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The ATM Card Blues

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Teens drain your wallet -- literally. And it never stops!

woman handing daughter money

Sarah Bowman: When mine first needed their own spending money, I got in the habit of handing them twenties. But, when my requests for an accounting of the cash produced an annoyingly consistent look of confusion, I knew that I was beaten. I hadn't read those books about teaching children about money, and now I was paying for it.

At first, I thought my kids were clueless about cash. But I quickly realized that my system was working for them. They counted on me forking out those twenties, again and again. Why should they change a thing? I remembered a small victory I had when, as young kids, they'd whine that they "needed" something in a cashier's line (I swear they had a Pavlovian response to my Visa card). I learned to respond very positively with a measured "Sure -- but it comes out of your allowance!" You've never seen the desire needle drop from high red to cool blue so fast.

Where kids are lax with our money, they're super savvy about their own dollars. The trick is to turn the weekend twenty into money your teen can lay claim to. I gave my daughter an ATM card and suddenly, she is hyper aware of how the dollars drain away. To prevent the card from turning into a magical wand at the swipe machine, it's important to track the spending at home. We use Quicken, and it's pretty enlightening for a teenager who thinks they haven't bought anything in a month to see how the popcorn, a birthday gift, and a few tanks of gas add up.

The second trick is to adjust the amount you give the child each month so that gradually, more and more items get put under the mantle of their responsibility. Food and movies are plenty to juggle for the first year. But now that my daughter is driving, gas takes up a lot of her budget, so her monthly "allowance" has increased by that amount. I have begun to add in personal care items, like haircuts. Now, it might feel obscene to give a 16- or 17-year-old a big hunk of money to manage each month. But isn't it better to make mistakes now while they're living at home (and you can monitor the account) than to have them run out of cash when they're living away from home?

The only area that I can't say I've conquered yet is clothing. Twice a year, I upgrade the wardrobe (before school and sometime in the spring), but for the rest of the year, she is responsible for items she "needs." It sure helps keep the Visa in my wallet. And when someone asks her to babysit, more likely than not, she says yes.

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kirstie December 8, 2009, 7:45 AM

Man, I wish my parents had given me an ATM card that came with money on it … from 14 or 15, if I wanted to go out, put gas in my car (when I bought one at 17, that is), buy new clothes .. I actually had to go out and earn myself some money to do those things! The only time I got my “wardrobe upgraded” by my parents was by way of a few Christmas gifts. If I needed school clothes, my paycheck was paying for them.

I’m not from a different generation then your children, by the way. I’m a 20 year old college student who’s been working since the age of 14 and I think *that*, more than any parent-given ATM card, taught me responsible spending and the importance of careful budgeting/saving. If I overspent one month, my parents weren’t giving me a second chance and refilling the account the next month. I had to learn to fix those mistakes, or just not to make them, on my own.

Anonymous December 8, 2009, 9:43 PM

Just say no!

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