A Big Free FinLit Lab?

We know – giant online retailers have become a lightening rod for small business suffering during the pandemic. (Please note that we’ve written about the importance and ability of everyday citizens to support small businesses in the recent past.) But in this post we’re going to state a simple fact: Amazon actually helps us teach kids how to think before they buy – so much so that we look at them as a big free FinLit (Financial Literacy) Lab.

Remember the time your grade school science teacher mixed vinegar and baking soda and produced an awe-inspiring mass of gas producing fizz right before your unsuspecting eyes? That educator could have pulled an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon “blah blah blah” moment and told you about it – but they knew the power of living through the reaction would be far more engaging and effective. Same thing for learning about money. A simple Google search reveals a LOT of well-intentioned talks about the perils of over-spending or even the power of living well within your means – but you know what really drives those lessons home: personally experiencing them!

Think your birthday money is enough to get that laptop case you’ve been after? Test that theory in the lab of an Amazon shopping cart. SEE how much sales tax, shipping and duty add to its’ final cost. Read about the manufacturer’s return policy and warranties. Find out if other people have been satisfied with the case before you go to the trouble of buying your own. Given the skill today’s children possess with computers, after about age 11 you can comfortably ask them to do all of this on their own. Just make sure auto-purchase-abilities are turned off so that no one inadvertently buys what they are merely researching.

Amazon and other large online retailers have infrastructure that families can use to quickly research the full delivered on-time cost of many purchases before an order is actually placed. This is why we think of them as a giant free FinLit Lab!

Do your middle schoolers dream of owning the new “it” sneakers? Encourage them to visit the “FinLit Lab” that is online retailing to find out exactly how much money they will need to buy them, and have them delivered on time. Then, ask your daughter or son what their plan is to earn half or even all of the required funds. It’s only April – given that kids probably aren’t universally back in their classroom for five days a week until September 2021, they’ve got time…to babysit, cut the grass, do some laundry, paint a bookshelf…all the little jobs their parents did when they were young to earn spending money.

Of course, in a perfect world, parents would go the extra step and require that their kids take the information online retailers provide to calculate the DIMS SCORE® before making a purchase.

Of course in a perfect world, you’d go the extra step and require your daughter or son to calculate the DIMS – Does It Make Sense?® Score for a possible purchase before it was made – formalizing what they have learned while researching a wish-list item in the “Lab” that is online retailing. We even automatically generate the “Lab Report” if you will – in the form of a PDF summary of all the math and thinking kids do when they investigate an item’s full value, and how much they will really use and appreciate it.

But you know us, we’re on a mission, and if the quickest way to immunize today’s kids against poor spending habits and all the issues those can create later in life begins with an exploratory visit to an Amazon shopping cart – so be it. Every small step towards developing real-life money mastery, and the vocabulary and decision-making skills that can come with even virtual window shopping, is a step well taken. And kids taking those steps in sneakers or hoodies they researched themselves will feel much more comfortable making future strong purchases – because experience builds confidence. So this Spring Break, whatever that looks like in your part of the world, give your kids one of the best gifts ever – the habit of thinking before buying. Believe it or not, regardless of how you feel about Amazon as a whole, they can help you get that job done without you spending a dime.


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