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!

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year to Save and Budget

The hustle and bustle of the holiday season is upon us! There’s no better time than now to take up the topic of budgeting and saving with the family. The National Retail Federation forecasts that holiday retail sales will be up 4.2% over 2018, for a total of $730.7 billion spent on gifts for family and friends! Before your kids make their holiday gift lists, start conversations on how to set budgets and save up.

Bring on the budget

Setting a clear budget for the holidays and sticking to it will show your kids they don’t have to go into debt to have a holly jolly holiday season. The average American took on more than $1,000 in debt during the holiday season in 2018, so showing kids the importance of setting a budget, planning for the budget (calculating how much everything will cost for the season and how much they will need to save) and how to stay within the budget will serve them in the future. 

Make a list (check it twice)

Lists aren’t just for Santa Claus to find out who’s naughty or nice during the holiday season — they’re the perfect tool to help stay on budget when it comes to spending.

Before heading out to a store or logging onto Amazon, ask your kids to make a list of who they want to buy presents for and if they know what they plan to get each person (if so, have them add their gift idea to the list). To make sure your child doesn’t run through their holiday budget, ask them to look into the price of what they want to buy before they plan to shop for it.

Having a list to work through will keep shopping focused, both in-store or online, if you’re out shopping on Black Friday or going after deals on Cyber Monday, teach your kids focus is key.

Set a savings goal 

Within the Greenlight app, encourage your kids to set up Saving Goals, specifically for holiday. Perhaps they name it their Christmas Fund or their Gift Goals. Here’s how to set up a Saving Goal: 

  1.     Navigate to your “Save” tab.
  2.     Tap “Add a Savings Goal.”
  3.     Enter a title or description of what you will be saving for.
  4.     Enter a goal amount.
  5.     Tap “Add Savings Goal” to complete the set-up process.

Parents, remember that your kids need permission to spend their savings. As they move money out of their Saving Goals into a spending greenlight, they’ll send you a request. Be on the lookout for when it’s time for them to cross holiday shopping off their to-do list.

The season for deals and shopping steals 

After your kids have saved to meet their holiday Saving Goals, it’s important to talk them through smart spending. The holidays are a great time to teach bargain shopping (especially with a budget in mind). Here are the three shopping days you and your family should consider for deals and steals: 

  • Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving is considered to be one of the busiest retail days of the year and it’s known for its big sales, discounted prices and often crazy in-store crowds. Black Friday is a good day to teach your kids how to navigate in-store experiences and what it’s like to shop with specific items in mind. It’s never too early to start shopping Black Friday deals, you can check out a comprehensive guide here.
  • Small Business Saturday: The Saturday after Thanksgiving (also known as Shop Small Saturday) is an opportunity to teach your kids about supporting locally owned businesses and small, unique brick and mortars in your neighborhood.
  • Cyber Monday: The Monday after Thanksgiving, known as Cyber Monday, is the hottest day for online retailers to offer some of their best deals for the season. Can’t make it to the mall on Black Friday? Consider shopping Cyber Monday deals from the comfort of your own home. 

Talking to kids about sales, coupons, discounts and the benefits of when to shop in-person and online can help create savvy shoppers for life. 

A little thoughtfulness won’t break the bank 

Gift giving often becomes a major focus during the holiday season, but not all gifts have to come from a store. Some of the most thoughtful gifts come straight from the heart. When your kids are making their holiday gift giving lists, make sure to have the conversation that small, thoughtful gifts can go a long way. 

Cookies, DIY ornaments, arts and crafts projects, handwritten cards and random acts of kindness to those we know and love won’t break the bank. And the warm and fuzzy feeling they bring about is what the holiday season is all about after all.

Add Parent-Paid Interest 

Parents, to encourage saving, consider adding Parent-Paid Interest within the Greenlight app. 

Greenlight offers parents the opportunity to set and pay interest rates on savings to demonstrate the magic of compound interest. Here’s how to set up parent-paid interest!

Get ahead for the holidays with Greenlight

Join Greenlight today to encourage wise saving and smart spending ahead of the winter holidays. Set up a holiday specific savings goal today!

The Fundamentals of Wants and Needs

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were financially-smart kids. The secret to setting your kids up for a solid financial future is to start with the basics. Deeper than the value of a dollar, budgets and why it’s so important to save lies the very basic lesson of: wants and needs are not the same thing. 

While the difference between wants and needs may feel straight forward to grownups, the concept can be complex to kids. Breaking down needs, wants, the fine line between the two and how to make trade-off decisions is critical for instilling money management and financial planning skills. 

Know your needs

Needs are essentials. When teaching your kids how to determine what a need is, it’s important to highlight what is a true necessity and what is a needy request —it’s all about perspective. Here are the categories we consider bare necessities: 

  • Shelter
  • Clothing
  • Food
  • Water

We find that getting as specific as possible when explaining necessities helps kids master the concept and begin to apply it in real-life trade-off decisions. 

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want

If you’re a parent, you’re probably used to hearing the rally cry “I want _____” from your kids. Wants can be described as the things your kids may circle in a magazine or put on an Amazon wish list for the holiday season. Greenlight mom Bonnie Koon even shared that her son once requested $10,000 via his Greenlight app. 

Wants are often inspired by peers, pop culture and hobbies. Here are some hopeful requests made by Greenlight kids. We’ll wait while you have a giggle or two.

When raising financially-smart kids, it’s important for parents to let their kids know that wants are a part of life but making smart choices around those wants will set them up for success. 

The gray area 

No lesson in needs and wants with a child is going to be easy peasy lemon squeezy, so it’s important to get specific for clarity’s sake when dealing with such an abstract conversation. 

Is ice cream a food? Yes, but ice cream is certainly not a necessity. Are Yeezy’s shoes? Yes, but $300 for a pair of shoes is not necessary or a requirement. 

It’s important for parents to let their kids know that it’s okay to want certain things. But making smart choices around those wants will set them up for success. In general, having a discussion around “wanting” things in life can be a powerful and inspirational discussion. You can want to make the soccer team. Want to be president. Want to have a family when you grow up. It is wants and dreams that put humans on the moon and brought us Beyonce. But when it comes to finances – you can’t always get what you want.

Being able to tackle these types of questions head-first will help kids understand the true meaning of a necessity instead of something they very much want, crave or think they need to meet the status quo. 

One way to help kids fully understands wants and needs would be to have them write a list of what they think are needs and what they think are wants. From there, break down needs — if they are a true necessity or not — and tackle what goes into getting a want (such as saving for that pair of Yeezy’s or picking up extra babysitting opportunities to help pay for the spring break trip to New York City). To take it a step further, discuss a budget of $1,000 with your child and include a mix of needs (rent/groceries/phone or car payment) and wants (a new iPhone/concert tickets/new shoes) to showcase that all needs must be met before money goes to wants. 

Want it? Save for it 

Wants and needs make a perfect opportunity to teach the importance of saving money to reach a goal. Want a new pair of jeans? Save for it. Have $100 extra each month after covering necessities? Add extra money to your savings goal to buy a new MacBook. These wants can act as perfect motivators to increase saving.

Setting up clear savings goals with Greenlight will not only teach kids how to set a savings goal and budget to meet their desired goal, but it will motivate them to save more in the long run. We’ll be talking more about saving in November, so stay tuned for tips from Greenlight families on how to have the right money talks.

Save with Greenlight 

Set up a Greenlight savings goal today!