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How to Make Change For Kids

Learn how to make change, and how to give back the right amount of change with our step-by-step guide including examples to practice!

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Making change is a crucial part of money math. So much so that you’ll likely have to make changes every time you buy or spend in physical currency. A few different things can make adding and subtracting change values a little easier. That’s what we’re going to teach you today. We’ll also cover a couple of other money math concepts along the way. No worries if you’re not the greatest at math. By the end of this, you’ll be able to impress friends, family, and teachers with your absolute mastery of money handling. Now then, It’s time to make a change. Or, at the very least, make change to give to overpaying customers.

What is “Making Change”?

Making change happens when someone pays too much, and you have to give them back the difference in cash. For example, if something costs $10.00 and a person pays $20.00, they are owed $10.00 back.

Another way to use the term making change is when you take the money and give back the equal value in different denominations. For example, if someone were to say, “Do you have change for a $20?” You can give them four $5.00 bills or any other combination of money that equals $20.00. People will often make change to free up other uses for the money. For example, getting change for a $1.00 bill just to pay for parking or a small snack. 

Thankfully, making change isn’t as hard as it sounds. 

How to Give Back Correct Change

Here’s a step-by-step on how to give back change!

Step 1

Count the customer’s money out loud or display it in front of them while you count. Sometimes people don’t realize how much cash they have or haven’t given you. Counting the money back to them helps prevent any disagreement when it comes time to give change. Count the largest denominations first and make your way down.

Step 2

Subtract the price of the item from the amount the customer gives. For example, if the item costs $0.75 and they give you $1.00, then the change amount is $0.25/ a quarter. But, it won’t always be that easy of a number. If you struggle to figure out the change amount, try rounding the price or to the nearest whole dollar. 

Sometimes a customer will give far more cash than an item costs. For example, you might be given 4 $5.00 bills for an item that only costs $9.73. In that case, it’s better to give back the excess cash, which in this case are 2 $5.00 bills, before calculating the required change amount. The less starting money you have, the easier it is to do the math without getting distracted.

The rule of thumb is to pay back the change in as few bills or coins as possible unless the customer specifically asks otherwise. For example, if the change amount is $15.00 then it’s better to give back a $10.00 bill and a $5.00 bill rather than 15 $1.00 bills.

Step 3

Count the change amount you’re giving back to the customer before handing it to them. Again, start with bigger bills first and work your way down. 

Exercises for Making Change

When it comes to making change, we advise starting with the higher denominations first – for example, if you’re given a $20.00, a $5.00, and a $10.00 then you’d add it up as 20+10+5. For us, it’s easier to keep track of the numbers. 

That said, others will recommend starting with the smaller denominations and counting up. In the end, it’s whichever works best for you. Try both ways and find out which one is quicker and more reliable. 

Here are a few money math scenarios to get you started.

A customer gives you a 1 $20.00 bill, 7 $1.00 bills, and 3 $5.00 bills to pay for an item that costs $34.78. Your register, also called a till, is full of every denomination. What change do you give them?

Here’s how to solve. 

Step 1

Hand them back the excess cash. You can either give them back a $5.00 bill or give them back the 7 $1.00 bills. For the sake of this example, let’s say you gave them back the dollar bills. That leaves you with 3 $5.00 bills and a $20.00. 

You can add them up as 20 + 5 + 5 + 5 = 35. Or 5+5+5+20 = 35. The quickest way to do it would be to use skip counting/ multiplication. In that case, you’d do 3 x 5 = 15 + 20 = 35 or $35.00

Step 2

Now you have $35.00 for an item that costs 34.78. Round the item costs to the nearest whole cent which $34.80. Subtract $34.80 from $35.00. – that leaves you with $0.20. The quickest way to get $0.20 is two dimes. Lastly, add in the rounded amount – $0.02 for a total of $0.22

Step 3

Count their change back to them! Easy enough.

Now Let’s Take it Up a Notch

What do you do if a customer gives you 5 $20.00 bills, 2 $5.00 bills, 3 $1.00 bills, 2 $10.00 bills, 2 $50.00 bills, three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel for an item that costs $215.24?

Step 1

Count the amount they’ve given you out loud and organize them into denominations. 

Step 2

Give back the excess cash. For this example, let’s say you give back a $10, 3 $1.00 bills, and a $5.00 

Step 3

Subtract the leftover cash from the item total.

Step 4

Count their change back to them. If you’ve done the math correctly, your total should be 0.6c in change. If you didn’t give back the excess cash first, then your total is $18.26. Try the equation again if you didn’t get either of these numbers!

Last and Hardest Problem of the Day. Are You Up For a Challenge?

You’re a shop owner on a busy street and business is booming – congratulations! But, most of your transactions for the day have been in cash. You have three customers left in line and your register only has 1 $5.00, four quarters, seven dimes, nineteen nickels, twelve $1.00s, ninety pennies, and 1 $10.00 bill. 

To start, how much money is in your register?

Now that you’ve figured out exactly how much money you have in the register, it’s time to help your customers. 

Customer 1

The first person, a man in a blue sweater, comes to the counter and purchases a souvenir that costs $3.40. To pay, he hands you a crisp $5.00. 

How much change should he have?

Now that you’ve given him his change.

How much money is in your register?

To solve, add $5.00 to the register and then subtract the change amount you’ve given the customer. 

Customer 2

The second person, a woman with a purple jacket, comes up and buys an item that costs $7.20. She pays you with 2 folded ten dollar bills. 

What’s the first thing you should do?

 And

How much change does she get in return?

Now that you’ve given her the change, 

How much money is in your register?

Remember, it’s a good idea to give back any excess bills to make the math easier. 

Customer 3

Customer 3 is actually a good friend of yours and you’re happy to see them. To support your business they purchase an item for $5.34, $8.62, and $12.87. 

What’s their total? 

Once they hear their total, they hand you three $10.00s, five quarters, and two nickels.

How much change should they get?

After they leave, you close up shop. How much money is left in your till?

Answer Key

To start, how much money is in your register?

$30.55

Customer 1

How much change should he have?

1.60

How much money is in your register?

33.95

Customer 2

What’s the first thing you should do? 

Give back the excess cash, in this scenario that’s $10.00

How much change does she get in return?

$2.80

How much money is in your register?

$41.15

Customer 3

What’s their total? 

26.83

How much change should they get?

If you didn’t give them back the excess cash then their change is $5.55. – in this case that’s the coin amount. If you did give them back the excess cash before making change then their total is $3.17.

After they leave, you close up shop. How much money is left in your till?

67.98

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About the Author

Chadhurst Sharpe

Chadhurst Jainlett Sharpe spent over six years working as a personal finance banker. He's passionate about giving young minds the tools and resources they need to succeed with money.

Last updated on: June 7, 2022