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Baby's First Debit Card

Baby’s First Debit Card

By Mir Kamin

When my brother and I were small—more than 5, I’d guess, but less than 10—my mother took us downtown to our local bank and opened savings accounts for us. They came with little passbooks that probably don’t exist anymore, and every time I made a deposit, the teller would stick a page of the passbook into a machine and it would record the transaction, plus it would tell me how much interest I’d earned since my last transaction and my total account balance.

I loved that passbook with my whole heart. It felt so very grown-up and official!

I was in middle school when the proliferation of ATMs began. My parents remarked on how handy their new cash cards were. I was babysitting several nights a week and finally had something beyond allowance and birthday money to manage, so I asked my mother if I could get an ATM card for my savings account. “I don’t see why not,” she said. “We’ll go to the bank and get you one.” But when we went to the bank, they said that only checking accounts could have ATM cards. I seem to recall there was some spirited discussion over why this was so and whether or not they could make an exception, and finally my mother sighed and said, “Okay, that’s fine. She’d like to open a checking account, then.”

They didn’t argue. I was 13, and I had my first checking account (complete with the coveted ATM card).

Now, I probably didn’t write a check off of that account until I went to college, but as a high-schooler with my own ATM card (a rarity at the time), I felt pretty fancy. No more “can you take me to the bank before it closes” if I wanted to deposit my babysitting spoils or withdraw spending money. It was a brave new world.

Fast forward to the digital age:

My kids have had savings accounts in their names since they were born, practically, only I created them through an online bank, so it’s all managed via the Internet. I have no idea where the physical bank even is. (Or if it exists in brick and mortar at all! I suppose it must, somewhere.) Those accounts are their “savings you do not touch without permission” accounts, earmarked for college and/or buying a car, when the time comes. That’s where a designated percentage of their allowance goes straight off the top, and so far as the kids are concerned, that money may as well not exist. As for their allowance and birthday money type things, we have shared Google spreadsheets to manage their funds, and when they wish to make a purchase (more and more often, on eBay or Amazon or Etsy) or withdraw money, I handle it and update the spreadsheet. It works.

But now the kids are teens, and college is just a couple of years off (*gulp*), and my oldest does a lot of school competitions and such where she ends up needing to buy lunch or dinner and we’re always scrambling to give her cash as she’s on her way out the door. “You know,” she said, “this would be a whole lot easier if I had a debit card.” And… she’s right.

I did some research online—it looked like my bank was willing to do free “student” checking accounts for teens if I linked them to my accounts—and one afternoon we headed to the bank.

Here I must pause and tell you that my son is a saver and a careful spender, and money burns a hole in my daughter’s pocket. I swear they’ve been raised in the same house with the same sensibilities, and some of this must be inborn. Whenever my son wants a new, expensive video game (rarely), he has the money for it. Whenever my daughter wants something more expensive than a candy bar (all the time), she gives up before she saves enough. For either spending style, though, I figured their own local accounts with debit cards would be good practice. Right? Right!

Turns out that my bank only grants those student accounts to kids 16+. I have no idea why. My son—under the required age, and indignant about it—managed to make a couple of snide remarks about arbitrary rules and how he’s a much better with money than his sister, anyway, and I tried to squelch my laughter as he huffed his way back over to the waiting area. We got my daughter set up in about fifteen minutes, and then the nice banker helping us tried to sell me on overdraft protection. “It’s free unless you use it! You know, in case she gets stuck on a remote road with a blowout and has to buy a new tire but doesn’t have enough money in her account!” he insisted.

“First of all,” I said, partly to him, but mostly for my daughter’s benefit, “her stepdad and I would both have to be dead for her to be in that sort of situation with no one available to help her. And second, she is going to maintain a minimum balance which she will not touch except in case of emergency, otherwise I will close her account.” She nodded, next to me, aware of the gravity of these rules. “And finally,” I added, “overdraft protection is not free, because the fees you are charged if you do use it are exorbitant. Proper money management is a better strategy.” He backed down. I felt self-righteous. A debit card is a big deal; better for me to be overbearing and rulebook-thumping now than for my kid to experience the kind of financial pit so many college students end up falling into when they don’t realize that little card needs to have real money to back it up.

Her card arrived in the mail a week later, and she’s enchanted with it. It’s a symbol of adulthood, I guess, and one step closer to that independence that’s both alluring and terrifying. How does she put it through a swipe machine? What if she does it the wrong way? I assured her that plenty of full-grown adults who’ve had debit cards for decades occasionally swipe them through the machine backwards. It’s no big deal. How would we give her food money now? Would we put it right into her account? That’s so cool, and then she wouldn’t be stuck throwing change in the bottom of her bag, never to be seen again.

She signed her name on the back and tucked the card into her wallet with reverence. “I feel so grown up!” she said.

“Shhhhhhhh,” I said. I know that she’s still likely to buy a “lunch” of a milkshake and fries with it, and for now, that’s fine by me. There’s no rush; it’s all happening fast enough, already.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • […] adult in the not-too-distant future. That’s weird, right? I think it is. We lived, and I wrote about it for Alpha Mom, because there’s no spot in the baby book to record Baby’s First Debit […]

  • kopi-susu

    August 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Secret bonus! – if you guys have linked accounts, and you can see her account online, you can see where she’s spending her money. And I know this, not because I’m snooping, but because another part of teaching money management is sitting down once a month-ish, usually when I’m doing my accounts, and reviewing the bank statement with your kid. 

    So you talk about being sure all the charges are legit, and that can go into where the money went (starbucks, you own my child & her friends) and whether that was where your kid wanted it to go…

    Baby steps, but I want my daughter know her choices decide whether she controls her money or vice versa. She likes the freedom to spend but is realizing it comes with a price (har)

    • Mir Kamin

      August 19, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      Excellent points!

  • Dena at Chai & Home

    August 19, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    There are no passbooks anymore?! I’ve got a meeting booked at my bank to get my 6 1/2 year old an account for the money he’s earning in his business (yes, I can’t believe he has a thriving business at 6 1/2!) and I never thought he wouldn’t have one of those passbooks I had. *sniff*

    • Pippa

      August 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

      FYI, I just opened a savings account recently and I received a little passbook. Obviously, you record your transactions yourself (and manually) these days but yes, they do exist. Now, I opened one in a credit union so I can’t say if banks still do this or not. Kudos to your son, making and learning about money so young!

  • Ally

    August 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    My son in a few weeks shy of turning 7. He hoards money. He hasn’t spent any in over 2 years. We are big into goals in our house and he really wants to go to Australia. He sat down with an advisor at Edward Jones this month and decided to invest his money. It’s been so much fun to watch all of this unfold. I wonder how this will play out if he continues this path. Teaching proper budgeting skills is such an important thing for us to teach our children.

    • Mir Kamin

      August 19, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      Holy cow, Ally, that’s pretty impressive for a 6-year-old!! Good for him!

  • Lucinda

    August 19, 2014 at 4:59 pm

    Personality definitely plays a big part in money management.  My kids are much like yours.  My daughter can’t spend it fast enough while my son typically has at least $100 saved up.  They use the bank of Mom and I keep track in a check register.  It works well for my son but my daughter eventually decided she needed the cash in hand so she could see the $20 turn into $5 when she spent it.  Since that decision, she usually has enough money for her short-term goals and lives without the big stuff. I appreciate that she understands how her brain works and what she is willing to give up for instant gratification. 

  • My Kids Mom

    August 19, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    My sister and I were like Monkey and Chickie, taught the same money values but were dramatically different in actual life skill. But, at age 50, after a divorce, she’s getting the hang of it! There is hope!

    My kids both seem to be savers so far; few wants. We have a virtual “bank of dad” and they take money in cash some months, virtually other months. I hope they get it.

    btw, “bank of dad” is a formal program to teach money use including investments etc.

  • Stef

    August 19, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    At the ripe old age of 16 my mom consigned on a Visa card for me. I was SO cool and felt so grown up.

    We went on a school trip to Hawai’i and back in the 90’s the only option for spending money was travelers cheques or cash, neither which felt too desirable to us. So a credit card (with a $500 limit) it was. I had to save all the money I was going to spend in advance then pay it off in full once I got the bill. What a great way to talk about interest and spending and saving for a goal.

  • Wendy E

    August 19, 2014 at 11:18 pm

    My daughter got her first debit card when she got her first checking account, right after getting her first job. It was an awful lot of first all at once. I have her account on my online banking so I can see what she spends. I don’t snoop much, but we have it that way so I can transfer money into her account. With her heading off to college on Sunday (GASP) I need a way to get her money if needed, and I still owe her for babysitting her brother and sister all summer.

    PS, my kids opened their savings accounts at our bank about 3 years ago and got passbooks, so some banks still have them.

  • Kira

    August 19, 2014 at 11:44 pm

    Before debit cards became a thing, my parents maintained a bank for us in their dresser drawer. If we wanted to make a withdrawal, we had to fill out a check from our “checkbooks” and cash it at the “bank”. We could also make deposits the same way with our “deposit slips”. Then later on, we got a Visa Buxx card (which a quick Google shows still exists!) which is basically like a prepaid debit card…but was loaded automatically with our allowance and such and works just like a Visa debit card. We were the cool kids as far as we were concerned, and my parents were teaching us money management. Win-win!

  • Brigitte

    August 20, 2014 at 12:23 am

    My baby girl still has a passbook!

  • Katie in MA

    August 20, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    My parents taught us very little about money management (although my mom taught me LOTS about clipping coupons and living on a VERY small budget) – certainly nothing as far as household management, savings, retirement, etc. So it’s very important to me to involve the girls and teach them young. Love lots of ideas in the comments!

  • Nelson's Mama

    August 20, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Other secret bonus!  When she gets her license you can transfer money to her and send her to the grocery!! 

  • Chris

    August 22, 2014 at 11:33 am

    We got the capital one 360 teen accounts (used to be ING – I am not affiliated and sure some other online banks are similar).  They had a $25 bonus for opening the account and as someone else mentioned, I can transfer money directly from my accounts and now do that for their allowance and get notices of what they spend.  I have been very quiet about the notices since we did establish guidelines and they are supposed to be able to spend their allowance on whatever they want. It has come in handy for unexpected expenses including birthday presents or legitimate school things that we had agree they needed but I wasn’t there when they were at the store.  

    I think it is very good to get for teenages and much better to learn those hard money lessons (including overdrafts) now

  • Brenda

    September 2, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    I had one of those passbooks for my savings account, something I had before I knew what money was. I had a steady part-time job from the end of 8th grade until I left for college, and I remember opening up my first checking account. My dad said he’d pay for my first checks since it was a special thing, but I didn’t realize that they use money from the account to pay for them and overdrafted the very first time I wrote a check. The bank people were nice enough to remove the charge, and I was off and running on my way to money management! I recently bought a wallet that makes me feel Grown Up every time I use it, because it reminds me of the one my mom had when I was little. Room for cash, cards, and my check book. I still write an average of 6 checks a month, and when I ordered new checks I indulged in whimsy and ordered Disney Princess checks.

  • Teenage Sons

    October 7, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Passbooks are still around!!

    It’s a great thing to teach your teenager about money early on. It seems like you have done that Mir. A lot of young people are so impressed with money when they receive their first check they just want to spend most of it on clothes or trips. And keep in mind, and I’m sure most parents know this, teens watch your every move. If they see you handling your money with care, and attempt to grow your money with different types of investment vehicles, they’ll likely do the same. It’s OK to bring in your teen on some of the financials in your life to show them what it means to have a budget, direct deposit, what a financial adviser is, and how a bank work. Or you can have them sit down with a banker.

    Anyway, in general, it can be hard for a parent to allow their teen to have any type of responsibility with money. But, with trust and educating your teen, it will give them a lot of head way to understanding money and how to use it responsibly.