Little Bit and her Giveaway Jar: Teaching a 5 Year Old to Give

So what happens when you give a Kindergarten kid discretion over charitable giving? This year, we found out that teaching a 5 year old to give charitably leads to unexpected places.

In August, we started giving Little Bit her very own allowance to help her develop her money sense.

Like a lot of parents we have rules for her allowance. She gets $6 a week. Five dollars is hers to do as she wishes. We set that amount because it will take two or three allowances for her to afford to buy the things she wants, so it encourages short term savings goals.

I figure $5 is roughly equivalent in purchasing power to the $1 a week I got as a kid in the mid ’70s. A little snack at the movies, one book at the book fair, or 1/3 of most of the less expensive toys she wants.

Fifty cents per week has to go to her college savings account.

And fifty cents per week has to go to her giveaway jar. We’ve told her that we would save up the money and around Christmas we would count it up and give it to an organization that needed the money to do good things.

Since then, we’ve talked about some of the things she can do with the money:

  • We could give the money to our church, who would use the money to help keep the lights on, provide supplies for Sunday School, and pay the staff.
  • We could use the money to buy a Christmas present for kids who wouldn’t get very much otherwise. (This got a little confusing as Little Bit is 5 and still believes in Santa Claus. Why wouldn’t Santa just bring them toys? I had to change topics quickly and vowed that Toys for Tots wouldn’t come up again until she’s at least 8.)
  • We could give the money to the local food pantry, or buy food to give to the food pantry, to help people who don’t have enough to eat.
  • We could give the money to Stop Hunger Now, an international food relief charity, since Little Bit knew about it and had participated in a food packing event.
  • We could buy some cold weather gear (hat and gloves) for the Coats for the Kids drive in Raleigh.
  • We could buy some pet supplies for the local animal shelter, or make a cash donation to help take care of animals that don’t have good homes.

There were several choices, and we’ve been discussing them with her since we started her allowance this summer. We figured that part of teaching a 5 year old to give was carefully laying groundwork about good causes and community needs.

It’s been good to talk to her about the fact that some people don’t have enough to eat, or warm clothes, or nice safe places to live. We have those things, but not everyone is as lucky as we are.

We’ve been able to talk about our church, and how the church needs money and we have an obligation to support it. It’s led to discussions about how things she doesn’t think about (like light and heat and air conditioning) cost money.

We’ve also talked about the fact that where the money from the Giveaway Jar goes will be her decision. She can decide how to give the money away. If we want to teach her to actively give, we need to let her take the actions.

Somehow, letting a 5 year old decide how to give the money away became far more complicated that I ever dreamed.

I figured we would count the money around Christmastime, put it in an envelope, and send it off. Maybe I’d let her visit the organization with her envelope clasped firmly in her fist and let her present it during her days off from school. I assumed we were setting a big holiday tradition that we could continue forever.

You know what they say about people who assume

The Counting of the Jar, and a Discussion

This week we got out her giveaway jar and counted out the money. She had $9 saved up so far. I put in an additional dollar to nudge the total up to $10.

“So what do you want to do with it, Little Bit?” (Yes, we really call her that.)

“I want to give it to my school, so they can keep the lights on.”

We live in North Carolina. There is a lot in the news on a regular basis about low school funding and low school resources. However, I’m pretty sure the schools in Wake County can afford to pay their power bills without additional donations.

I think she was confusing our talk about church with school needs.

“Are you sure that’s what you want to do? Everyone pays taxes to pay the school light bills, so they don’t need it for that. Maybe you should do something else.”

“I want to give the money to my school. Maybe they can buy some new toys for indoor recess when it rains.”

Okay, toys. That makes sense. There have been a lot of rainy days, and the kids have been spending a lot of their recesses in the classroom.

I’m sure the school could use some toys, but the point of the giveaway jar was to help other people, not to make school more fun. I wanted to let Bit make the decision, but I’m afraid the toys idea just doesn’t pass muster.

I tried to redirect the idea. “How about if we see if your school has a Backpack Buddies program? Backpack Buddies gives kids who don’t have a lot of food at home snacks that the can take with them so they don’t get hungry at home on weekends and holidays. We do Backpack Buddies at church for a different school.”

“I want to get toys.”

“I’m not sure that helps other people. The money in the Giveaway jar is to help others.”

‘”Okay, Backpack Buddies.” sigh.

Not As Easy as it Seems

Backpack Buddies seemed like a good enough idea, but I figured I at least needed to make sure the school had the program.

First, I checked the school website. Under the PTA budget, I found a line item for Backpack Buddies.

There was no budget and no expense for Backpack Buddies. That was not too promising.

Early Tuesday, I emailed her teacher to ask if the school had a Backpack Buddies program.

Her teacher was touched by Little Bit’s desire to help her schoolmates, but didn’t have a concrete suggestion. She promised to follow up with the principal.

It took a couple of days, but late yesterday afternoon I heard back from the teacher, giving me this sweet note:

So….[the principal] came to discuss [Little Bit’s] wish to help out the Backpack buddies and we were both so moved!! What an amazing girl you have! You will be able to make a donation through the PTA. I have included (PTA President) on this email, so you are both able to connect. 🙂

I’m glad Little Bit’s desire to help is touching others, even with her little bit of money.

While I would have liked to have allowed her to make the donation this season, today is the last day of school before the holiday. Even if it was a full day of school, I’m afraid trying to send the donation will be an unnecessary stress on the system if we try to do anything tomorrow.

I sent a reply to the teacher and PTA president, thanking them and making arrangements to give the donation when school resumes in January.

So, long story short, we will not be making the donation until the new year. Is it still a holiday tradition?

Rethinking the Giveaway Jar

So, the Giveaway Jar hasn’t worked out exactly as I planned. Little Bit’s charitable choice needed quite a bit more guidance that I had expected after the groundwork I thought I’d laid. The donation, taking place after the holidays instead of in the middle of the season, seems a little anticlimactic. Most of all, I’m not sure the giving of the jar contents is making the impact I’d hoped it would make on my daughter.

Am I really teaching a 5 year old to give, or am I just giving away a 5 year old’s money?

The fact that Little Bit’s donation is being delayed shouldn’t be a problem. While the holidays is a great time to give, it’s not the only time to do so, and the need to help hungry kids doesn’t end just because Christmas is over.

So why was I focusing on Christmas with the Giveaway Jar? Shouldn’t we be addressing need more frequently than once a year?

Maybe we should be letting our daughter choose to make her gift more frequently to encourage a habit of giving. I don’t know. I see value in letting the money accumulate before she gives it (the gift seems bigger because it had time to grow, it shows the power of saving as well as giving) and in letting her give smaller amounts more frequently (giving becomes both more conscious and more active, and lets her make choices about giving more frequently.)

Now that I have a little experience with the Giveaway Jar, I’m just not sure that my plan of one annual holiday charity donation is the best way of teaching a 5 year old to give generously and consciously.

I have a lot to think about.

What do you think? Should we change our giveaway jar strategy to more frequent giving? Or should we remember that just because everything didn’t go off as planned doesn’t mean that the idea isn’t working? What’s your best suggestion for teaching a young child to choose and give money to worthy causes? Help!

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at

Part of Frugal Fridays at Aspired Living & Annie and Everything

Disease Called Debt
10 Responses to “Little Bit and her Giveaway Jar: Teaching a 5 Year Old to Give”
    • Emily Jividen 12/19/2015
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