Do prepaid lunch cards ruin the responsibility of lunch money?

When my kids first started school I loved the idea of the prepaid lunch accounts. You filled it up at the beginning of the year or quarter and you didn’t have to worry about it each day. They couldn’t lose it, and you didn’t have to fumble bleary eyed each morning to find the right change.

However, as the years have passed I’ve started the think the prepaid accounts take away a good opportunity for kids to learn to be responsible with money.

For part of this year I switched my kids to change brought each day in their little pockets for their lunch money.

We liked the challenge of finding the right change each morning. Plus it was valuable practice for my 7-year-old in counting out change.  It was a challenge for him to keep up with the money, or he end up with a cheese sandwich (what the school gives kids without lunch money).

It also kept him from buying two lunches. You can’t set a daily amount online with this lunch account so my lovely son would purchase two lunches each day. I could provide a heck of a lunch for the $4 he was spending each day. When I would send lunch he would always forget to bring it to the lunch room. I finally took the hint: He wanted to buy lunch. So I gave him exact change.

For the last few weeks of school I’ve put some money back into their accounts because I’ve run out of change. (My change jar is empty!) My experiment is over, but I would do it again next year, and I do think it’s a good exercise for kids in responsibility.

Have prepaid lunch cards taken away an opportunity for kids to be responsible with money? Is the convenience worth losing that lesson? What are other ways to teach little kids responsibility with money?

49 comments Add your comment

jarvis

April 26th, 2011
12:19 pm

Currency won’t exist when our kids are 50. Look how far we’ve come in replacing all of the hard currency with electronic forms of payment.

When they are 10 or so have them keep up with the record keeping of the lunch account. Make them come to you when it needs to be replenished. The accounts are better practice for their future in my humble opinion.

HB

April 26th, 2011
12:30 pm

Do you have to prepay for a whole year or quarter or can you pay as you go? If the latter, why not pay weekly, and if the child overspends by Thursday or Friday, he’s out of luck. Wouldn’t that teach responsibility as well as change in a pocket does? I think jarvis is correct that being equipped to keep track of e-purchases and record keeping is better prep for the future.

DB

April 26th, 2011
12:33 pm

So, basically, the lunch card is their very first credit card? :-)

I have to admit, I like the idea of their grubby little hands having to pull the change out of their pockets. There’s something very visceral about handing over cold, hard cash for something that makes you hyper-aware of exactly how much something is costing you. :-)

RJ

April 26th, 2011
12:46 pm

I remember keeping my lunch money to buy junk food after school. Especially once I hit middle school. I love paying online since I rarely ever carry cash. My kids learn responsibility with their allowance. If their account is low, I always get a text in the morning from them. I’m just glad they’re eating lunch every day. My son ets breakfast at school too! My daughter’s lunches are ridiculous. She spends $5 on school lunch! When I look at her account I see ala carte items. For the life of me I can’t figure out why a chicken sandwich at school is $3. She could drive to Chick-fil-a down the street and get a real chicken sandwich for that price.

Stacey

April 26th, 2011
1:03 pm

My son’s school has always had lunch accounts where you can pay how you want (weekly, monthly, etc) and I would always add money monthly. The only thing he had to do was to give his ID# (which is also the number they use for the school library). Since I pay it online, my son honestly thought his lunch was free. He would sometimes eat what he brought from home and get a tray in the lunch room. They sent home a note a couple of weeks ago saying that they changed the company they used for online payments so now we can see if they eat breakfast and/or lunch, get extra, etc which you couldn’t do on the old system.

My son is very careless with money so I try not to give him cash if I can avoid it. I’ve given in cash a couple of time to pay for activities ($3-$5) only for him to come home and say he must have dropped it and need more. I would even put the money a separate zippered or velcro pocket if he wears cargo pants but he still manages to lose it. I now make him earn the replacement money and he’s slightly more responsible. My guess is he takes the money out to show off that he has some someone takes it from him.

BlondeHoney

April 26th, 2011
1:12 pm

My boys were pre-lunch card in school, and every Monday they got their lunch money for the entire week; it was up to them to budget their money and if they overspent & didn’t have enough for the week, oh well. I like HB’s solution but at the same time, i also agree with DB in that there’s nothing like cold hard cash to teach you the value of what you’re getting

JJ

April 26th, 2011
1:25 pm

In high school, they offered on-line payments for lunches. I was sent a notice if the balance got too low. She did eat lunches at the school once in a while. But normally she took her lunch. She didn’t want to stand in the very long lines for 20 minutes, then have to wolf down her lunch in 10 minutes…..

If you want your kids to be responsible with money, start paying them for their chores. Keep a chore chart, and pay them weekly. I set up a system for my daughter like that. We had a white board in the kitchen, and down the left side were certain chores, and along the top were the days of the week. If she emptied the dishwasher on Friday, she would put a “check” in that column.

I paid on Fridays. Each chore had a different price. It was up to her as to how much money she would make that week. If she chose not to do any chores, no money. If she did ALL the chores she got all the money. As she got older, the intensity of the chores hardened. When she was in Middle School, she started doing yard work. Mowing the lawn paid way more than vacuuming the upstairs.

If she did any chores on her own that weren’t on the list, she penned them in on the bottom of the chart and she got “bonus” money. It not only taught her responsibility, it got her off her lazy butt and motivated her.

The other lesson that came with that, was she had to spend her own money when we would go out to the mall. I bought clothes and all the necessity items, but if she wanted something “fun” it came out of her pocket. Amazing what she didn’t have to have once it came out of her own pocket….LOL.

JJ

April 26th, 2011
1:26 pm

Bullies won’t beat you up for your lunch card…..LOL.

RJ

April 26th, 2011
1:32 pm

I remember saving my lunch money for junk food after school once I hitmiddle school. I love paying online. I rarely have cash so my kids usually got a check, not actual money. They learn how to handle money with their allowance. Frankly I’m glad that they’re eating because I just didn’t like school lunch. My son eats breakfast and lunch at school. That works for me because I leave at 6:45 every morning. My daughter does have time to make herself breakfast. What I hate is how much my daughter’s lunches cost. She spends almost $5 a day for lunch because everything is ala carte. They do offer regular lunches for kids with free and reduced lunch, but she swears it just awful.

Young@Heart

April 26th, 2011
1:48 pm

Funny you mention this today….I have asked my boys ages 12&10 to please check their lunch balance because I had a feeling it was getting low. Our school doesn’t offer an online payment or viewing system….12 comes home and says “OMG mom I didn’t have any money on my account and I forgot to eat breakfast this morning so when I went through the line I had to put my stuff back and they gave me 1 piece of bread and a milk! Then at lunch it was my favorite and I had to go to the back where they gave me a 3 day old Peanut butter and Jelly sandwich, an orange and a milk!”….I grinned and said “how many times since spring break have I asked you to check your balance and you told me you had enough?” Lets just say he has to learn the hard way, but he was held accountable and I bet he doesn’t let that happen again. Maybe mom isn’t as clueless as he thinks?
I tried sending money with them but to many kids scam these days with sad stories or the girls OMG….who is teaching them its ok to get money from boys by age 10?…ugh blows my mind, future gold diggers.
Also 10 mentioned with pride “my friend Joe doesn’t ever have to give money his is always free Why don’t we get free lunch mom?.” I answered nicely that not all families are able to afford hot lunch….which then makes me angry….Why don’t they get fed the 1 piecs of bread and stale sandwiches?

JJ

April 26th, 2011
1:53 pm

RJ – That’s $100/month just for lunches for one person, with no real nutrional value. Why doesn’t your daughter take her lunch? It would be much cheaper and healthier!!! Buy an insulated lunch bag and one of those blue freezer things to keep stuff cold. We used brown paper lunch bags, because my daughter didn’t want to keep up with the insulated bag. She would take some fruit, a peanut butter sandwich (she doesn’t like jelly), maybe some potato chips or crackers, plus an extra little snack for afternoons, since her lunch was at 10:30. I spent about $10/week on lunch supplies.
That’s $60 in savings a month.

I myself spend about $15 a week on lunches. I go to Publix on Mondays on my way into work, and buy a loaf of good bakery bread (Five Grain Italian), some lunch meat and cheese, a bag of salad, 1/2 gallon of milk, some fresh fruit, and a few yogurts. I keep it all here at work, we have a full size refrigerator.

I used to spend anywhere from $5-7 a day on lunches out. Now I make my lunch, and if its a nice day, I’ll go meet a friend in the park and we’ll eat together………

JJ

April 26th, 2011
2:09 pm

I seriously doubt the school gave your child a 3 day old stale sandwich.

Lori

April 26th, 2011
2:28 pm

Although I would trust my 7 year old with money, he’s had other kids steal stuff from his bookbag before, so it’s the other kids I don’t trust. I’d rather just have the card so I can be sure he gets to eat everyday. I can teach him fiscal responsibility on my own time. When I can’t be there with him at school, I would rather do whatever I could to make sure he was taken care of, so if that meant keeping a lunch card full, then that’s what I’d do.

Young@Heart

April 26th, 2011
2:28 pm

JJ- He’s 12, and in his mind still hungry wanting what everyone else had. Even kids who NEVER have to pay didn’t have to eat that or be served in the back like he was an outcast…I was relaying what he said, and that he learned his lesson to check his account!
RJ Says that her child thinks the Reduced/free lunches are awful too and I’m sure there are others out there that don’t like school “substitute lunches”….I’ve heard students complain about school lunches since I was in school, so I am inclined to believe it wasn’t the best sandwich he’s ever had.

Stacey

April 26th, 2011
2:44 pm

Young@Heart…My son’s school allows you to charge up to $5 once you run out of money and once that is gone they don’t offer an alternative breakfast at all and lunch is a cheese sandwich (hunk of unmelted american cheese on white bread) and no milk. Once when he was in 2nd grade I simply forgot to send his money and they would only give him the alternative lunch and he doesn’t eat american cheese nor does he drink milk. They also serve it on a different color tray (IMO) to humiliate them by making it obvious that it’s the alternative lunch. His teacher saw him crying and not eating and demanded that they give him a tray because she also pointed out that if he received free lunch he could have eaten the regular meal. The cafeteria manager swore that they had sent multiple notes home saying that his balance was low (they didn’t have online payments at that time) but his teacher truthfully told them that all notes from the school went through the classroom teacher to put in the kids’ folders and she had not ever received a notice about his lunch balance.

motherjanegoose

April 26th, 2011
2:46 pm

Both of mine ate school lunch 90% of the time. It was always an option for them to make their own things here but they never could get it together. I did not do it for them since I worked/traveled and they needed to be responsible for lunch themselves, from middle school on.

Before the prepaid cards, I would write a check to the school for $50 or so per child, at open house.
Then, my two would let me know when their account was running low.

During the past few years in HS, our daughter had her account online.

She has almost made it through her first year at UGA and still has several thousand dollars in her account that is managed by her alone. ( she can choose to spend it or not …I do not look at the account and she is the one who funds it). She has also made her own car payments all along, with no glitch. I am not convinced that the lunch thing is linked to financial responsibility in all children but I could be wrong! There are many other ways to demonstrate financial prudence IMHO.

Lucy…I candidly replied to your last comment on the Intelligent Spouse blog from yesterday. Maybe others will be honest about their lives too :).

RJ

April 26th, 2011
2:53 pm

@JJ, she used to take her lunches when she was younger because I couldn’t afford tuition and lunch. One day, I think she was in the 2nd grade, a little girl said, “she throws her sandwich away everyday”. Huh? She fessed up and said that the bread was squishy in the plastic bag. I tried aluminum foil, and that worked for a while. We’ve always had issues with her eating, so since she seems to enjoy school lunches and likes the selection I no longer give her grief about it. It was hard to digest at first.

The school lunches at my school are horrible. Sometimes it doesn’t even look edible. I feel sorry for the kids because we are 99% free lunch. It’s really shameful.

JJ

April 26th, 2011
2:54 pm

@Stacey – so ALL the kids at that school who get the “alternative” lunch get different colored trays to humilate them? Do you really think that’s why they do it? Maybe it’s so the cashiers will know that child can’t pay……I really don’t think the schools are trying to humilate any child who can’t pay for lunch……

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
3:00 pm

When I grew up, I was a brown bagger. That’s how we learned responsibility. It was cheaper, thus we saved money….Or in our case, did not have the money.

Young@Heart

April 26th, 2011
3:02 pm

Thank you Stacey…I believe he learned a valuable lesson the hard way, however I disagree with the school proceedure, I asked him why they wouldn’t let him charge 1 day and he said since its at the end of the year they don’t let anyone charge after April 18th. All I could say was the ole I told you so & you could have called and we would have brought you some lunch money. I felt bad for him, but I believe MotherJane is correct after Middle School they should be somewhat responsible, but not humiliated.

Stacey

April 26th, 2011
3:04 pm

@JJ…Yes ALL of the kids who get alternative lunch get a red tray and yes, I HONESTLY think they do it to humilate them. The cashier knows that they kids don’t have the money on their accounts because she is the one who turns them away with the regular tray because they can’t pay. I’m not claiming to know with absolute certainty that this the reason for the red tray; just stating my opinion.

motherjanegoose

April 26th, 2011
3:05 pm

When I taught school, I always told my students,
“Do NOT throw your uneaten food away. If you do not like it and throw it in the trash, your parents will think you ate it. If you bring it home, they will ask what the problem was.”

Yes, it might look yucky in the lunch box but at least you know they did not eat what you packed them.

Most little kids, who toss their lunch, do not remember to say:

Oh BTW I did not like what you packed me to eat and so I threw it away.

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
3:09 pm

What school purposely humiliates children? What proof do you have the this is why they have red trays?

Some people are so paranoid.

Young@Heart

April 26th, 2011
3:12 pm

JJ-Why so mean today….The kids who get free lunch don’t get different trays while Struggling Military families have income just enough to not qualify, and would be embarrassed by the school this was as “Can’t pay”….If Lunch money is a teaching tool for money then what are the free lunchers learning?

JJ

April 26th, 2011
3:13 pm

Why on earth would anyone, especially a school administrator/employee WANT to humilate a child, because of their parent’s financial position? What kind of a message does that send? “Oh Johnny’s parents are poor so let’s humilate him in front of all the other kids.”

Let’s go one step further, and make him sit at a special table…..

Then, the kids with normal trays won’t sit with the kids with the red trays because it’s too humilating to be seen with a poor kid…..????? OMG the horrors. So now all the poor kids are separated taught to be inferior…..OK I get it…..and you wonder why kids are mean in middle school??????

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
3:16 pm

Don’t you know JJ….It’s the evil govrement( I know, I spelled it wrong). They take your tax money to spend on themselves, but not on the children, then they go out of their way to humiliate them so they know who is in charge.

Young@Heart

April 26th, 2011
3:22 pm

Also, many Free Lunch kids receive Food Stamp benefits for their families, which is a much larger grocery budget than my family gets from our paychecks to pay for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. If the school feeds them Breakfast and Lunch for free 5 days a week thats all extra money for their grocery carts. This is a touchy subject for me so I am going to stop now. Bye all

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
3:23 pm

Stacey

April 26th, 2011
3:26 pm

@JJ & Enemas…As I said, I’m not claiming to have proof of anything. I’m simply stating my opinion which, whether you like it or agree with it or not, I’m entitled to. Wonderful to know that you live in a perfect world where adults and school administrators don’t lie, make mistakes nor humiliate kids. Maybe I will get to visit there one day.

Becky

April 26th, 2011
3:27 pm

There are other ways to teach them, so not a big concern for me..They usually help me out with budgets when they want something and I tell them that what they want isn’t in their budget…

I can send money in with mine and not really worry about it..They both are very good about bringing me change and or telling me what happened to it if they don’t..The girl saves her money and if I give her $2-3 at the first of the week, it will last her most of the week..The boy is usually needing to borrow from her..

@MJG..I took my lunch to school when I was in the first grade..The only thing was in my mind, I thought that my little brother wasn’t getting fed at home, so I would take my lunch home to him everyday..Needless to say, he was eating better than I was..

JJ

April 26th, 2011
3:28 pm

@Young – I’m not trying to be mean, just trying to understand the logic of Stacey’s posts. She stated that she thought the kids were being humilated by having different colored trays, because their parents can’t pay for lunch. They don’t know their circumstances. And I have read your 3:12 post several times, and I can’t make heads or tails of it.

I’m really not a mean person….just trying to understand….

JJ

April 26th, 2011
3:31 pm

Stacey – I never said they lied or didn’t make mistakes. I don’t live in a perfect world, none of us do. I was trying to understand your logic in that they purposely “humilate” the kids who’s parents cannot pay for lunches.

JD

April 26th, 2011
3:34 pm

JJ – Don’t you get tired of eating a sandwich everday?? I tried the bagged lunch and it lasted about a week until I didn’t want to look at another sandwich and yes, I mixed it up with chicken salad one day, ham another etc. but it was still a sandwich…ugh

JJ

April 26th, 2011
3:41 pm

@JD – no I love sandwiches, especially with the wonderful selections of bread these days. I love Publix’s fresh baked bread. And I do shake it up a bit. One week I’ll make a big batch of chicken salad (using a Publix rotissierie chicken, Mojo is my fav), the next week it will be ham and cheese, another it may be bologna. And there’s always a salad with it. I like to read while I’m eating and sandwiches aren’t very messy….My mom always made us sandwiches for lunch, so I guess its ingrained into me…..

JJ

April 26th, 2011
3:51 pm

Great, now I’m craving chicken salad…..off to Publix I guess….

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
3:51 pm

Sometimes, a sandwich is all some can afford. You eat what you can get.

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
4:02 pm

We got PB&J sandwiches, a banana and off brand corn chips for lunch. It was that or nothing. At the time, it sucked but looking back, it helped me appreciate what my parents went through and it helped me understand thrift.

Becky

April 26th, 2011
4:05 pm

I’m with JD, can’t deal with a sandwhich every day..I have never cared for them much and I sure don’t want to eat one if I don’t have to..

Stacey, I see your point..If they aren’t trying to humilate them, why give them a red tray? Since about 99% of the kids at our school get free lunches, guess that’s why I haven’t ever seen kids with a different color tray..

motherjanegoose

April 26th, 2011
4:21 pm

We had a special lunch day when I was in elementary school…once a month ( otherwise we ate a sandwich) :

Hot Dogs, Potato Chips, a chocolate frosted donut and a small bottle of coke ( the old fashioned kind)

whenever I am reminded of it, I know the dieticians ( sp?) would have a fit with that today!

Lori

April 26th, 2011
4:23 pm

Are there schools out there that still allow PB&J’s brought from home? My son can’t bring peanut products to school. And he hates cold meat sandwiches.

Enemas from China

April 26th, 2011
4:27 pm

I remember once a year, during 1st through 4th grade, we got to have sloppy Joes at the near by church. It was always a big deal. The church paid for it, but they always gave me the runs!

Becky

April 26th, 2011
4:45 pm

@Lori..My two can bring them in the school they go to in Cobb County..I had to ask first though if any of the children had peanut allergies..So far, haven’t had any problems..My big problem with them taking lunches is that the girl likes to take salami and I haven’t figured out how to keep her mayo cold..They both have insulated lunchboxes, but I don’t send it in a container as they have nothing to spread it with..

lwa

April 26th, 2011
5:14 pm

For each child, I put a certain amount of money on their account every two weeks when I get paid. If they run out before I get paid, then they are out of luck. They have the option of taking lunch or going hungry.

catlady

April 26th, 2011
6:52 pm

Speaking from the school’s point of view, the pre-loaded cards are great. There is no crying about lunch money. There is no stolen lunch money. There is not lunch money converted to snacks instead of lunch. Even more important, THERE IS NO HOLDING UP THE LUNCH LINE WHILE THE LAST NICKLE IS SEARCHED FOR. Please, Theresa, you can teach your child responsibility in many, many ways that don’t have a couple of hundred kids waiting to sit down and eat for their 18 minutes!

With Walsh’s “appropriation” of lunch money, what did you do? Laugh it off? Say, “He’s all boy.”? Or did you let him work some extra, menial jobs to repay the money? That would have been a teaching moment for sure.

catlady

April 26th, 2011
7:17 pm

Our school used to just let kids charge and charge. “Can’t blame them for their parents not paying?” We had parents owing hundreds of dollars. Then, last year, they began enforcing the 5 charges then a sandwich rule, and–surprise, surprise–there were almost no charges past 5 days! But then they decided it was too much trouble to separate the ones on overcharge and they couldn’t let kids get food and then put it back…so… they are back to letting the charges build up and they are tens of thousands in arrears now, and begging parents in the local paper to pay. Realize we have 75% of the kids on free lunch already (the lunchroom gets more money for “free” lunch than for full pay).

We have breakfast and lunch provided free for 450 . In the summer ANY KID under 18, no matter the financial status, can come to spots around the county and eat. IN ADDITION, parents can request that the kids come home on the weekend with backpacks with food for the weekend. And in addition, the Girl Scouts put together a week’s worth of breakfast and lunches for spring break.

Then we have a church group that provides free lunch 5 days a week to anyone, a couple of other churches that have a food bank once a week, and a food bank that provides a box of food each month for quite a few families.

JATL

April 26th, 2011
11:56 pm

I give my oldest (youngest isn’t old enough yet) an allowance. He can save it, spend it -whatever. He’s really learning to manage money that way, and it’s great for me because whenever we’re in a store and the inevitable want list starts, I help him figure out how many weeks of allowance he would need to save to pay for the item -including the tax. He just turned 5, but he’s really getting the hang of it!

motherjanegoose

April 27th, 2011
2:54 am

shaggy

April 27th, 2011
6:38 am

I use the the Ron White method. I just pin a $5.00 bill to his collar every Monday and put him on the bus. Funny thing is, he usually comes home with three fives in his pocket. I guess he uses mine like a fishing lure. He is a smart kid. He wants to be an illegal immigrant, because it sounds dangerous.

a reader

April 27th, 2011
7:50 am

well, for older child pre-paid works great. for younger child someone got their student id #, and the cafeteria ladies didn’t check, so we ran through the money pretty fast because of unauthorized usage. so I’m not sure, these days, where I stand on this issue.