Consumption When kids are bitten by the collecting bug

Humans have been collecting and swapping things since the dawn of time. Can kids learn something from the instinct to collect?

Shells, stones, football cards or Beyblades – once children are bitten by the collecting bug, there’s usually no stopping them. Even very young children collect things they find in nature: leaves, snails or pebbles are "hunted" for hours and with intense concentration. And the best thing is children can take these things home with them free of charge! Even at this age, we can see how proud they can be of their collections, and that collecting leads to lots of social interaction. They can show off their most beautiful snail shells to other children, exchange seashells with their siblings or bask in the recognition they receive for their collection of self-pressed leaves.

Swapping instead of buying?

At school age, collecting becomes increasingly systematic, and swapping also follows a certain set of rules. Objects are categorized, neatly arranged, and compared down to the last detail. Kids begin to collect things that are no longer found free of charge in the countryside. Stickers, football cards or toy figures all cost money. But how are these ever-changing collecting passions to be financed? Children can learn a lot from collecting, but that doesn’t mean parents should have to subsidize everything. At school age, a lot of kids receive pocket money, allowing them to make their own financial choices and to collect things that cost money. The number of items collected may be fewer, but the all-important exchange and bargaining with friends is encouraged. And the latter is more satisfying anyway than just going out and buying whatever you want.

Collecting crazes: join in or let it pass?

If your child isn't receiving pocket money yet, but you want to enable him or her to take part in a collecting craze every now and then, we suggest you sit down together and lay down some ground rules in advance. How much money is available and what would be the absolute upper limit? This way your kids will learn that collecting things costs money and that running to the kiosk every day for yet another item is not an option. It’s also important to remember that the object of collecting is not primarily to make a collection complete; it's about the process of searching, finding and exchanging items.

From one collection promotion to the next

And then, of course, there are also the constantly changing children's promotions by major retailers. The more you buy, the greater the reward in the form of collectibles. Whether you let yourself be bitten by the collecting bug or not, it makes sense to talk to your children about the sales interests that lie behind such promotions. After all, children are growing up in a world with numerous customer loyalty programs and promotions and if they can learn to question them, they’ll find it easier to make mature consumer choices when they’re older.

The highlights in a nutshell

  • Collecting is an opportunity to learn. Be flexible with your kids, but not so much so that your bath tub is suddenly full of snails.
  • Collecting also encourages children to engage with other children and experience success. Similar interests bring people together.
  • Collecting teaches us to gain expertise, to look at and compare things carefully, to categorize and to recognize the exchange value of something.
  • Not every collecting bug has to be financed by parents. Kids can also buy stickers or football cards with their own pocket money.
  • And many types of collecting cost nothing. If your child collects items as part of retail promotions, it could be a good exercise to calculate what a full sticker album would cost, for example.
  • If you as a family collect items as part of promotions by major retailers, talk to your child about the intentions that lie behind these campaigns.

UBS’s educational principles

This article was written in collaboration with educator Marianne Heller, who has years of experience in teaching financial education and debt prevention programs for children and young people.

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