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Raising responsible teens is definitely an on-going process, so I think you need to celebrate every possible bit of progress.  I had one particular issue I had been fighting ever since we started in Jr. High – lunch money.

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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 not make it up the next day.  Sneaky little devil.  He was getting exactly what he wanted, not having to brown bag his lunches as much.

I’m busy, so I would just write a check when 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 his favorite item was on a different day, he would just swap around.  It just wasn’t working.

I tried an online service called PayPAMS with 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 often he’d “cheated” the system.  However, it gave me some solid evidence to give him two weeks of straight brown bagging.  Crime and punishment, baby!

“I think that’s the trick to teaching children to be responsible about money – you have to GIVE them some money to manage!”

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 the wrong time in my payperiod, so I would usually just do a $20 refill.  Not very 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.

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6 Comments on Progress in the Teen Lunch Money Wars

  1. I’m laughing that his excuse is that the lunch ladies won’t give him hot water. Having a cup o noodles is exactly the kind of thing I would suggest. And I totally agree with this… the hard part is not rescuing them when they overspend. I have some trouble with this one because my spouse always leaps in and “saves the day”… and then he is upset when if someone isn’t being responsible! But I think the message is getting through, slowly but surely.

    • Yes, it definitely is a looooong process. But the good thing is that I can see the results with my two older sons who are relatively smart with their money, so at least I have some inkling that I’m on the right path.

  2. I think the strategy you’ve settled on is an excellent one. I’m so, so grateful for my parents who taught me to manage my own money and choose whether to save or spend and deal with the consequences on my own at a young age–so many of my friends my own age have serious struggles with money management, and I think a good part of that lies with never knowing how to handle money until suddenly you’re faced with college and real-world jobs. It’s good to learn young!

    • I honestly think that’s the BEST favor you can do for your kids. I hate to see parents who are spoiling their kids outrageously with no regard for the realities of life they will be leading.

  3. Hahaha, my senior this week got rides to and from school from friends as she had NO gas money for the car. That won’t happen again as it was such a pain in the Butt for HER!!!!! Neither of my kids will do school lunches, they dislike them. One takes mac and cheese to school and the other a ham and cheese sandwich and an assortment of stuff, it is an assembly line, that I dislike but what else do I do?

    I thought Christmas was slipping away this year, until the oldest was caught figuring out her budget to SPEND ON OTHERS!!!!! I was amazed. All that hard work of, budget, think of other and all the other stuff we do has paid off!!!! Your hard work at this will too, nice job.

    One other thing last year with the then Junior I was at my wits end trying to get her to hand in homework and what not. This year as a senior I said…. Look next year you want to move far away to college, and the only way you are going to be able to do that is if you are responsible for your grades.

    Well, this year I have not looked once. She looks all the time and reports back to me. BEST THING I EVER DID. So little stress involved now. Also now she cares!!!! Finally!!!!

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