they understand the concept of counting and higher/lower or more/less, you can start teaching them about sales and to look on the price tags at price per oz and such so they can learn how to spend their money better. Just because it says it’s on sale doesn’t mean it’s a better deal than getting the larger pack… bulk shopping won’t save them any money if the products expire before they use them… teaching them what sales tax is (if you live in an area that has it). Teach them early the difference between “WANT” and “NEED”.

Step 3) Practice, Practice, Practice

Talking about money with your kids can get extremely stressful so here’s some ways to make it easier:

Classes/resources:

Some schools have classes they can take. Ours offers “Dollars and Sense.” Thing 1 took it last year, Thing 2 doesn’t want to waste the school hours on it as she’s aiming to take college courses by her senior year, so she’s wanting to learn outside of school. Thing 3 will probably take it in high school, unsure about the other 2.

Some SNAP (Special Needs Assistance Partners) offices offers life skills programs that focus on how to purchase items and services they may need. Including, but not limited to planning ahead, becoming familiar with prices, taxes, and budgeting.

¢ents and $ensibility. This is a guide for people with disabilities regarding money management. It can be used by the individual or by their family as a teaching tool.

Practical Money Skills is an entire website for kids, parents, and educators to learn about money management. Under the teaching tab, there are lessons for special needs kids.

Check with your caseworker or regional offices to see what classes are available in your area.

Hands on Practice:

Let your kid practice buying things in a store with you there. When you feel confident enough to give them more financial independence get them a “debit card” you can control remotely.

We use Greenlight for Thing 2. She is entering into high school and is in extra curriculars. She has the freedom to be able to walk to the convenience store with her friends and grab a snack. She can access her card via her account on her phone so she always knows her balance so she can budget. Her card has her face on it as a protection feature. Any money she earns, she gives to us and we “load” it onto her card. We can give her any additional funds we want or as needed. We also have the ability to shut off her card if she is grounded or it is missing (in her room) or is lost/stolen. We can also restrict her purchases to disallow certain stores or only allow certain stores. As the other kids get older, we will get them cards as well. There is a monthly fee, but it’s per family, not per kid and rivals that of a checking account. I like getting the alerts of her spending habits so we can talk about her financial decisions. “Thing 2 spent $2 at Taco Time.”

I do have a referral code for Greenlight, if you click on the link or scan the QR code, you will get $45 when you set up your account. (This is as I write this, the amount may change in the future, a couple of months ago it was $30).

Board Games:

Of course you knew we were going to get to this…. this list is taken from several websites, but I have weeded out the more advanced games and listed them in the honorable mentions. The following games are sorted by age per the manufacturer, as always, the suggested age doesn’t always fit the age of your child’s needs.

Ages 5+
The allowance game

Ages 5-11, 2-4 players

Kids do chores to earn an allowance and can spend their money however they see fit.

  • Money management
  • Make change
  • Identify monetary values
  • Basic math
Exact Change by Continuum Learning
Exact Change

Ages 5+, 2+ players

It plays like UNO, except it uses coins and money in place of numbers.

  • Money familiarity
  • Make change
  • Basic math
Ages 6+
Buy it Right by Learning Resources
Buy it right

Ages 6+, 2-4 players

Kids learn how to make educated purchases and can set their own prices for items they sell. They learn how to correct errors.

  • Buy and sell
  • Identify monetary values
  • Make change
  • Basic math
Ages 7+
Money Bags by Learning Resources
Money Bags

Ages 7+, 2-4 players

There’s not much to this game, except it a gamification way to encourage money recognition and counting of money. It also comes in a European “pounds” version.

  • Make Change
  • Identify monetary values
  • Basic Math
Ice Cream Empire by Empire Games
ice cream empire

Ages 7+, 2-4 players

It’s a competitive game to build your ice cream franchise across the board. Order and sell your ice cream at varying rates depending on location. The player with the most profits wins.

  • Entrepreneurship
  • Running a business
  • Inventory management
  • (Bonus) Geography US
Ages 8+
Payday by Hasbro/Parker Bros.
Payday

Ages 8+, 2-4 players

This game IS about finances and budgeting. The game board is 31 days long, but you can decide how many months you want the game to last. Each “day” has events such as a buying “deal” or “mail” which includes everything from bills to insurance offers. It even includes loans with interests. It’s thorough.

  • Earn and save money
  • Basic money management
Monopoly from Hasbro/Parker Bros
Monopoly

Ages 8+, 2-6 players

I’m sure everyone knows what Monopoly is…

How it helps: kids have to lean the importance of budgeting their spending so they don’t bankrupt themselves. Cheat your taxes? Go straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

  • Real estate basics
  • Buying and selling
  • (bonus) Anger management
  • (addl bonus) Who plays cut throat?

Confession, I refuse to play the board game because I am mean. I prefer playing the computer game because then I don’t have puppy dog eyes staring at me as I destroy them.

The Game of LIFE by Hasbro/Milton Bradley
The Game of LIFE

Ages 8+, 2-4 players

Life happens…

Granted LIFE is more of a game of chance, you don’t manage your money as much as make decisions that impact your financial outcomes. They learn the financial consequences of losing a job, “kids are expensive pets”, car and mortgage payments, taxes, debt. Oh, the joys of life.

  • Controlled spending
  • Assets vs liability in a visual manner

This game is the most replaced game in our home due to tiny pieces… tbh, we haven’t replaced it…

Budget City by Attainment Co
Budget town and budget city

Budget Town: Ages 5+, 2-6 players

Budget City: Ages 8+, 2-6 players

These games are unique as as they were designed with special needs individuals in mind. Budget Town focuses on cash transactions. Budget City is more advanced, even includes five difficulty levels so you can tailor the game to the abilities of the player. This game introduces checks, credit cards, interest rates on savings accounts, in addition to cash. This teaches concepts like budgeting and banking.

  • Budgeting
  • Identify monetary values
  • Basic money management
  • Make change
  • Basic Math
  • Intro to banking
Honorable Mentions:

I was going to list a bunch of other games, but after listing 20 games, I deleted this whole section except ones I actually own or have played and can tell you why I can’t recommend them.

  • Act Your Wage (not a bad game, but you’re not supposed to go under your emergency fund… which is $1000… a disabled person on SSI disability is only allowed to have $2000 in assets. This game could cause undue anxiety as a result of unreasonable expectations if they expect to have a minimum of $1000 in their bank at all times.)
  • Catan (I like it, but it’s more bartering goods than money)
  • Machi Koro (no negative value repercussions, click for full review)

Video Games:

Video games are an excellent resource for kids to learn money management skills. There are no real life repercussions so they can learn from their mistakes in a safe environment without harsh consequences.

I discussed this list with the kids. We decided we would not list any games where you get money or loot from killing things, as that’s just not how things work in real life… so most RPGs are out, even if the store or trade system is excellent, but we just don’t see many treasure chests fall out of mobile skeletons these days. (There may be exceptions to these rules). I know people will say there are good sports games that teach money values, but we have no sports games in the home, so I cannot judge them.

The Sims on PC-Origin
The Sims

Ages Teen (due to WooHoo/sexual themes, crude humor/cartoon mischief, violence). Note: all “nudity” is pixilated out. However, there are mods out on the internet… so make sure you pay attention if your kid is computer savvy.

The Sims is probably one of the most expensive and expansive universes out there. The base game of any of them has you design your sim and you start from scratch. You have to help you Sim budget their funds to buy their first home, pay their bills, buy food, get a job, and slowly improve their skills so they can get promotions and find new opportunities. Through the series, more career paths have opened, reactions and AI are more realistic.

  • Budget skills
  • Realistic representation of money
  • Realistic consequences (hunger, utilities shut off, pets run away, CPS, etc)
  • Realistic goals and rewards

Thing 4 and I love playing this game. We still don’t have all the DLCs because it never ends.

House Flipper on PC and consoles
House Flipper

Ages Everyone (except maybe one haunted house…)

The name is the game. Your job is to flip houses. Some have specific jobs they want you to do, some are yours free to design. There are several free and paid DLC available. The developer is also great and dropping a free special event house on occasion (holiday houses). This game teaches hard work yields results and when you “study” your market, you can yield higher profits. (Potential buyers tell you what they like and dislike). I will do a grander review of this game at a later date.

  • Money management, you can run out even on a job
  • You can set the currency (which is a cool feature so you can see average exchange rates)
  • The potential of real estate investment

Thing 2, 4, 5 and I love this game.

Slime Rancher on PC and consoles
Slime Rancher

Ages 10+ (mild comical violence)

The game revolves around you rebuilding a farm and completing tasks. You use the money you earn and (should) invest it into better equipment so you can complete your tasks more efficiently.

  • Money management
  • Investing = potential

Thing 2 did a power point presentation to us parents on why she should have this game and why it isn’t a “dumb dumb game”. She loves the game.

Animal Crossing on Nintendo products
Animal Crosing

Ages Everyone

This game disguises personal finances into a quaint adventure game. It’s not all fun and games, cutesy quests and décor

  • Mortgage, but without interest
  • the “Stalk” market

Thing 1 has every Animal Crossing game. Thing 2 has a few, loves New Horizon. Thing 4 originally had New Horizon, but got so frustrated with the game, she gave it to Thing 2.

Stardew Valley on PC and consoles
Stardew Valley

Ages 10+ (alcohol and tobacco, simulated gambling, mild language, mild blood, fantasy violence)

Stardew Valley is a retro style game but with more modern color palates, making it beautiful. You manage a farm. Like most games on this list, you start with a very limited budget where you have to balance running the farm day to day and investing to improve it.

  • Money management
  • Investment opportunities
  • Entrepreneurship

Thing 5 loves this game. It’s growing on me as I grew up with Harvest Moon.

Graveyard Keeper on PC and consoles
Graveyard keeper

Ages Teen (Fantasy Violence, alcohol, mild language, mild blood)

I wish I could say I was joking by adding this one to the list, but I’m not. It’s a weird one, it’s not for everyone. You are sucked into a portal and end up as a graveyard keeper. You make money by running your graveyard and other businesses, whether they be ethical or not is up to you. Hire (reanimate) workers to run your farm… (they’re zombies).

  • Money management
  • Investment growth
  • Entrepreneurship

The DLC’s don’t add to the money bit, but are great. Thing 2 and I love this game.

Almost any Real Time Strategy game

This isn’t all of them by any means, but these were the first ones we could think of

  • Age of Empires franchise
  • StarCraft
  • WarCraft (not to be confused with WOW)
  • Civilization franchise
  • Tropico
  • Sim City
  • Any Tycoon game (Zoo Tycoon, Prison Tycoon, Hospital Tycoon, Roller Coaster Tycoon etc)

Step 4) Stress the Difference of Plastic and Virtual Money

The most common issue I see is special needs individuals struggle understanding that credit/debit cards or electronic payments hold the same value as physical cash. Physically show your child your statements with the corresponding receipt so they can see they are connected. This is why I am such a fan of Greenlight over using a gift card. Thing 2 gets real time updates on her account balance when she uses her card. Even though she doesn’t physically have cash in hand, it is a constant reminder how much she really has.

Explain that using credit cards is a loan and you have to pay all the money back with interest. And always, ALWAYS talk about keeping card and pin numbers safe. Explain the scariest monsters in life are people (sadly) and there will always be people who will try to take advantage of their money either from your kiddo’s kindness or outright stealing from them. I admit this is always one of the hardest conversations I have.

Step 5) Mistakes Happen, so Let’s Catch Them While They Have Us

Every human being, even those without special needs will make financial mistakes. I remember running out of gas and it was a couple days until pay day and my mom having to drive 45 min to rescue my hide. College life, am I right? Who has gone through a phase of living on ramen and boxed m&c? Who is still in that phase not by choice? (not you Thing 1)

As you work with your kiddo, you will notice their financial strengths and weaknesses. Praise them for their strengths and continue to help them adapt with their weaknesses. Talk to them when they make mistakes, you don’t want them to be afraid of money or independence. Fostering independence will give them the best shot at life.

This isn’t going to be easy, I believe in you.

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