Money, Credit, and Our Kids

I remember going to work with my mom when I was a little girl. Her boss would often reach into his pocket, hand me whatever change he had floating around in there, and hand it to me, calling it “pig food” (as in, food for my piggy bank). I was obsessed with coins. (Guess they should have known I would end up sitting for the CPA exam many years later.) I remember holding them in my hands until they warmed up, separating them into stacks of pennies, nickels, dimes, and the occasional quarter, and even putting them in my mouth, much to my mother’s chagrin. (Sorry, Mom.)

Today, I am not sure my three-year-old has ever seen her mother or father pay for something with cash. I very rarely carry cash and, when I do, it often languishes in my wallet for weeks. It’s just so much more convenient, so much easier to track where the money goes when I use my debit card. Plus, if I use my credit card and pay off the balance at the end of the month, I get rewards points. But what is this teaching Chelsea about money? Does she think that you can magically swipe your card and buy whatever you want? What does money mean to a child when there is no cash exchanging hands?

A friend recently asked me about how to give her son an allowance when the family never has cash. She had considered opening a bank account for him and doing a weekly automatic transfer, but then how would he see how much money he had? I did a little research and found some iPhone apps and websites (such as Zefty, My Job Chart, and Kiddy Bank) that seem to do a good job of handling this but, again, I was left wondering what the millennial generation will come to know about money when it’s all virtual.

Perhaps they’ll come to understand money in a way I can’t anticipate. Maybe my daughter will intuitively be able to hold in her head how much money is coming in and out of her bank account without ever touching a twenty-dollar bill. Or maybe by the time she’s an adult, the economy will have shifted back and everyone will use cash (or some kind of freaky-deaky chip implant) for everything.

What do you think our children are learning about money and the virtual economy? How can we do a better job of teaching kids about the value of money, even when they never see it “in the flesh”?

A fitting ending:  Chelsea has a small red piggy bank, into which we have put a few coins. A few nights ago, I heard a bizarre jangling coming from her room, and went to investigate. Inside I found her and her piggy bank, the stopper pulled out, and coins scattered all over her bed and blankets.  “Mommy, look!  My money!”

Maybe the world isn’t much different these days, after all.