Family Life


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Lessons your children can learn about money at a yard sale

If you thought the only things you could find at yard sales were used books and blenders, consider this: whether hosting your own or pulling over the car to scope out a neighbours’ roadside treasures, yard sales present a unique opportunity to teach little ones important money lessons.

Abc blocks - lessons your children can learn about money at a yard sale


Yard sales make money tangible (no credit or debit cards on the front lawn), allowing kids to visualize the difference in value between items. Judy Arnall, author of Parenting with Patience, says this intangibility makes teaching financial literacy so challenging. Swiping a credit or debit card doesn’t make the transaction real in the eyes of a child in the way that handing over a fistful of bills or counting out change does.

Observe Buying Behaviour

While some yard sale shoppers are impulsive, others take their time to consider all of their options before shelling out their dough. “Observing people’s buying behaviours gives parents the opportunity to talk to kids about the dos and don’ts of making purchase decisions,” says Gary Rabbior, president of the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education.


Nowhere else in our society is haggling more acceptable than at a yard sale. While many adults complain about this, negotiating is a valuable life skill. Imagine your little one years from now negotiating wages or the terms of a contract thanks to the experience gained during a yard sale. Judy says parents can help kids become more comfortable with negotiation by role-playing before the yard sale. “It’s important to coach them that they can always say no or they can counter with another offer,” she says. Pricing items with haggling in mind can also help them to prepare. “Think about what you want for the item and add 10 to 25 percent,” says Judy.

Making Change

Sneak in a math lesson by putting kids in charge of the cash box. Customers often want to strike deals for buying two or more items. Someone who offers $2 for three DVDs instead of paying $1 each, for example, can help reinforce those division equations in your child’s math textbook. Remember to practice before hitting the front lawn.

Goal Setting

If your child has something in mind that they would like to purchase, such as a new video game or a trip to the zoo, keeping that financial goal top of mind can allow them to experience the satisfaction that comes with achieving something. “One of the most important things to develop in young people is self-efficacy; the recognition that I can accomplish things,” says Gary. Reaching their financial goal is not only a great money lesson, but contributes to developing confidence and self-esteem.


Seeing the excited smile  on another child’s face when they pick up a toy your child has discarded can help kids realize that new is not always better. “It shows them that someone can be just as happy with something that isn’t wrapped in a plastic package,” says Judy. Explain that not everything has to be new and shiny for it to have value and that buying second-hand can not only save you money, but that reusing old stuff can also save the planet. 

Giving Back

You can choose a charity to receive some or all of your proceeds. For the past three years,  Toronto mom Michelle Hawco has hosted a Yard Sale for the Cure, a national campaign to raise funds and awareness of the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. Daughters Kaida, 5, and Lily, 3, help collect and sort items and even run their own pink lemonade stand. “We talk about what we’re fundraising for and the idea that we’re so fortunate that we’re healthy and that we need to give to other people,” says Michelle. It has reinforced values of generosity and motivates her daughters to purge their not-so-beloved belongings in the sale, especially her eldest, Kaida. “When she doesn’t want to play with things anymore, rather than just tossing it aside, she’ll say ‘I want to put this in the yard sale,’” says Michelle.

Kids Can Help Out

There’s plenty to do before the big day:

  • Gather items to sell: Send kids on a home shopping spree to collect items they’ve outgrown or are ready to part with. Don’t force kids to part with their belongings, but ask them what the item means to them to help them determine whether they’re ready to let it go. Telling them the item will be used and loved by another child may also help them feel more comfortable with purging.
  • Sort and clean items: Organize items into categories such as books, toys, kitchen appliances, electronics. Kids can help out by cleaning and dusting; newer-looking items yield a better price. 
  • Count a cash box float: Gather up quarters, loonies and toonies so you can make change for your customers. Kids can help by separating coins into small compartments or envelopes to make it easier to find change during the sale. This is a great chance to practice making change. 
  • Get the word out: Bold colours and large letters are key to designing signs that drivers can see while whizzing by. Make sure your signs includes the date, time and location, and don’t forget to take them down after!


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, June/July 2014.

a man carrying two children

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