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Why Use Money? Getting What We Need


  • Understand the difference between purchase, barter, and payment for service.
  • Learn how the Akan and the North African people used a barter system to exchange gold and salt.
  • Identify the most efficient ways of procuring your everyday needs.


  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Map


  • Social studies, economics


1. Ask students to discuss the respective values of gold and salt. Discuss the reasons that the Akan wanted salt and the North Africans wanted gold. Use a map to show where each group lived. Explain that trade routes linked the desert and the Gold Coast.

2. Make a needs chart. In the first column, have students list their most critical needs in the hour or two between the time they wake up and the time they arrive at school. Their list might include food, clothing, utilities (electricity, water, heat), soap, containers (book bag, lunch box), radio, transportation (bicycle, car, bus, gasoline), books, lunch, calculator.

In the second column, have students write down how they obtain these items or services. Discuss which items or services require multiple transactions before they reach the students. For example, their morning orange juice was purchased at a store. The store managers purchased the juice from a corporation that transforms oranges into orange juice and packages it for sale. The food corporation bought the oranges from orange growers.

In the third column, students should note all possible ways of obtaining each of the goods and services on their needs chart. Possible ways might be (a) purchase with money or a credit card (b) barter (offer another object in trade) (c) offer service instead of money (d) make it yourself. Discuss the potential problems inherent in each type of transaction. Which seems to be the most efficient method?

3. Study these classified ads written by three different people needing housing. Which househunter is offering money? Who wants a barter agreement? Who is offering service in exchange for a place to live?

Out-of-town grand-mother wishes to house sit during winter. Please call Mary, ___/___-____.

Single male visiting area seeks simple room. October 3-13 for $10-$30 per night. Call ___/___-____.

Wanna Swap? Washington, D.C., commuter looking for a furnished place to stay during the week in exchange for a beautifully furnished two-bedroom condo on the beach. Call ___/___-____.

Have each student write a comical classified ad for something he or she wants or needs. The ad should reveal what cash, barter, or service arrangement the student will offer as payment.

Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies