School Store

An illustrated store-front with school supplies for sale displayed in the window, including a backpack, T-shirts, and a notebook.

Welcome to the School Store. Just like other stores, there are things here for sale. Each item has a price tag. To buy them, you will need to learn how money is used and how it has been used in the past.

School Store
A $1 bill with the number 1 in each of its four corners circled.

Knowing Your Bills

Before you can use currency in any store, you must know which bills you have. The easiest way to figure that out is by looking at the numbers in the corners. Those numbers tell you the value of the bill. Remember, value just means how much something is worth.

For example, if there is a "1" in the corners of your bill, then you are holding a $1 bill. Whenever you see the $ symbol in front of a number, it just means the dollar value.

A T-shirt with a price tag as an example of a good. A person mowing the lawn as an example of a service.

The Things We Buy

There are two ways people spend money: They buy goods or pay for services.

Goods are things like t-shirts, pencils, or notebooks (just like what's for sale in the school store).

Services are when you pay someone to do something for you. For example, grown-ups might pay someone to mow the lawn or cut their hair. Both of these are services.

Paying for Goods and Services

An illustrated cash register with a total matching the price tag on notebook below it.

You'll notice there are different prices for the goods in the School Store.

Let's say for example that you are at your neighborhood store. You see that the price for a notebook is $1. If you want a notebook and have $1 to pay for it, then you can buy the notebook.

Sometimes people agree on a price together, like at a garage sale. If the seller and the buyer both agree that an item is worth $5, the buyer pays for the item with a $5 bill or five $1 bills.

But what did people do before there were bills? Throughout history, Americans used all kinds of things to pay for goods and services. Some of the things they used were…

An illustrated bag of rice, various seashells, and a cow with purple spots.

Valuable Items

Early traders used things like rice, cows, and shells instead of money. These items were worth a lot because other people really wanted them. However, they were hard to carry around, weren't always durable, and didn't have value numbers on them. This made it hard for people to agree on their value.

Did you know?

People traded with all kinds of everyday objects. They also used deerskins, beads, wheat, pottery, and corn.

Three illustrated stacks of yellow coins in front of a green bag.

Coins from Europe

For a short time, coins from Europe were used to buy things in America. Since they had value numbers on them, buyers and sellers knew how much they were worth. However, they were not easy to get because Europe was so far away from America.

Illustrated stacks of bars of gold and silver next to a scale holding a bar of gold on one side.

Gold and Silver

Different kinds of metal, like gold and silver, were once used to trade for goods and services. They were very valuable but very heavy, and didn't have value numbers on them. This made it hard for people to agree on how much they were worth.

Four illustrated bills ()$1, $5, $10, and $20) in a stack, fanned.

Paper Bills

Today, we use paper money as one way to pay for things. Paper bills are durable and easy to carry. If the bill has 1's in its corners, then it is a $1 bill. Easy as that.

Congratulations — you're now an expert on how currency can be spent. On top of that, paper currency isn't just useful, it's also very scientific. Let's take a closer look at how science is a part of each bill in the Science Lab.