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Trick-or-Treating Teaches Taxation: As Easy as Taking Candy from a Baby

In this Primerrily piece, we're using Halloween candy to teach the tough truth about taxes.

While Halloween may feel different for your kids this year, it likely won’t taste much different. COVID won’t curb your kids from getting their tiny hands on sweet treats. Want to help moderate that sugar intake, and make it educational at the same time? Primerrily’s got a (tax) plan for you to help your kids pace themselves on post-Halloween candy consumption while learning about taxes.

First, ask your kids to put their candy in a big pile. Encourage them to gaze upon the treasure trove of yumminess they collected. Let them get excited about their stash. Ask them to count how many pieces they have.

Then, ask your kids to imagine that their candy is like money, and you -- the parent -- are going to be like our government. “What’s government?” they’ll ask. After reminding them that mommy and daddy work hard in their jobs to earn money that helps pay for your house, food, clothes, cars, and toys, explain that our government requires people who earn money to pay taxes to pay for many things the public -- our family, neighbors, and people all across our country -- enjoys. Those taxes go to pay for a lot -- roads and bridges, parks, the military, schools, grandma and grandpa’s healthcare, jails, and the needs of people who don’t have jobs, to name a few examples.

Next, decide your kid’s tax bracket! Depending on your preference, you can either use real figures based on your family’s federal tax rate (you can reference federal income tax information at the bottom of this article); or use any simple taxing percentage (e.g. 10%, 25%) for this introductory exercise.

Then, help your kids with the “math.” Take away the percentage of their candy that corresponds to your family’s tax bracket. Tell them, “Now this candy belongs to me. I provide the home you live in, the clothes you wear, and the food you eat.” Watch their mouths gape open as their pile dwindles.

Be clear to your kids that while our votes for lawmakers (kid translation: the line leaders who decide the rules we have to follow) have influence over how much we pay the government in taxes, as citizens we must pay our assigned amount based on those rates decided by our elected officials. If we don't, we are guilty of breaking the law and the consequences can range from having to pay even more money to being sent to prison. (Reassure them that neither of those things will actually happen to them/you). You can explain, basically, that the more money you make, the more you will pay in taxes. So even if you work harder to earn more money -- even if you work harder to collect more candy -- you will still need to pay more money / more candy. At the same time, if you make less money -- or collect fewer pieces of candy -- you will not be required to pay as much in taxes.

Also make note that in addition to having to pay taxes, we choose to give to charities -- like your church, temple, food pantry, or (fill in a civic organization you support). Doing this lets us choose how we want our money to help others, and it also can lessen the taxes we owe to the government, though not completely. To model this, explain to them that for every three pieces of candy they choose to give to someone else, you will give them one piece of candy back. Discuss which non-profit organizations your family chooses to support and why. Ask your kids to think about how much they would want to give to support their favorite charities (perhaps ask them this question before and after paying their candy tax to see how generosity can fluctuate!). May we suggest this as a fantastic time to introduce Operation Gratitude’s Halloween Candy Give-Back Program!

If you want to take a step further into teaching federalism (kid translation: Washington D.C. doesn't get to make all the decisions! Power is divided between Washington, D.C. and each of America’s 50 states), it’s time for state income tax! Explain that the previous exercise was just about the U.S. government, the one that serves all the states. Now they need to pay even more money, er, pay more candy, to state government. Have your kids decide in which state they will “live" for this exercise. Say one chooses to live in California (where the top income tax rate was 12.3% in 2019), another in New York (8.82% in 2019), and one in Florida (0% since 1924). You’ll need to take away more candy from your Californian and New Yorker, but your little Floridian won’t need to pay one Snickers more. Your kids might add “tax rate” to their list of reasons for wanting to move to Florida -- reason number one will always be Disney World! P.S. AK, NH, SD, TN, TX, WA, and WY are the other states with no income tax.

Your kids might discover the truth that Ann Landers, the famous advice columnist did,

“a person doesn’t know how much he has to be thankful for until he has to pay taxes on it.”

Finally, ask your kids a few questions relating to how they feel about paying federal and state taxes. For example, “If your candy taxes were money, how would you hope your government leaders would spend it? On roads so we could drive our cars safely? On parks and playgrounds so we can meet and play with other members of our community? On schools so we can learn? On homeless shelters so we can help people who are unable to help themselves? On the military and its heroes, so we can support them in keeping us safe?

As a final idea to close out this civic-minded pretend play (on Halloween, who knew?!) Primerrily encourages returning your kids' taxed candy back to them! As relief washes over your sweet candy monsters, you can explain that thankfully, mommy and daddy aren’t the government. It is your joyful personal responsibility to care for them, protect them, and delight them. It is also your job to teach them how the world works, and help them think about how it can work better. For example, how does this exercise make them think differently about the relationships between money, work, and government? Does it make them think taxes should be higher (to pay for some really important stuff) or lower (so people can earn their keep and decide how to spend it)? For whom should it be higher or lower? Why?

Enjoy chatting about their thoughts on those questions as you share a bag of M&M’s. It’s not a tax when you freely share your bounty!

After you try it with your kids, we'd love to hear how it went. Share your stories and pictures with us at

2019 Federal Income Tax Brackets and Rates


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