The ABCs of Money: Pause for a Cause

Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of six columns on how parents can help their kids get smart about money.

Children are born givers. I will never forget the time my husband, Michael, and I were fretting about paying the mortgage and my youngest, Amanda, piped up that she would pay the bill with the money she had in her piggy bank. In her mind, it was just that simple: We needed the money and she had the money. Never mind the fact that all she had was about $10 in change.

What she taught me in that generous moment was that she would give us all she had to help solve our problem. And that is what kids do. They give. It is a natural instinct. So teaching our kids the importance of donating is different from teaching them about the other money choices (save, spend or invest), because our kids come armed with the desire to give. All we have to do is provide them with opportunities to exercise that instinct.

Watching you give your own money or time and talent to a cause is a great start, but it's not enough. To teach children the power of putting the "do" in donate you need to provide them with opportunities to do good themselves.

A Presidential Challenge

President George W. Bush presented our children with a giving opportunity in 2001 when he asked America's children to earn and donate $1 to help the children of Afghanistan. Children did so in a most amazing way. According to the American Red Cross, they donated nearly $12 million. Those dollars have bought school supplies, food and medicine, and have rebuilt schools for the Afghan children. All courtesy of our kids.

This weekend, give your child a "presidential challenge" of your own. Give $1 to your child (or more, if your child is older, but keep the amount within your usual giving level). Explain to him that he has one week to find a charity or cause that he would like to benefit from that money. If he is looking into a large, national charity, help him check out the charity at (the Better Business Bureau of charities) before making a final decision.

At the end of the week, set up a family meeting to talk about the cause he chose. And promise to match his donation if he can convince you to help based on his reasoning for choosing that charity.

Finding a Cause

Start the process of choosing a charity by initiating a simple conversation about what your child loves - animals, sports, playgrounds, reading. Show him how all of his interests present an opportunity to donate.

When we are out on errands, my daughters Allison and Amanda often beg to stop and see the animals for adoption at our local PetSmart store. PetSmart also has a charitable arm, PetSmart Charities. Over the past 10 years, the charity has given more than $39 million and worked with more than 2,700 animal welfare organizations to save the lives of homeless pets through adoptions.

If you have a child who loves animals, consider visiting to read about the foundation's work. While on the site, click on "Newsroom" and then "Happy Tails" to read real stories of animals that were saved and the families they live with as a result of donations. Follow the links to help your child make her own donation online or, better yet, visit a store to let your child hand over her donation in person.

Maybe you have a local cause in need of some help. My friend Marty DeVine asks her sons, Peter and Ben, to create their own service project each summer. With the permission of their local grocery store manager, the boys set up collection boxes in front of the store asking patrons to "Pause for a Cause" and consider donating cat toys and food for a shelter that rescues abandoned cats and keeps them until they are adopted. Last year, after two weeks of collection, the boys and their mom transported seven van loads of cat toys and food to the shelter.

As Good as Money

For some kids, donating their time and talent may be more within their means. Help your child organize a book drive for the school library with neighborhood pals. Or gather kids together to clean up a local playground. A child who sings or plays an instrument can visit a retirement home around mealtime to entertain the residents; nonmusical volunteers can read to residents who can no longer see.

Let me know about your child's creative service projects and sweat equity donations (or better yet, encourage him or her to email me) and I will publish as many of their stories as I can in a future column so we all can be inspired by the good works of our best givers - our children.

Click for a downloadable "Create a Charity" worksheet that will help you and your child think creatively about putting the "do" in donate.

Next month, we'll move on to investing.

SusanBeacham is the founder and CEO of Money Savvy Generation, which creates innovative products and services to help parents and educators teach children money management skills. Email her at