Some months back I received an e-mail from the folks at PayPal. It was the kind of message I am usually accustomed to instantly deleting. Though I cannot recall exactly what it was, but something in this message caught my attention. I proceeded to open and read the message and subsequently clicked through the message, ending up at the PayPal site.
After reading through the information on the site many times, I finally became comfortable with what was being proposed. PayPal was offering a pre-paid debit card, specifically for students. This offer was not targeted at college-age students, as is usually the case. Instead, this card was intended for any student 13 and older. After contemplating the pros and cons of providing a teen age student with the power of a debit card, I decided to give it a try.
My wife and I have three very active boys. My oldest is now 16. My middle son is 14. My youngest is 13. They are constantly turning to us for money for the things that teenage boys like to buy.
I ordered the cards for the boys, which are attached to my PayPal account. In a matter of days, the cards arrived in the mail. After discussing the need to handle and use the cards responsibly, the boys quickly came up with their own ideas about the potential use for these cards.
Each time we get paid, my wife and I transfer an allowance to each of the boys’ PayPal Student Cards. The process is simple. Since we linked our bank account to our PayPal account, we are quickly able to transfer money via the PayPal site. There is an option to indicate what the transaction is for. For example, each time we pay the boys their allowance, we indicate “allowance for date.” This put an end to the argument “you never gave me my allowance for…” Now we can go online together and se whether or not the allowance was paid.
The PayPal site shows us the balance on each card. It also allows us to review all purchases made by each boy. This affords us the opportunity to point out to the boys some of the purchases we feel they should think more carefully about, before making a similar purchase in the future.
The boys can also login to PayPal at anytime and can also see their purchase and transaction history. This has resulted in some changes in their spending patterns and also helped to instill in the boys, the ideas of planning and budgeting . In an emergency situation, the boys can use their cell phones to request money be added to their card. This request comes to us as a text message on our cell phones. Now when one of the boys goes over a friend’s house and unexpectedly ends up at the movie theatre or bowling alley with no money, we can effortlessly get money to them, right from our cell phones. Our boys also get a text message sent to their cell phone, every time we transfer them their allowance. This inevitably leads to a text message from the boys, simply saying thanks.
While placing their allowance on their cards can create some issues for them, by and large they love it. One issue that occurs is that although their credit agreements prevent it, some merchants insist on a minimum amount for the card to be used.
Again, there have been a lot of real-life lessons learned by the boys. In the case of the minimum charge, much as their parents have done, the boys have made note of these stores and choose to take their business elsewhere. One even pointed out, “well they just lost my business.” Granted the amount of their “business” is minimal. It is the principle they are learning about value shopping and choosing which merchants to do business with and which to stay clear of.
My wife and I will also go out of our way to avoid gas stations that charge us more for the privilege of purchasing gas with our debit card. The difference per fill up amounts to cents, not dollars. It is the principle though. Why should we frequent a merchant that charges more than a competitor for the same product?
As we find is usually the case when we put new technology in the hands of the kids, my wife and I are often surprised and impressed by the creative ways the boys come up with to use the new technology. Right away, the boys came up with the idea of using their PayPal Student card to fund their iTunes account. Even though a typical iTunes charge is minimal, prior to the cards, we had a long list of these little charges on our bank statement each month. Collectively, these minor charges added up quickly, each month. Now the boys are less likely to download a new song or video impulsively. Since the charge is coming out of their allowance (and account), they are now much more selective about what they buy.
The card can be used anywhere Visa and MasterCard are accepted. The boys have used their cards to pay for the monthly (or yearly) subscription to XBox Live. They now also use their card for making purchases on eBay or other online retailers. Again, all charges are easily reviewed online by my wife and me or the boys via any Internet browser, on any device connected to the Internet.
The moral of the story is that one mass e-mail (AKA SPAM) from PayPal, provided my wife and me with an opportunity to teach the students in our home about the value of money, decision making, prioritizing, budgeting and an efficient and effective way to utilize technology (cell phones, computers, Internet) for real-world uses.