The Boston Globe

The toy register with the fake credit card jumped out
at me as I flipped through a recent holiday sales
circular touting "gifts that teach," and it made me
wonder what we're teaching children about money these

So I decided to visit a local mall at the height of
the holiday shopping season to get a closer look at
the gift ideas that attempt to educate youngsters
about money.

A mall, of course, is an easy place to learn how to
spend money, not how to save and invest it. When every
toy and item of clothing virtually cries out "buy me,"
it's hard looking for gifts that try to teach
responsible handling of finances.

But like Diogenes, the Greek philosopher who searched
with a lantern for an honest man, I didn't give up
hope. Are there gifts out there that truly show
children how to manage their money?

There's a big need for such lessons, too, judging by
the various studies of youngsters and personal

For instance, high school seniors averaged a failing
score of 51.9 percent on a recent national survey by
the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial
Literacy, and many didn't know how to balance a
checkbook or use credit cards responsibly.

But gifts that teach money lessons are hard to find in
a suburban shopping mall.

My first stop at a toy store turned up no such item. I
suffered sensory overload with all the girl and boy
toys piled up to the ceiling and threatening to tumble
down as I walked the narrow aisles. I had to leave.

My next stop was another store, featuring educational
toys. Here's where I found the electronic register
with the play credit card and other money-related

The Living & Learning Cash Register, aimed at children
ages 3 to 8, "works like the real thing. Sounds like
the real thing. Really teaches children how to make
change," according to the toy box.

I bought the toy, regularly priced at about $40 but
discounted to just under $30. At home, I turned it on
and swiped the toy credit card through the "card
reader." Three little red lights went on sequentially,
and the machine made a swooshing sound. Must be
mesmerizing to a 3-year-old, at least for a short

The toy comes with play money and features big yellow
buttons to let the child add dollar amounts and enter
what's tendered.

My assessment? Kids have enough trouble understanding
the use of credit. I don't think a toy that makes
credit cards seem even more unreal and toy-like
teaches the right lesson, especially at the tender
ages of 3 through 8.

For me, the redeeming features of the machine involved
the good old-fashioned play money and the activity
leaflet that encourages parents to use the toy coins
and bills to teach their kids to count and make

The educational toy store featured other money-related
items, including the workbook "Department Store Math
for Beginners," to teach kids in grades 1 to 3 how to
add, subtract, and multiply using an enclosed price
list. "Department store math" is new math to me, but
maybe it's a good way to connect with kids who can
relate to department stores.

But the item I found of most value was the grades 2-3
workbook "Time & Money: Building Math Skills for Daily
Life," part of a "100+ Series" of activities,
retailing at about $11. With assignments such as
"Saving is Adding" and "Spending is Subtracting," the
book teaches some worthwhile lessons about money.

Going online, I found out that both the toy register
and the "Time & Money" book are sold by McGraw-Hill
Children's Publishing, at But
while the credit card that came with the Living &
Learning Cash Register turned me off the toy, the
National Parenting Publications apparently didn't mind
it, giving the register an award.

My online research turned up other worthwhile
resources for teaching kids about money, all free at
these Web sites:

- www.consumerfederation. org: A brochure titled
"Teaching Your Children How to Save and Spend," aimed
at parents of teen-agers. Among the lessons:
budgeting, saving, and credit. Go to the "Finance"
link, and then to the bottom of the "Savings and
Wealth" page, to download the five-page brochure from
the Washington-based Consumer Federation of America's
Web site.

- sav/savlearn.htm: An 85-page
book titled "Money Math: Lessons for Life," which can
be downloaded from this US Treasury Department site. A
2001 joint project of the Treasury, the Jump$tart
Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, and the
Center for Economic Education at the University of
Missouri, St. Louis, the book is a response to the
country's low financial literacy rates among teens.
Aimed at grades 6- 10, it features four lesson plans,
with such titles as "The Secret to Becoming a
Millionaire" and "Math and Taxes: A Pair to Count On."

- Junior Achievement and the Goldman Sachs
Foundation recently announced the formation of The
JA/Goldman Sachs Foundation Personal Finance Program,
available early next year at this Web site.

So what did I learn on my shopping trip? It's not easy
finding a gift that teaches youngsters personal
finance lessons, but it's possible if you look hard
enough. The gift doesn't have to cost a lot, and could
even be free. But it may involve an investment of your