The Secret Behind Your Teen’s Stash of Cash

Parents, picture this:

You’re cleaning house. You know you’ve told your teenager a thousand times to clean his room. At the very least, you hope he has put the painstakingly folded laundry away in the dresser. But, as you look into his room, you see clothes everywhere. Instead of fighting this battle for the 50th time, you give in. You pull out the top dresser drawer, a handful of socks poised and ready to finally be back where they belong, but you stop short. There is cash everywhere. Ones, fives, tens, and twenties fill the spaces in between your teenager’s mismatched socks. What’s your first thought?


Of course, your mind goes directly to the worst case scenario, speeding straight past rationality. Where did all this money come from? Is my child involved with drugs? Is he stealing? Is he part of a band of teenage bank robbers who have somehow evaded the attention of both police officers and parents?

What if the answer isn’t as sinister as you think? What if, instead, a drawer full of cash is cause for concern of a different kind? In this moment of surprise and panic, you don’t remember that your teenager has a job, gets an allowance, and often receives birthday cash from distant relatives. So, what if a drawer full of cash is actually a small, yet significant sign that your child needs help managing his money?

My Story

When I was in high school, I did not have a drawer full of loose cash. Instead, I had a manila envelope stuffed between some books on the nightstand by my bed, full of money. No, I was not involved in selling drugs. I’ve never stolen money from anyone, and I was not busy robbing banks with my friends after school let out. I was, in fact, quite the opposite. Smart in nearly every facet of my life, I seemed to be one of the good kids who had it all figured out, and I loved that people thought of me that way. So I worked hard to maintain my status as a good, responsible teenager. I made great grades, had a steady, part-time job, excelled as a student athlete, and maintained a solid relationship with my family. But I was an absolute idiot when it came to managing my money. When I started working at my first part-time job, my mom would help me cash my checks, and then she trusted me to handle the cash responsibly. But I didn’t have the slightest idea what that meant, and I was too ashamed to ask her for guidance. I didn’t want to tarnish anyone’s opinion of me, least of all my mother’s. If she trusted me enough to manage my money, then shouldn’t I be able to manage it?

Enter, manila envelope. I knew I needed somewhere to physically keep all my money, and since I did not yet have a bank account, I figured I should keep it somewhere relatively safe. Thankfully, our house was never broken into during this time, or else I’m pretty sure a bulky manila envelope, awkwardly shoved by some books on a nightstand screams: I CONTAIN LOTS OF UNGUARDED CASH!


It seems rather obvious how this story should end, right? Eventually, one way or another, I would figure out how to get a bank account, deposit all my money there, and be well on my way to living a financially healthy life. Sounds perfect, right? Well, it also sounds idealistic and untrue. Yes, I did end up getting a bank account, and my money was tucked safely away in a vault. But I was still the same stubborn person, still too concerned about how others viewed me to risk asking questions about my money.

Unfortunately, my teenage ignorance lead to a young adulthood filled with multiple instances of blindly hoping that my debit card or credit card wouldn’t get declined because I was always too nervous to actually look at my bank account and try to balance my money. I have been guilty of simply deleting emails from my bank and throwing away correspondence, unless it looked too important to risk it, all because I was uninformed. I didn’t know what I would do if there was a problem with my account. I didn’t want to think about how to find more money to augment a low balance. I had no clue how to actually establish and grow a saving’s account. So I ignored everything and hoped for the best.


Parents and teenagers alike, I urge you, please do not let this happen to you! It took me entirely too long to understand my own finances, and my lack of knowledge was a true detriment to me because it has required me to spend the last few years playing catch up and educating myself, instead of saving and spending wisely.

The task at hand is quite simple: talk to each other. Parents, if you find a drawer of cash, or a manila envelope, don’t automatically assume that your child has gone rogue and gotten into a messy, illegal situation. Likewise, don’t assume that your teenager knows how to be financially responsible just because he’s a great kid in all other areas of life. Leaving something this important up to assumptions and chance could condemn your teen to a lifetime of money troubles.

And teens, please don’t be afraid to talk to your parents! Take it from someone who tried so hard to be good at everything, and in doing so, totally failed at being good with money. Knowing how to actually manage and use your money is going to make your life so much less stressful and so much more enjoyable. So just ask. I promise, it’ll only help.

(photo courtesy © Pictures of Money cc2.0)

Using your kids’ debit cards to talk about money this summer

The money talk — not as scary as the birds and bees, but still a big deal.  In fact, 49% of parents say they’re not sure how to explain money to their kids [1]. Enter: Summer Break. More time at home means more time to talk about money management. Follow along for some conversation starters and tips on how to have the money talk.


79% of Americans keep a budget [2], which is great. Budgets may be a bit more involved for grownups, but that doesn’t mean your kids can’t start learning the basics. How? Start off by explaining why budgeting matters. There’s a good chance they’re already wondering that.

Conversation Starter: “What’s something you really want but you haven’t had the money to buy?” Maybe it’s something you can’t fit into your parent budget, or maybe it’s something you think they should buy on their own. During the summer, there are lots of opportunities for your kids to make money — help them figure out how to manage their earnings.


Fixed expenses and variable expenses — ring a bell? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, these are important words to teach your kids about budgeting. Break it down into Summer Break terms and they’ll get it.

Conversation Starter: “A fixed expense is one that doesn’t change. Like, our Netflix subscription. It’s the same price every month. A variable expense is one that does change. Like, a meal at a restaurant. It can go up or down, depending on where we eat.”


Budgeting for Summer Break is one thing — saving for it is another. Instead of handing over a wad of cash and hoping they stash it away, make it a hands-on experience with a bit of fun along the way.

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 your savings over time, it adds up so you can buy those things one day.” Tip: Help your kids make a savings goal (or better, lots of goals). Then, work together to plan out how they’ll reach that goal.


The fun part about the money talk is giving your kids their own debit card. Unlike a credit card, they can only spend what’s on it. The best part? They won’t realize that they’re learning valuable lessons every time they use their card — but trust us, they are.

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

  • Set savings goals.
  • Learn to make trade-off decisions. Keychain or shark-tooth necklace? It’s their call.
  • Earn allowance through chores. Cool fact: Greenlight kids who earn allowance save 26% more. Woohoo!

A few other things you can do in your app:

  • Manage access to ATMs. Are they withdrawing a bit too much? Set limits.
  • Choose stores. You decide where they can and can’t spend. Gas only? Just at restaurants? Adjust the settings in your app.
  • Get real-time notifications and monitor their spend levels.


Join Greenlight today and help your kids get a head start on budgeting for their Summer Break — and for life! Sign up now

[1] [2]

Everything you need to know about National Decision Day

For many high school seniors, May 1st is an important day: National Decision Day. It’s the day they decide what comes after high school — the first of many big decisions they’ll make for themselves. This year, it also marks a day in which their decisions are heavily impacted by the world around us. 

They did the work, took the tests, made it through the teenage years and now have their sights set on graduating high school. While you and your family explore different ways to commemorate this milestone (perhaps with video calls and virtual graduation parties?), we hope you can still find time to talk about the next chapter of your child’s life.

The new-age debate

Our Gen Zs live in a world of entrepreneurs and self-starters. They’re seeing success as seven-year-old YouTube influencers make millions and 16-year-olds start their own companies.

So it makes sense why your kids will have different thoughts and considerations surrounding the college talk. That’s not to say that they don’t want to go to college — they just may not see it as the only option. As parents, we need to listen to that so we can guide them toward a decision that we all feel good about.

To sign or not to sign? What to consider

The college talk isn’t just on National Decision Day — it’s year-round. It’s a good idea to stay in the loop with the merging views on the subject. When you delve into the college talk, you may come across split views on a few things: 

Student loans: 

Because every financial situation is different, student loans are a hot button for many parents. If you and your kids are thinking about student loans, take time to explore every avenue and talk about how it will impact them throughout and after college. 

In 2018, the average individual student loan amount was $29,200. Loans may or may not be an option for your family. Either way, National Decision Day is a great opportunity to talk through the numbers with your soon-to-be grad. 

Public vs. private vs. community:

The good news is we’ve got lots of options. The not-so-good news? Well, it’s hard to decide! It’s no secret that most private schools come with a heavy cost and community schools are typically the most affordable. Public schools tend to sit somewhere in the middle of the two. 

Talk to your kids about finances — how they’ll be managing their money throughout college, pros and cons of an expensive school and what matters most to them. Your conversation could bring you to a cost-benefit analysis (bonus!) or it could spark up a new outlook on the entire decision-making process. 

Career analysis: 

Anyone else feel like their kids are too young to decide on a career path? In many ways, they are. That being said, they may have a different perspective. 91% of high schoolers believe they know their dream job, according to a survey done by EY and Junior Achievement. 

To them, a career is fun, exciting and adulty (their word, not ours). You know better than them that careers are not just about fun — they’re about financial security and stability. 

The transition out of high school is a prime time to have an open, honest conversation with your kids about this. You have the best insight into your kids’ strengths and interests, and you can use this knowledge to help them choose a path that will give them the biggest return on investment. (Props to you if you can make ROI sound fun!) 

Looking for a way to start the conversation? Try these: 

“Are we there yet?”

You’ve got a lot to think about, but no need to stress about it. National Decision Day is an exciting time for you and your kids. No matter what path they choose, the most important thing is that they have you. 

And… they have Greenlight! They may be growing up, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop helping them make wise money decisions. If you haven’t already, join Greenlight to keep your kids financially-healthy and happy throughout this next chapter of their lives.