Want to Teach Kids About Money? Start with Lunch

School lunch tray

Want a simple money concept to teach your kids tonight? Here you go:

Everyone eats.

This makes food a great way to conduct your first lesson in teaching kids about money.

Start with school lunch.

Whether you have kids in grade exposed to the lunch line for the first time, or high schoolers who have an open campus and nearly endless lunch options, you are paying money for your kids lunch.*

And, unlike many of the other categories in your budget, I bet you have a pretty good idea how much you’re spending each day. If you’re not because you just send in a check each time you get an email telling you the kid’s funds are low, you should be able to quickly figure out your per day expense by checking the calendar to see how many days each check is lasting.

Got your daily lunch dollar amount?


Now decide if that amount is reasonable, or if you’d like to see it decrease. Most parents would like to see it decrease, but if that’s not you, hang with me, I’ll get back to you in a bit.

Decide how much you want the amount to decrease. A few scenarios:

  • You’d like the kid to bring lunch from home one day a week so you stop paying for five days and instead start paying for four.
  • A la carte items are really adding up, so you include enough money for him to only buy an extra treat a few times a week.
  • Your teenager has gotten into the habit of treating herself to a spendy lunch and coffee drink everyday during her off campus lunch break so you adjust her money to be able to buy only the lunch items.

Next, give them the money they will need for the next month. If you’ve prepaid for their lunches, sit down with them and explain how long that money will need to last them before there will be more.

If you have kids who are spending within reasonable limits, consider giving them a little spending money that they can use occasionally to buy themselves a treat. Remember, this is a budgeting lesson, not a nutrition lesson.  🙂

The idea behind this is for them to think about their lunch spending rather than spending whatever they’d like because it’s not their money. The last thing we want is for kids to learn to spend without considering the downside of the choices they make:

  • If I eat school at lunch everyday this week, I won’t be able to eat at school again for two weeks because I won’t have enough money.
  • If I buy three things in the a la carte line today, I won’t be able to buy anything again for a month.
  • If I go out to lunch and buy a burger AND fries, I won’t have enough for coffee too.

Budgeting lessons don’t have to be hard, but they do have to be taught. This is one easy way to get started.

*If you have kids that DO bring lunch from home on a daily basis – you’re doing something right! Yah you! I bet you can find another area of your life where you can put these ideas to work tonight.

Want to learn how to set up the perfect allowance for your kid? Check out this free downloadable cheatsheet!