4 Reasons You Should Give Your Kids a Debit Card

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.

cat-alford-high-school-prom

Here I am as a sophomore at a high school dance with my hair done.
I’m mostly sure I’m drinking sparkling apple juice in this picture.

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.

cat-alford-paris

Me as a 20 year old traveling in Paris. The Greenlight card would have been super handy on this trip. I had to exchange money or get cash out of an ATM everywhere I went.

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.

You can sign up to get a Greenlight card here.

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.

How to financially prepare your kids for back-to-school season

Parents aren’t the only ones pulling out their wallets for back-to-school season. According to a 2019 survey from the National Retail Federation, teens are spending an average of $36.71 of their own money and pre-teens an average of $26.40. 

This year, your back-to-school budgeting may be a little different (okay, a LOT), but one thing remains the same: A new school year means new costs. Which also means new opportunities for your kids to learn about money. Follow along for our tips on getting your kids ready for the upcoming school year!

Plan beyond the school supply list

School supply list with pencil and ruler

Back-to-school budgeting brings up a lot of conversation about school supplies for the first day, but what about the whole school year? When you sit down and talk to your kids about their school supply lists, you may want to chat about other expenses that might pop up throughout the year. Here are a few to consider:

  • Sports
  • Yearbooks
  • ACT/SAT study materials
  • Lunch money 
  • School pictures

Shifting over to a virtual learning environment? Some of the usual expenses may go away this year, but you should be ready for new ones. Think: Virtual classroom decorations, new desks and high-powered laptops.

Talk about back-to-school deals

Love a good BOGO deal? So do we. But your kids may not understand how much it matters to score a good deal — especially during a busy retail season like back-to-school season. 

As you probably know, smart shopping means looking for deals, shopping early and doing research before buying. To get your kids into these habits, try comparing prices online and showing them how to find discounts. Bonus: Help your kids make savings goals throughout the school year. They can do this with their Greenlight app

Separate wants from needs

Trade-off decision about spending extra on pizza delivery

Coming up with a back-to-school budget is a great time to talk about wants and needs. If your kids have a school supply list from their teacher, use it as a guide. If not, it doesn’t take too long to come up with one yourself — or use a quick start list of common items by grade

Go through your kids’ school supply lists one by one. Talk about each item and whether it’s a must-have or a nice-to-have. Then, decide how they (or you) would like to budget accordingly. Maybe your kids want to splurge on a set of trendy binders but they’re okay with buying cheaper folders and erasers. Or maybe they’d rather save for something else down the line, like a laptop or an iPad. And look at that… they’re already thinking about wants and needs! Piece of cake.

Always come back to learning

Your kids might be excited about the first day. They might be nervous. You might be stressing about setting up a virtual learning environment. Or maybe you’re just not ready to think about any of it yet!
 
Here’s what really matters: Your kids are learning. And we’re not just talking about school. Kids learn by doing chores, deciding how to spend their money and setting savings goals. Just pull up your Greenlight app and let the learning (and fun) begin.

A fresh new look for Greenlight

In 2017, Greenlight started on a bold mission to raise a generation of financially-smart kids. Now, that mission is growing. Because… well, we’re growing.

1 million strong

Earlier this year, we surpassed 1 MILLION kids and parents. That’s more than 1 million of you who…

  • Dreamed up new features for us to build.
  • Reached savings goals (and then created more). 
  • Finished chores on time and earned allowances.
  • Chuckled at our corny jokes. 
  • Gave money to charities.

And throughout it all, it’s the 1 million of you who inspired us to keep reaching for new milestones.

Fun, fresh and new

We thought a lot about how we could celebrate you, be better for you and evolve the Greenlight you know and love.

As a team, we decided it needed to be big. It needed to be new. 

So we came together to imagine a new brand — a brand that can be there for every first, every birthday, every transition and every milestone. A brand that inspires your trust and is there to celebrate every little joy of being a parent.

Today, we’re so happy to introduce you to the new look for Greenlight, as we take on an even bigger mission: to shine a light on the world of money for kids and parents.

What changes?

Starting today, the new look and feel will take over our website, social media, emails and more with (minty) fresh colors, a new logo, fun patterns and delightful photos that reflect our vibrant community of families.

What’s next? Stay tuned. Over time, you’ll see our new look across more and more of the Greenlight universe.

What stays the same?

Us! We’re still Greenlight. We’re just growing up, like your kids do. For now, your app and debit cards will still look largely the same. But, changes are on the way — we’re just getting started!

From our Greenlight team to your family, thank you for getting us here. With 1 million reasons to celebrate — and many more to come — welcome to the new Greenlight.