This is a guest post written by Catherine Alford, founder of the award-winning personal finance blog, www.CatherineAlford.com.
I grew up in a family where we didn’t talk about money. Once, I asked my mom how much money she made, and she whipped around in the car and scolded me saying, “That’s a really personal question. Don’t ever ask anyone that.”
So, for a long time, I felt shame around the idea of money. My parents taught me, through their actions, that money was very personal. It was better not to speak about it.
In a way though, it worked out, because when I became a teenager, they gave me a debit card. Every month, my parents put $100 on my debit card, which seems incredibly generous looking back. However, this meant that if I wanted a t-shirt at Abercrombie & Fitch (because I was so cool back then) I used my card. If I wanted to get my hair done for a high school dance, I used my card.
At the time, I didn’t realize how unusual this arrangement was. Now, I know most parents simply give their kids cash to go to the mall with their friends or to buy fast food. For me, I had to consider each and every purchase I made.
To be honest, that was the greatest gift my parents ever gave me.
By giving me a pre-set amount to spend each month, I had to make choices about what I bought. If I wanted something that was expensive, I had to save money each month until I could pay for it.
It also made me want to work. As soon as I could, I got my first job. At 13 years old, I worked at a dress store, greeting customers and bringing clothes to the changing room for them. I also tutored other kids. By the time I was in college, I had a variety of jobs from teaching ballet to 3 year olds to working in the special collections library at my university.
Because I learned how to use the money my parents gave me responsibly, it made me want to create money on my own.
This is why I’m so passionate about kids using debit cards. There is a new app now called Greenlight, which allows you to get a debit card for your kids and control the card from your phone. Below are four reasons why I’m so excited about Greenlight and why I think it’s a great idea to give it to your kids.
1. If your kids lose their Greenlight card, they don’t lose your money.
It’s easy for a teenager to lose a $20 bill. Things happen. Sometimes they stick it in their back pocket and you find it in the laundry. Sometimes it’s gone forever.
With Greenlight, you don’t have to worry about your kids losing your hard earned money. Here’s how it works: You and your teenager download the Greenlight app and get the Greenlight card in the mail. You place money on the Greenlight debit card using the app, and your kids can use it to make purchases.
If they somehow lose their card, you can just hop on the app and freeze the card until a new one arrives. No lost money. No lost time.
2. Your kids can travel internationally without exchanging money.
There are so many opportunities for kids to travel these days, whether they’re going on a trip with you or heading out on their first international trip with their classmates.
Before apps like Greenlight existed, parents would have to send their kids on international trips with cash or travelers checks (what the heck are those?). Then, they had to worry about their teenager getting terrible exchange rates at the airport or somewhere else.
One time I traveled abroad as a teenager and used an ATM to get foreign money out. A man came right up behind me as the ATM was spitting my money out and asked me to give it to him. I yelled “No!” pretty loudly, and that scared him away, but the experience stays with me.
With Greenlight, you don’t need to use an ATM at all. In fact, it’s not even possible or necessary because everything you need is available on the app. That’s why I’m so glad technology like Greenlight exists so my own kids don’t have to worry about being young and targeted when they’re traveling. With Greenlight, your kids can use the card in over 120 countries, which means they can chase their wanderlust to their heart’s content.
3. You can control where your kids can use their Greenlight card.
Teenagers are hard enough, and when you give them cash, they can spend it on just about anything. With the Greenlight card, you can use parental controls to specifically earmark money for certain categories. You can even limit their use to specific stores.
This is a great way to get your kids used to using a debit card without worrying about them going over budget or spending it in stores you don’t approve of.
4. You can play a leading role & help them manage their money.
If you give your teenager cash, you can give them advice on how to spend it or forbid them from buying something with it. However, that’s the extent of your involvement with their spending.
The most exciting part about Greenlight is that you get to really interact with your kids and teach them how to manage their money better.
Like I said, my parents taught me how to manage money, but it was by default. I’m so looking forward to my kids using Greenlight because it’s truly interactive.
For example, your kids can use the card anywhere or just at the stores you approve. If they want to buy something over budget, they can send you a picture of it within the app, and you can approve or deny the purchase.
Think about your daughter going shopping and asking if they can buy a truly beautiful dress. They send you a picture, and it’s like you’re right there at the mall with them. If you agree it’s a must have, you can approve the purchase through the app and send more money automatically to their card.
This can also work in reverse. Don’t want your 13 year old to buy that bikini for their next pool party? Tapping “decline” when they ask if they can buy it via the app will send a pretty clear message.
Really, when it comes to teaching your kids about money, use the technology that’s available to you to help them.
Talk to them about budgeting and spending often, and teach them that they can buy some things, just not everything. The more conversations you have with them about their finances, the better they’ll be able to manage money on their own in the future.
Catherine Alford is a nationally recognized family finance expert who helps educated, aspirational moms take on a more active financial role in their families. The thoughts and opinions in this post are a reflection of Catherine Alford, not of Greenlight as a whole.