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 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.