How to Teach Your Kids to Use School Debit Cards

We know the world is getting more tech savvy. And now school lunchrooms are getting in on the action.

It’s becoming more common for kids who purchase their lunch to pay with a special debit card or PIN that’s attached to an online account. Fortune reports that in 2013, about 29,000 of the country’s 100,000 schools were accepting electronic payments. The concept is pretty simple—swipe (or type), pay, eat.

For your child, this may be the first time they pay for something without you standing there. And swiping a card or entering a code is a totally different experience than spending the cash they earned from doing their chores.

So if your child’s school has an electronic payment system, it’s a golden opportunity to teach them about responsible spending.

Talk to the Kids

Before school starts, sit down with your child and tell them the plan for lunch money. If school has already started, any time is a good time to start! Explain how much a basic lunch costs and how that cost adds up during the week. You’ll put the money in the account at the beginning of the week and they can remember to stick to the plan by pacing their spending. If they spend too much too soon, they could run out of money. This is a big step in teaching your kid about spending, so be positive and encouraging.

What If They Overspend?

If your child runs through their prepaid balance too quickly, take a look at what they are buying. Spending lots of money on bigger meals instead of extra treats means they need more food, which is fine. They are growing! Make sure they get a good breakfast in the morning or pack some healthy snacks to take to school. If that doesn’t fill them up, they might need more money in their lunch account.

If you see that your child is overspending on things like soft drinks and desserts, have a talk with them. As a family, determine an appropriate amount of treats for your kid during the week. They may not realize how much they are spending by adding that extra drink and cookie.

Consider Sending Cash Instead

Sending kids to school with cash to pay for lunch may be a good idea for multiple reasons. One benefit is you spend less when you pay with cash because you actually see the money leave. Another benefit? Research shows that kids make healthier food choices when paying with cash. A study by Brian Wansink, a behavioral economist at Cornell University, reveals that three times as many kids buy vegetables when they were paying with cash over debit cards, and they also ate 10% fewer calories. Talk about a win-win situation!

Your child can learn about budgeting and making wise choices all at once. It may take a little time, but they’ll get the hang of it.

Want to teach your kids about budgeting? Create a lunch budget with EveryDollar. You can set a monthly amount and show your kids how to keep track of it throughout the month. Taking care of lunch and teaching about money at the same time? That makes you a super parent!