A frequent refrain from SMI readers over the years has been: "I wish I'd learned all this when I was younger." It's never too late to begin applying God's timeless principles to your finances, but the best time to learn about Christian stewardship is during childhood.

Enter Crown Financial Ministries' The ABC's of Handling Money God's Way study. Written for 5-7 year olds, the story chronicles the adventures of four neighborhood children trying to save money to buy a puppy. The 12 lessons include full-color illustrations, Bible studies, a guided prayer journal and some hands-on activities. (A separate study is also available targeted to children ages 8-12; both can be ordered from the children's store at www.crown.org.)

I've been going through The ABC's of Handling Money God's Way with my four- and seven-year-old daughters and they seem to be enjoying it. The story opens with the children deciding that having a puppy would be fun. The mother of one of the children tells them that while puppies cost money, she could help them think of ways to earn enough money to buy one. But first, she has them read some Scripture, explaining that the Bible will be their guide as to how to take care of money.

The kids in the story are excited that God talks about such matters and about their saving journey ahead. The lesson then asks the children reading the story to answer basic questions about the Scripture from the story (which also serves as a memory verse). Next, they are asked to identify some basic facts about money. The lesson concludes with the child writing a prayer related to what they've just learned.

That's the formula for each lesson: story, memory verse, questions about the memory verse, money facts/activities, and prayer. The topics covered include the Bible, God's ownership, our stewardship, working, giving, saving, contentment, debt, counsel, honesty, friendship, and what Jesus has done for us. (If those sound familiar, it's because many of those same topics have been featured this year in SMI's Looking Ahead column. The primary author of those articles, Howard Dayton, is the author of this children's study as well.) Each lesson is about five pages and can be done in as little as 15 minutes — a perfect amount of time for those short attention spans!

One of the most useful portions of the study is an activity in which you are instructed to get three jars and label one "Giving," one "Saving," and one "Spending." (Crown offers the same concept via its My Money Town tins. One is painted like a church, one a bank, and one a supermarket, each with a lid and a coin slot.) The child is to decide how much to put in each, with a suggested tithe as a good place to start for the Giving jar.

I've been doing this with my seven-year-old for a few years. We divide her allowance and work money into tenths and she starts by putting the first 10% in her Giving jar. To encourage her to save money, we match anything that goes into her Savings jar (which is for her future car!). I've suggested she put 40% in the Savings jar, which she does. The remaining 50% she can allocate however she'd like. It's quite gratifying to see her always go back and put a good chunk more into giving. Having these three jars where she can see them and being in the practice of giving first, saving second and spending last has already made an impression on her.

But my favorite part of the ABC's study is the memory verse for each lesson. Proverbs 3:1 says, "My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart." Not only are these memory verses being written on their young hearts, the children are also learning financial concepts such as stewardship and the fruits of a strong work ethic. Anytime we can point to the Bible as the authority, rather than just because "Mommy and Daddy said so," all the better.

Age five seems to be a good time to start. We have found that some of the concepts about money (denominations, interest, property value, etc.) have been a bit hard for our four-year-old. That said, she's still learning Bible verses, which is always a good thing. And when we go through this study again in a couple years, much of it will be familiar, even if she didn't grasp all the specifics the first time around.

We are called to be faithful stewards, which encompasses not just our money, but also our health, talents, time, and family. If you need a resource to help you be a faithful steward of your family, The ABC's of Handling Money God's Way fits the bill.