What Your Kid's Halloween Candy "Skills" Say About Their Future

Self, Family

You see potential cavities. They see delicious profit potential.

"Trick or Treat!"—going door-to-door in scratchy costumes, picking through huge bowls of goodies, cramming as much sugar as possible into a pillowcase. Then, racing home to dump the spoils of the night out on the living room floor. This is when the real "business" of Halloween begins, yes? (Do you remember what comes next?) ... Halloween candy "banking".

More complex than tracking baseball stats, more important than GDP calculations—the sorting, categorizing, value ranking and bartering that occurs at the conclusion of Halloween night is an important and insightful learning opportunity. No, we don't mean for the kids ... we mean for you! A bit of parenting advice you might not realize: This hallowed Halloween kid tradition, with all of its intricate negotiations and candy-trading transactions, is a very telling glimpse into what your child's money personality will likely be when they grow up.

Every kid knows (and surely you, as an adult, remember) that certain Halloween candy is "worth" way more than others.

There is an unspoken, widely accepted ranking for Halloween candy value (note: and those cutesy pencils and stickers certain cavity-conscientious neighbors hand out don't even rank at all!). Halloween candy "banking" includes scenarios like this: 

"I'll trade you two Blow Pops for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup."

"No way! I only have six total. Make that three Blow Pops and your pack of Gummi Eyeballs."

When you, the parent, see that giant sack of sugar hauled home on Halloween night, you just think: Yikes, that much candy will cause cavities (well, actually, the first thing you really think is: how many of those Snickers' bars can I steal when she's not looking?—be honest!). But when your child looks at that massive mound of mini candy bars on the living room floor, she sees an opportunity to uplevel and increase returns on her trick-or-treating investment.

Every kid has a different strategy for how best to best manage their candy resources.  Some quickly devour as many pieces of candy as they can. Others hide their candy stash away, not wanting to risk losing any. Others engage in an elaborate barter system with peers and siblings to upgrade their candy collection as much as possible.  And every child has a unique strategy about which type of treat to eat first and which to save for last—("Eat the Snickers first before mom steals them!!").  

When you were a kid, what was your candy "banking" approach?

How about your partner's? Scott and I each had different approaches when we were kids. I would eat my candy fast and be up for high-stakes trading (a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in exchange for a Butterfinger bar? Oh, tough decision!), while Scott also ate some of his fast, but had a more strategic and methodical approach to rationing his remaining candy. Funny enough, we're no different with our money now that we're adults—I can go through cash quickly and love to take financial risks. Scott, on the other hand, spends responsibly and always approaches our finances with a well thought out plan.

So what does this have to do with understanding your kids in a whole new way? Observing your child's approach to managing valued resources (candy or cash) at any age is extremely helpful as you strive to help them acquire the competencies and skills they'll need in life. Effectively managing money is an essential life skill.  It's never too early to figure out what your child's instincts are in this area. 

How to assess your child's future money management personality type: 

Notice how your children manage their Halloween candy after they haul it all home? Do they:

  • Hide it?
  • Eat it quickly?
  • Trade it?
  • Budget or ration it?
  • Or just give it away?

You will see a direct correlation between their candy consumption and potential future money management personalities.

  • If your child saves her candy, she'll tend to save money well.
  • If your son eats all of his candy quickly, he might tend to spend money impulsively and burn through cash as soon as his paycheck arrives.
  • If your daughter trades her candy, she's likely to feel confident to take risks with her money (watch out Wall Street).
  • If you child creates a plan to ration his candy, you might have a wonderful future budgeter on your hands.
  • If your kiddos give their candy away, they don't value money as much as they do relationships. Sharing and making others happy is what they value—the makings of a future philanthropist.  

An interesting observation Scott and I have made is that most kids (and adults) don't develop just one candy banking approach. Most kids have a primary and secondary, so watch your kids closely to notice they manage those candy "resources". You can then identify ways to honor that inclination while also setting a plan to build skills and behaviors that round out that personality type (e.g. helping savers learn to enjoy the fruits (or candy bars) of their labor, or helping "spenders" taste the enjoyment that comes from putting "a little something away" for a rainy day). 

Scott & Bethany Palmer, a.k.a. The Money Couple, are financial experts, authors, TV and radio personalities and sought after speakers. Their mission is to help people improve their relationships through a better understanding of their approach to money. Their new book (available for pre-order), The 5 Money Conversations To Have With Your Kids At Every Age and Stage hits shelves December 2014.

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