How and Why My Daughter is Helping Pay for Her American Girl doll


teaching kids about money

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but for the first six years of our marriage, my husband and I didn’t live within a budget. We both worked full-time and earned plenty enough to pay for our necessities and most of our wants. We saved money, added to our retirement and, in general, never had to spend much time thinking about money. And, we had never even considered the notion of teaching kids about money. 

And, then, I realized I desperately wanted to stay home and raise our kiddos.

Although I work part-time from home now, our income shifted drastically and we were forced to create and live on a budget. We did this before I quit my job as a way of determining if we could make it on my reduced income AND as a way to determine how much that income needed to be.

I discovered Dave Ramsey and fell hard in love with owning our money and purposefully deciding where every dollar goes. Once we were able to live comfortably within that budget, we gained confidence that my staying home wasn’t just a phase of our life but something we could benefit from long term.

We knew we wanted to teach our kids how to responsibly manage money because of the freedom it can afford you. BUT, that concept is hard to teach to four- and six-year-olds. Other than preaching and modeling our beliefs, we had to wait until a real teaching opportunity presented itself. Enter….the American Girl doll

teaching kids about money

If you have a five- to eight-year-old daughter, no doubt you are familiar with American Girl dolls. Somehow, the super expensive catalog shows up at our home EVERY December even though we’ve not purchased a single thing from the store. My daughter, like many, still loves playing with dolls. Once she saw the AG catalog, she fell in love with the idea of having a doll that size and age. However, if you’ve ever checked the price tag of those dolls, you know they cost a small fortune. I could literally provide food and clothing to a real child in another country for far less than the $115 price tag on these dolls.

So, up until now, she’s enjoyed the off-brand dolls from Toys”R”Us and Target. They have comparably sized dolls, tons of clothes, and plenty of necessary accessories, like horse barns, ice cream trucks, and teepees. DUH. One day recently, though, she was able to touch and hold a REAL American Girl doll. And, I’ll be the first to admit it…there are legit differences. The dolls feel sturdier (although there was ONE incident of a doll head falling off during a play date, but….I digress) and, super important to a six-year old, the hair is softer and easier to brush.

So, as a family, we decided that seven is an appropriate age to get a doll of that quality (and by quality, I really mean price). We did decide, however, that she would need to pay for a portion of this gift, since it falls outside of the budget we’d normally spend on birthday gifts.

teaching kids about money

We’ve been loosely following Dave Ramsey’s approach to teaching kids about money. It involves savings jars for giving, saving, and spending.

But, up until now, our daughter had no real connection to the value of money.

She didn’t understand how spending a dollar on a literal piece of junk at the dollar store kept her from getting a more beloved toy. Until now. 

So, we decided that if she could come up with $50 over a three-month period, we’d pitch in the rest. She started with $20 that my grandfather gave her for Christmas. Wonderful. A quick win. These glimmers of hope are helpful when starting what will surely be a long journey. Then, we plotted out how many weeks we had until her birthday and how much she would need to earn weekly.

After that, we decided on the ‘extra’ jobs she could do around the house to earn money. She earned 50 cents for every load of laundry she folded, $1 for cleaning the two upstairs bathrooms (swishing the toilets and wiping the counters with a rag), $1 for dumping the trash cans in the house, and 50 cents for making our bed (HUSH IT!!). Totally do-able.

So, how’s it going? Well, we head to the mecca of doll stores on Saturday to get her first American Girl Doll. 🙂 She’s been eager to help and definitely has a better understanding of money and its value. She DID attempt to sell her brother her microphone and new Barbie, but I made her give the money back. She DID suggest selling an old Dr. Seuss book in her room for $20, which opened a discussion on pricing strategies. So, teaching kids about money will never be as simple as teaching them to count money. But, all in all, these last couple of months have been filled with some of the biggest opportunities for us to teach her real-life lessons.

teaching kids about money

Math, reading, science….all of those are important to learn. But, as parents, when we’re able to recognize the role we can play in teaching the stuff that our kiddos can’t learn in a book or by completing a worksheet, then we need to take advantage of that opportunity.

We need to be quiet enough to hear these opportunities when they arise and have enough space in our day to devote to this important work.

I’m sure some people may think we’re crazy (we might be), or poor (we’re not; we just put our money toward experiences), or mean (for having her pay for part of her birthday gift). I’m totally fine with that. I know we’re doing the hard stuff. We’re slowing down and taking the time to shape our kiddos into tomorrow’s responsible adults. I hope the work we’re putting in now will ensure that in 15 years, when she’s moving into her first apartment, that check for the rent will be written from her account, and not ours. So, yeah, I think teaching kids about money is a pretty huge investment into their future…just like math, reading, and science.