Neither of us likes making lunches, so we had initially decided to allow him two purchased lunches per week. Later on, we re-negotiated it to three lunches, in exchange for a corresponding reduction in his allowance. However, I was having a hard time limiting him to the agreed three lunches a week. Any time he “forgot” to make his lunch, he would just get in the lunch line and he wasn’t very good about keeping track of the number of lunches in a week.
I would just write a $20 check any time he told me he was low on lunch money, so I wasn’t really keeping track very well either. I tried to pin him down to specific days of the week, but then if they had something he wanted on the menu for a different day, so he would swap around. It just wasn’t working.
I tried an online service called PayPAMS and that was kind of a mixed result. I liked that I could get a printout of his lunch activity for any period of time, but since it was after the fact, it just confirmed how many times he had “cheated” the system. However, it did give me some solid evidence to give him a couple of weeks of straight brown bagging it as punishment for his misdeeds.
I also didn’t like that it had an automatic refill option. It would automatically transfer money any time his account fell below a certain set point. It has a small fee per transfer so I always felt like I should make a larger payment each time, but it always seemed to hit at the wrong time in the pay period, so I would usually just do a $20 refill, which wasn’t cost effective for a $1.95 fee.
This year, I finally hit on a winning combination. I gave up control to him. I think that’s the trick to teaching children to be responsible about money – you have to GIVE them some money to manage! So I give him a set amount every payday that is enough for only three lunches per week. I don’t remind him to make his lunches, I don’t ask him how much is in his lunch account, and I don’t rescue him if his account runs dry. It’s wonderful!
I’ve told him to grab a couple of Cup ‘o Noodles to keep in his locker, so he won’t go totally hungry, but in typical teenage fashion, he wouldn’t do it. He says the lunch ladies won’t give him hot water for it. I know perfectly well that the lunch ladies are probably mothers themselves and aren’t likely to let a kid go hungry over a little hot water, but I guess he’ll have to figure that one out on his own.