Imaginary Dogs: A Clever Way to Raise Financially Responsible Children

Do you want your kids to be financially stable when they’re adults? Want to avoid having to take-in your wayward son after he’s run out of money, forcing you to shelter him in your basement until he gets back on his feet? Want to make sure your daughter doesn’t waste her entire paycheck on a frivolous, impulse purchase?

If your answer to any of the above questions is “yes,” consider this technique: Have your child look after an imaginary dog for a month.

Why an Imaginary Dog?

When I was in high school, I had a friend named Scott who desperately wanted a dog. His parents were hesitant, worrying about things like, “What if we end up taking care of the dog all the time?” and “Can we afford all the expenses that come with a dog?” But, in a moment of parenting brilliance, Scott’s mom and dad came up with the Imaginary Dog Plan. This plan required Scott to wake up every morning at 6am, walk a leash around his neighborhood, put down an empty food bowl, and then open and close an empty dog crate. Immediately after school, Scott came home and walked that empty leash again, put down the empty food bowl, and spent 30 minutes either vacuuming, dusting, or completing some other household chore as a stand-in for the time he’d have to spend cleaning up after a dog. Additionally, his parents struck a deal requiring him to pay for half of all the expenses that come with having a dog. To prove that he could do this, Scott did extra chores around the house and got a part-time job. By the end of the month, Scott had walked his empty leash 60+ times and had saved $300. By the end of the month, Scott had a real dog.

How an Imaginary Dog Can Help Your Family:

So, how does my friend’s dog apply to you and your family? Simple: the principles Scott’s parents taught him through this exercise are the same principles any kid needs as a foundation for a successful financial life. If your son or daughter wants something, whether it’s seemingly insignificant, like a crazy new pair of socks, or something bigger like a pet or laptop, consider using this technique to help them get what they want while also teaching them the importance of being responsible with their money. Some of the lessons they’ll learn from an exercise like this are:

  • If you want something, you need to work for it
  • You need to consider all the responsibilities attached to making a purchase
  • You need to be fully prepared, financially and physically (with your time, etc.) before making a purchase
  • You should give yourself time before making a big purchase to make sure you really want that particular thing
  • Often, making purchases (especially big ones) requires some sort of sacrifice, so you need to ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”

Obviously, if you decide to try this with your kids, the situations will be different, and you’ll need to adapt strategies. It wouldn’t make any sense for your daughter to walk a leash every day to prove that she’s responsible enough to buy a laptop. Instead, you may start by asking her to save a certain amount of money each week. Then, have her to carry around a fragile place-holder (picture frames, perhaps), proving that she’ll be careful with something as breakable as a laptop. You could even have her do research on how to fix common laptop problems, making sure she’ll know what to do if it won’t turn on one day, or if it gets a virus.

Whatever way you apply this to you and your child’s life, just be sure to remember the main point: If you prepare your kids now to be responsible, both financially and personally, they are much more likely to continue these practices as adults. Try it today, and hopefully you’ll still have your basement to yourself once your kids grow up!

How To Talk Money Management With Your Kids

The money talk — not as scary as the birds and bees, but still a lot to think about. We get it and so do other parents. In fact, 49% of parents say they’re not sure how to explain money to their child.[1] Enter: Spring Break. It’s the perfect time to open the conversation, starting with budgeting. 

EXPLAIN WHY BUDGETING IS IMPORTANT

If you’re like 67%[2] of Americans, you keep a budget — nice! Time to get your kids on board. But how? You could start off by explaining why a budget matters, because chances are they’ll ask.

Conversation Starter: “When you make a budget, you know just what you’re spending, and how much you need to save for things you want, like those AirPods.”

EXPLAIN COMMON BUDGETING TERMS

Fixed Expenses and Variable Expenses — ring a bell? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, they’re important words to teach your kids about budgeting. Break it down into Spring Break terms, and they’ll get it.

Conversation Starter: “A Fixed Expense is one that doesn’t change. Like, our plane ticket. A variable Expense is one that does change. Like, meals. It can go up or down, depending on where we eat.”

EXPLAIN WHY SAVING MONEY IS IMPORTANT

Budgeting for Spring Break is one thing — saving for it is another. Instead of simply handing them money (and hoping they stash it away), show them the importance of earning and saving.

Conversation Starter: “Saving money lets you buy things that you might not have enough money for right now. When you add a little bit of money to savings over time, it helps make future purchases possible.” Tip: Name something you’re saving for, and how you plan on reaching your goal.

GIVE THEM THE GREENLIGHT

After you have the money talk with your kids (you’ve got this!), think about getting them a debit card — like Greenlight. Unlike a credit card, they can only spend what’s on it. (More on the differences between credit and debit here.) The best part: debit cards like Greenlight empower your kids to make smart money decisions, long after Spring Break ends.

With the Greenlight debit card and app, your kids can:

  • Set Savings Goals. Even staycations cost money. Teach them to save for it.
  • Learn to Make Trade-offs. Keychain or shark-tooth necklace? It’s their call.
  • Earn Allowance Through Chores. Greenlight kids who earn allowance save 26% more.

As they start learning about money management, you’ll be right there with them. The Greenlight app lets you:

  • Control Access to ATM’s. Are they taking too much out? Set limits.
  • Choose Stores. You decide where they can and can’t spend.
  • Get Real-Time Notifications and Monitor Their Spend Levels. Perfect if they’re vacationing without you.

GET SET FOR SPRING BREAK

Join Greenlight today and help your kids get a head start on budgeting for the break — and for life! Sign Up Now

[1] Investopedia.com [2] Debt.com

Why kids should understand the difference between debit and credit cards

Today, it’s not surprising that Americans have shifted from the traditional use of cash to more modern methods of payment like debit and credit cards. According to Fundera, 70% of consumers prefer using cards as a form of payment and 54% prefer using debit cards. 

Debit and credit cards provide convenience, more security than cash and are accepted nearly everywhere. It’s safe to say that while cash may not be going away, teaching children the basics of what credit and debit cards are now will prepare them to use cards responsibly in the future. 

Prepare them for the reality of credit cards

A credit card is a form of payment issued by a bank or business that allows the holder to purchase things on credit. When making purchases with a credit card, you promise to pay back the money you owe (plus any interest!) at a later date. 

When you carry a balance over month-to-month, the lender charges you interest on top of the amount you owe. Carried balances and interest can add up quickly and many families find themselves in a position where it’s tough to pay credit cards off.

In fact, 41% of America’s households have credit card debt. It’s important to introduce your kids to the concept of credit cards while they’re still in the nest – that way, they are prepared to carry one later in life. 

When it comes to teaching your kids, we recommend starting their money management adventures with a debit card. This protects them from overspending because they can spend only the money they have, and allows them to build healthy habits early before they enter the world of credit.

Teach them to manage money with a debit card

Debit cards provide more security than cash and fewer worries about debt than a credit card. A debit card is a form of payment that deducts money directly from a bank account to pay for a purchase. With debit cards, owners can have easy access to their available funds and can often also put money aside for something special using a savings account. 

Kids need to learn how to manage a debit card just like they need to learn how to drive. Whether your child runs their own lemonade stand during the summer, starts their first job or gets an allowance, a debit card can help kids learn to manage balances, save money, and more!

How Greenlight helps

Greenlight helps kids learn how to manage money and form strong healthy habits that will serve them as adults. According to Greenlight CEO Tim Sheehan, the reason Greenlight is a debit card is to “help kids learn to effectively manage the money they’ve earned, as opposed to spending money they may not have.”

Parents are the primary account holders and have the controls to choose where their children can use the card, manage chores and allowances, set parent-paid interest rates on savings, and more. Kids are able to monitor their balances, create saving goals, and learn how to make financially-smart decisions in a safe environment with their parents’ guidance. 

How parents send money using the Greenlight debit card.

Mistakes are just mistakes

With Greenlight, there is no chance for a child to overdraft or overspend since we decline any purchases greater than the child’s available balance. Mistakes are just mistakes! Parents get alerts when kids try to spend more than they have to spark conversations about budgeting and wise spending. 

Parents are able to allocate funds to their child’s “Spend Anywhere” account or choose specific stores where kids can spend and how much they can spend. They can even help their child create a savings goal and contribute money to meet that special goal. 

Ready to teach your child how to manage money responsibly?

Join Greenlight today to start adventures in personal finance with your kids!