I grew up in the late 1980s with the Berenstain Bears stories. I forgot a lot about the specifics of their books. I certainly don’t remember Berenstain Bears books about money. Fortunately, this isn’t a case of my mind forgetting things. Stan and Jan Berenstain didn’t write Dollars and Sense until 2001. It was one of the last books that the creative team wrote about the famous bear family in bear country.
Before we start on Dollars and Sense, I uncovered an interesting detail in my research about Jan and Stan Berenstain. One of their first published books in 1952 was about how to fill out your tax form. It’s called Tax-Wise: A Pictorial Romp Through the Tax Form.
Is that as interesting as their 1960 book “And Beat Him When he Sneezes” ? I don’t know. Nonetheless, the Berenstain Bears is a best-selling children’s book series.
Let’s get to reviewing the book:
Berenstain Bears’ Dollars and Sense Summary
Books aimed at four and five-year-olds need to be focused on the basics. That means starting with physical coins and dollars. Dollars and Sense doesn’t disappoint. It draws in kids with the physical fun of coins (flippable, stackable, etc.) and transitions into more valuable dollars. Unlike many other early reader books, Dollars and Sense doesn’t explain why dollars are much more valuable than cents.
Instead, we have dad going on a rampage that he can’t give Brother Bear and Sister $5 and $10 for baseball cards and doll wedding dresses. Mama Bear comes to the rescue and suggests they give the cubs an allowance. I strongly suggest giving kids an allowance. Brother and Sister Bear proceed to make money mistakes. They spend all their allowance on the first day of the week and never save any.
One day, they notice that Papa Bear is balancing the checkbook for the family. Mama Bear explains that balancing the checkbook allows them to review how they spent their money and how much they have left. Mama Bear teaches the kids how to write checks, and the cubs suddenly decide to make a better spending decision. The book ends very abruptly after that.
My version of the book includes a series of tear-out checks and bonus stickers.
Money Lessons from Berenstain Bears’ Dollars and Sense
The big money lesson is to create some barrier to make kids pause and think about spending money. The book uses writing checks to accomplish this. I’m not a fan. I’m 46 years old, and I’ve never balanced a checkbook. I rarely write a check nowadays. I could write two or three a year. This feels antiquated. Not only that, but it’s spending a lot of time learning a system they may never use in real life.
Give Berenstain Bears’ Dollars and Sense a Try
The good news is that you don’t have to buy the book or go to the library to see if the book is right for you. I found a video on YouTube of a person reading the book out loud. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t comment on the legality of essentially “giving away” the book’s contents, but YouTube hasn’t taken it down. There are several others, but I liked this one.
Additionally, I found that it may be free to borrow digitally on Archive.org. If you have an account (it’s free), give it a try.
Final Thoughts on Berenstain Bears’ Dollars and Sense
I really wanted to like this book, but I just can’t. There’s one important money lesson, think before you spend, but kids will probably learn that best by making money mistakes themselves. Getting kids to write checks for their allowance will likely make them equate managing money with chores/work.
There are better children’s finance literacy books to teach kids the value of a dollar.
I know this glowing review is going to make you want to spend your money right away. That’s sarcasm, but I always have to include the obligatory link to the book Amazon. If you do make a purchase I may make a few pennies to pay for hosting.
Brian MacFarland has reached more than 10 million people on his personal finance journey to financial independence. He’s been featured in the Washington Post, U.S. News and World Report, and Lifehacker.
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