Stacey from familylifebydesign.com gave me a heads up last week on a new product being peddled by Discover. While I like the Discover More card for grown-ups, I am not fond of the new product aimed at teens, and here’s why.
The new Discover Current card is being sold as a debit card alternative for teenagers. Parents can load money on to the plastic via their own credit card (wonder if this counts as a cash advance), and can place limits on how much can be spent and where it can be spent, all the way down to individual merchants. All this for a $5.00 monthly fee.
According to the Discover website you can even “browse Teen Card designs that are way cooler than cash.” It makes for great marketing speak, but it made me stop and reflect back on my own years as a teenager and wonder, when did cash stop being cool? I can distinctly remember how it felt to get my first $20 bill. I thought I was rich!
As an early teen I spent a summer day at my great aunt’s house installing a mailbox and post, and doing general yard cleanup on her property. At the end of the day she gave me $20, and I felt like a million bucks! I resisted spending that $20 bill for quite a while simply because I liked seeing it in my wallet. She could have given me a piece of plastic with a fancy design on it and the feelings of excitement would have turned to, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
Thanks to years of Visa and Mastercard (and Discover) pushing their products down to our youth, and our youth watching their parents use and abuse the same products, kids know exactly what to do with plastic these days – swipe it! The problem is, they don’t see Mom and Dad opening the bills and the end of the month in tears wondering how they are going to come up with the minimum payment. It is a one-sided view, an incomplete picture into the world of credit.
No, I would rather my kids grow up thinking cash was still cool. I pay my kids allowance and commissions for extra jobs in cash, and will resist giving them plastic as long as paper currency is still a legal tender. Call me old-fashioned. I just don’t think kids are able to fully grasp the transactional differences in swiping plastic and watching that $20 leave their hand and receiving $0.70 in change back.
It hurts to spend cash. It is supposed to hurt. We are exchanging our money for some good or service. That is money we worked for, or saved for, or could spend on something in the future. Instead, we are trading it in for something we feel is of equal value today. These concepts are difficult for many adults to understand, and something I didn’t really “get” until my late twenties. Why do we expect young teenagers to get it before we did?
Some will make the argument that giving teens a product like the Discover Current card will help them learn budgeting concepts, and how to use plastic wisely. Maybe. But I’m not convinced. Besides, how can teens learn these concepts when parents have restricted purchases to certain merchants, or blocked ATM transactions, or only allow them to spend a certain amount each day.
One could make the argument that normalizing the use of plastic too early could be dangerous. I would tend to agree with this argument. I read a great analogy once (I think it was from Trent at TheSimpleDollar.com) that compared credit cards to power tools. Sure, they make things convenient, but they can be dangerous in untrained hands.
If my son wanted to cut a piece of wood at eight years old I wouldn’t mind helping him guide a handsaw, but I wouldn’t fire up the skill saw and hand it over to him, even though he will use it when he gets older and it is more convenient and “cool.” I know, I know, kids aren’t going to lose any fingers over swiping a Discover Current card, but they just might grow up with bad habits that cost them their financial future.
I believe it is good for kids to go through a few cycles of earning money, blowing it all in an afternoon at the mall, and being broke until the next Friday when they get their allowance. Eventually, they just might learn not to blow all their money on “payday,” and will hold some back for the next week. But if parents artificially manage this for them using the card’s technology, how will kids ever learn to budget their money?
For now the only Discover credit card in our household will be the one I use to buy gas. When my kids are old enough to apply for their own card, and they are earning their own money, then maybe they can have one, too. But for now they will stick to cash for spending and handsaws for cutting.