When your child works with a piece of money, the odds are pretty good that the money already has seen its fair share of the world, with your child’s piggy bank, wallet or purse just one stop among dozens on its route. This rather lengthy process is sometimes surprising to kids, and it can be fun for them to explore just where their money goes.
Why should kids be paying attention to money routes?
Originally, most societies relied on horribly inefficient and inconvenient barter systems where they exchanged goods like potatoes or grain to get what they needed. When people started making coins and bills, however, trade got a whole lot easier, because people suddenly had standardized units to use and could carry the lighter, more compact money around if they were traveling. Paying attention to where money goes over its life reminds kids of how money facilitates transactions, revealing how trades are intricately—and sometimes surprisingly—connected. That gives them a better understanding of local, state, national or even global economics.
How can your kids get started with money tracking?
In the United States, kids can track money through wheresgeorge.com, a website which works with the dollar bill. Your children register with the site, and then they can use serial numbers to either look up bills they have found or put their own into the site for tracking. Other countries and regions have similar sites, such as whereswilly.com for Canada and doshtracker.com.uk for England. A quick Internet search can reveal a site that might work for you, or you can check the lists provided by <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currency_bill_tracking#United_States_and_Canada”>Wikipedia</a>.
How far could kids’ money go?
It depends. How people handle the money makes a big difference on how long it lasts and, therefore, how long it can stay in circulation and travel. The material also matters. Countries such as Australia and Canada use polymer-based or “plastic” bills, while others print money on regular paper. American bills aren’t really paper at all, but rather a type of special cloth that’s 75% cotton and 25% linen—that’s why your kids can luck out and still sometimes save a bill after it’s gone through the washer.
A typical bill in America lasts anywhere from just 15 months (the average for $5 bills) to 2 years (the average for $20 bills). Bills that are of larger denominations don’t get traded as much, so they can last much longer, often eight years or more. Coins can last up to 25 years. All that said, Where’s George has tracked a bill that went 4,191 miles (6,745 kilometers) in just 3 years! Most bills travel through dozens of organizations, such as retail stores, banks, gas stations, utility provider offices and so forth, not to mention being passed around between family and friends.
Don’t Launder (Hide) Money, But DO Wash Your Hands
Money changes hands dozens and even hundreds of times over its lifespan, making it some of the dirtiest stuff around. When experts look at bills with special tests and equipment, they find that the bulk of them are contaminated germs. Most of the germs are pretty harmless, but a few, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, can make you or your kids really sick. Additionally, even though bacteria are usually the main problem, you shouldn’t think you’re off the hook for viruses, either. Imagine the kid who wipes his nose before handing over their bill to someone else. Mucus on a bill or coin can make infectiousness last not just for hours, but for days, letting the virus survive outside the body. The bottom line is, as your kids play their part in money’s journey, make sure they wash up after handling the cash!
Having your children track where the cash goes gives them a good sense of the extent of trade at all levels, providing a broader economic view while still connecting back to the old barter system. Multiple websites are available to give kids a taste of where their money travels. Just be sure your children understand that, because of all the trading going on, money isn’t the cleanest th