Playing with money

Third of parents say cashless society will affect children’s money skills, yet two-fifths of children already use contactless cards

  • 1 in 5 parents don’t feel like they are ‘spending real money’ when they make contactless payments
  • Majority of 6 to 11 year old children in the UK carry cash, and say it makes them feel ‘grown up’, ‘responsible’ and ‘rich’
  • We’ve launched a new project to help families teach children about money this summer

Children born today will most likely live in a cashless society, as studies predict that only one in 10 transactions will be made in cash in 15 years’ time [1]. New research highlights that children in the UK are already embracing the move away from cash, as two in five (41%) 6 to 11 year olds say they already use their parents’ contactless payment card to buy things.

We surveyed over 2,000 children aged 6-11 and their parents. It found 8% of 6 to 11 year olds (that’s one in 13 children) have their own contactless payment card. Children have used a contactless card to buy food and drink (29%), toys (22%) and games (16%). Some children (5%) have even used their card whilst on school trips.

Yet a fifth (21%) of the parents polled admitted they don’t feel like they are spending ‘real money’ when they make contactless payments themselves. One in five (19%) worry money will become ‘meaningless’ if we become a cashless society.

The poll also suggests that parents are concerned with how a move towards a cashless society will impact both younger and older generations. For instance, a third (33%) of parents say it will negatively affect children’s basic money skills, such as calculating change or understanding the value of money. Likewise, a similar number (31%) worry about how older people who rely on cash will cope without it.

The way to pay

Children are clearly noticing the way parents pay. Two-fifths (40%) of children say their parents mainly use a card, and one in five (18%) said their parents rarely carry cash. However, the kids still know who to tap up if they need money for the ice cream van, as a fifth (19%) say their mum carries cash but their dad doesn’t.

But cash isn’t completely redundant in children’s eyes yet, as almost three quarters (71%) of 6 to 11 year olds carry cash, and they say it makes them feel ‘grown up’ (47%), ‘responsible’ (31%) and ‘rich’ (23%).

Chatting to children about money

An overwhelming majority (87%) of parents with children aged 6-11 agree that it’s their responsibility to teach children how to manage their finances, and over half (52%) say they talk openly about money with their children. However, one in seven (14%) admit they don’t talk openly about money with their children, with some saying they feel uncomfortable while others say they avoid difficult money topics.

To help parents teach their children about money, we’ve commissioned Early Years Specialist, Claire Russell from playHooray! to show that talking about money can be fun and embed valuable skills for life.

Vanishing money skills

Researchers at University College London (UCL) are currently undertaking a financial literacy study with young people aged 5 to 18 years old. It has found that many in England are so accustomed to watching their parents pay with bank bank cards that physical money is now an alien concept to them. Some children have never even handled cash in shops, meaning many younger children are not building up core ideas about money and budgeting. Dr. Jennie Golding, who leads the study also supports our project.

Dr Jennie Golding, from UCL’s Institute of Education, said: “In educational terms we may be facing a financial literacy time bomb as the move to contactless is unstoppable now. Our study indicates that the pace of change is very varied geographically and within different UK communities. Although this is fascinating from a research perspective, it’s also challenging from an educational point of view because children’s understanding of money and their financial skills are so mixed across England as families adapt and respond to the changes at different paces. There are challenges here for schools at all phases, in adapting teaching to the realities of an increasingly cash-free society and young people’s rapidly changing experiences with money – and also for parents, in making time to talk with children, and help the experience, meaningful purchases and budgeting decisions.”

“Handling coins still remains important in teaching children about the use of numbers, but we know for sure that far fewer children are accustomed to counting cash nowadays, so our approaches need to expand. Many aspects of the cashless shift are positive – such as school dinner payment cards, which can help parents monitor a child’s diet. But I worry the speed of the move to contactless will have a detrimental effect on young people’s grasp of money unless we take positive steps, at school and at home, to actively address current realities. Collaborative solutions, such as this new project, are a great way to bring families on board in practical terms.”

Kerry Dean, Vice President of Direct at BMO, commented: “As our relationship with cash diminishes, we are moving towards an increasingly cashless society. Our research shows that people of all ages are embracing this move. However, handling cash from a young age is a critical step towards financial literacy in adulthood, so it’s important to find ways to help children retain this skill as they navigate modern life.”

“Families and caregivers, such as childminders, can play a vital role in teaching children about money – whether it’s counting change in shops or understanding how contactless technology works – so they grow up grasping the concept of money and its value in everyday life. Our new project is part of our commitment to bring money to life for future generations – understanding spending is a key step on a child’s journey to understand the value of saving and investing in adulthood.”

Ten playful ways to introduce money to children
  1. Make a pretend shop with a pot of coins and sticky note price tags to encourage little ones to play with money.
  2. Next time you’re out in the shops, point out some of the prices on the items and talk about what the symbols mean.
  3. Write a shopping list for making fruit smoothies and take it with you to the shops to buy your ingredients.
  4. Turn an old cardboard box into a cash machine with buttons and pretend screen for lots of pretend play with money.
  5. Place coins under paper and rub with a crayon on its side, what numbers can your child see?
  6. Encourage big kids to explore ways to make the value of 5 using small coins in lots of different ways!
  7. Bury coins in sand or mud for little ones to discover and play with, perhaps matching numbers or values?
  8. Set up a pretend bank with money, till and paper slips. Why not visit a bank to show your little one where money comes from.
  9. Press coins into lumps of play dough to see the impressions and numbers.
  10. Turn an old box or tube into a money box for your child’s savings!

Download your free ‘Playing with money’ activity sheet


[1] A decade ago six in ten transactions were cash, now it’s three in ten, and in 15 years’ it could be as low as one in ten (source:, Access to Cash report March 2019). Almost 70% of UK adults made a contactless payment in 2018 (source:, Preserving Access to Cash report, July 2019).

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