Financial Literacy Lessons for Thanksgiving

Infuse your holiday plans with teachable moments to keep kids of all ages entertained with family-friendly Thanksgiving money lessons.

In the bustle of extravagant dinner preparations, cross-country travel, hosting out-of-town visitors, and scoring the best Black Friday deals, it’s easy to forget the true nature of this Thanksgiving week. Thursday is a time to enjoy loved ones, good food, and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for.

For our financial experts, Thanksgiving also means a time to be thankful for increased financial literacy efforts across the country and the world. So we decided to combine the two and put together family-friendly Thanksgiving financial lessons perfect for getting everyone involved.

We spoke with three financial experts who have five simple, but meaningful, ideas that you’ll want to try this holiday.

1. Charity Donations

Leading up the Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful for all that you have while contributing to the happiness of others. Community is the reason for the season.

Patti Black, a CFP at Bridgeworth, LLC, suggests that parents set up a donor-advised fund at a community foundation and make each family member in charge of giving a certain percentage of your total contribution.

“Community foundations do a good job at educating givers about how to evaluate charities and providing exposure to non-profits that may not be as familiar,” she said, adding that, “[i]t’s a great learning experience for parents and for kids.”

Not only is donating to charity a great way to teach your children about philanthropy, but making them responsible for a certain percentage of the family’s contribution—even if it’s $5 from their allowance—forces them to divert a portion of their income to a new type of expense. Additionally, you could choose to make a one-time donation for November or to donate on a monthly basis and have your children budget it into their allowance or summer jobs.

“This idea also ties into the new tax law, which raised the standard deduction, making it more likely that taxpayers will take the standard deduction rather than itemize,” Black said.

While some people choose to combine two to three years of charitable contributions into a single year, thus hitting the higher threshold in order to itemize, they may not want to donate all at once. Stretching your charitable gifts over the course of the year may be more ideal.

In this case, “parents could give the higher amount to a donor-advised fund at their local community foundation and then make gifts from the donor advised fund over time,” explained Black.

2. Individual Gifts

Personalize your acts of kindness by genuinely connecting with those in need and giving them a kit filled with necessities, specifically winter gear as the temperatures drop.

Safe, clean drinking water and healthy food is something many take for granted. There have been movements of late for people to stock their bag or car with bottles of water, soft granola bars, and other inexpensive necessities to hand out to homeless people or others in need.

Black said that when her children were younger, she would have them put together decorated “blessing bags” filled with non-perishable snacks and toiletries. She set a limit and had the children add up their purchases without going over budget, made easier at stores like the Dollar Tree since everything costs a dollar. Similarly, consider maximizing coupons or buying large quantities at bulk grocery stores. Black’s family would then store these bags in their van to hand out.

3. Thanksgiving Grocery Shopping

“Many families struggle to keep within the bounds of their grocery budgets throughout the year, so adding a fancy Thanksgiving meal into the mix can be financially burdensome. But you don’t have to buy everything at once, make the meal Instagram-worthy, or follow every tradition dish-for-dish,” said Rebecca Graham, a content management specialist at BestCompany.com.

Graham suggests thinking outside the box as you plan your Thanksgiving dinner menu.

“Have your kids take inventory of what’s in your pantry or emergency food storage and ask what ideas they have for dishes the family can create with what’s already there,” she said. “As they brainstorm ideas, younger kids can draw pictures of their favorite Thanksgiving foods and older kids can make a mock menu of their own.”

Once you have an accurate inventory list, make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to fill in your recipes. To save money, she suggests browsing grocery store ads ahead of time to find which stores feature sale prices for the items on your list. According to Graham this is a good time to “enlist your kids’ help as you shop for (strictly!) what’s on the list.”

“You may think you’re only teaching your kids, but odds are they will teach you, too, by holding you accountable to the plan!” she added.

On the other hand, “[i]f you don’t want to use food storage items for Thanksgiving dinner but want to avoid blowing your November grocery budget with the holiday, consider making the week prior Eat Cheap Week,” she said.

For Eat Cheap Week, buy only the bare minimum of grocery essentials. Each child can be in charge of deciding on and helping prep a meal using ingredients you already have in the pantry, fridge, or freezer.

“Make it fun by allowing your kids to design a menu or sign featuring the day’s Eat Cheap Entree and decorate name cards for each table setting,” she suggested.

“As parents, sometimes we are afraid to deviate from what we’ve always done, even when it’s in our family’s best interest money-wise, because we think it won’t be as special,” Graham said, arguing that “we should give kids more credit [because] even young children can learn to appreciate how special holidays are when they play a part in the preparations, including the financial ones like meal planning, shopping, and preparing.”

4. Family Money Games

If your family gathers around the table on Thanksgiving Thursday, chances are high that you’ll also gather around the living room afterwards for some low-maintenance entertainment. Add a financial-focused card game to your collection of low-stakes Thanksgiving day board games.

“Money Habitudes is a deck of cards that has been used by hundreds of thousands of teens, young adults and adults to start money conversations and discover their money personality profiles,” said Syble Solomon.

Solomon is the creator of award-winning Money Habitudes, a conversation starter and money-personality profile that helps people understand the reason for their money choices.

“Many people purchase it for family events during the holidays to make it easy to bring up the topic of money in a fun way without talking about budgets or what people should do,” she said.

In fact, the game’s focus is on the missing emotional component of money—”what motivates us to spend and save the way we do?”

In this fun game you’ll be able to see just how differently everyone in your family thinks about money, but more importantly, it’s an easy way to spark honest dialogue about a typically taboo topic.

5. Giving-Back Friday

This Thanksgiving, opt out of racking up excessive credit card debt on Black Friday and create your own “Giving-Back Friday.”

Instead of spending the Friday after Thanksgiving lying on the couch in a food daze, get up and get outside. Skip the Black Friday lines in favor of acts of kindness rather than wanton consumerism. This is the perfect time to take your children around the neighborhood to give back.

“For many years, I’ve taken my kids and a few of their friends out after Christmas (but this could easily be done around Thanksgiving as well) to perform random acts of kindness,” said Black.

Her family gathers around breakfast and creates a list of places they want to go and things they want to do. Black’s family then spends the day doing random acts of kindness, like “taping coins to a drink machine, delivering doughnuts to [their] local fire station and library, [and] taking flowers to an assisted living facility.”

At the end of the day you’ll find that “[i]t’s a great antidote to the gimmes of the holiday season,” she said.

Contributors

Patti Black

Patti Black has more than 20 years of experience helping affluent clients align their goals and their money. This work is especially important in times of transition such as starting a family, sending children to college, changing jobs, or retiring. Patti develops a customized financial plan that incorporates the clients’ needs, wants, and wishes while addressing employee benefits, income tax, insurance, investments, cash flow, and estate planning. Patti practices in a fee-only environment and is confident that the advice she gives is objective and geared towards her clients’ best interests.

Rebecca GrahamRebecca Graham is a content management specialist at BestCompany.com, an independent and impartial review site where companies don’t “pay to play” and consumers can access real customer reviews and educational materials to help them decide which companies are best for them. She is also an emergency preparedness advocate and mom of two creative kids whom she teaches about money matters.
Syble Solomon

Syble Solomon is the creator of award-winning Money Habitudes®, a conversation starter and money-personality profile that helps people understand why they make the money choices they do. Money Habitudes was a Washington Post featured selection of the month and won the Smart Marriages Impact Award. As a popular speaker on the psychology of money, she has presented to diverse audiences including national conferences for non-profits and financial planners, international women’s professional events, universities and the NFL. She has been quoted in more than 100 publications including WSJ, NYT, US News and World Report, Bankrate.com and Forbes.