I am the father of two children, Sebastian and Ethan, ages 13 and 11. My sons enjoy spending money, and we recently signed them up for their own GoHenry accounts. But as their father, I don't always understand how today's kids feel about money. So much of their lives are online nowadays... Do kids still need money? Do kids still care about money? What do kids want to spend money on in today's digital-first world? And how can parents like me help their kids make better choices about money?
The boys and I sat down to discuss money and their attitudes about money: Why they need it, what they want to do with money, what they want to spend on, how much they'd like to save, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
So, here's the million-dollar question — do kids need money? Yes, or no?
Why do you need money when I already put food on the table and keep a roof over your head? What more do you want from me?!
Ethan: Sometimes we want to maybe go with a friend to an ice cream place so we could buy ice cream.
Sebastian: I think money is a tool and people from a young age should learn how to be responsible for it and have their own spending money, so they can be kind of financially independent from their parents.
What are you interested in learning about money?
Ethan: How to save it, and when to spend the right amount.
What is the right amount? What amount of money seems like a lot to you?
How much money, to you as a kid, just seems like “Wow, that's insane?"
Ethan: Me personally, I don't think I would spend over $100 on any one thing. Maybe $200?
Sebastian: I would say $1,000.
What do you want to buy that might cost $200 or $1,000?
Ethan: Maybe an Xbox?
Sebastian: A phone. A computer. Various things online, like online shopping on Amazon.
(Note to self — keep these kids off of Amazon!) But seriously, why do kids need money in real life? Why do you need cash when so much of your lives happens online? You need money for Minecraft? Fortnite? TikTok? What are you even doing with your money?
Sebastian: Kids spend money on food with friends, time with friends, things to do with friends, friends in general.
Ethan: We're paying our friend $10 a month for a Minecraft server. It takes like $20 per month to run the server, so our friend pays half, and we pay half.
So that's all you need is $10 per month? I'm gonna hold you to that. It's in your contract now. We're putting it in writing!
Sebastian: Nope, nope! Delete that!
Do kids talk about money anymore? When I was your age, we wanted to buy snacks at school, ice cream in the school lunch line for 25 cents, and go to record stores after school to buy music on compact discs (CDs). You kids don't know what compact discs are, but they're a form of digitized music storage that existed before you were born…
Sebastian: Kids do want to buy ice cream and candy still, like in the vending machines at school.
Do kids today just live a post-money existence??
Ethan: Kind of? Maybe kids today don't talk about money that much.
Well then, that's all the more reason to learn about the right ways to use money. How about this: If I gave you $100 each, how long would you leave me alone without pestering me for more money?
Sebastian: A month.
Ethan: Two weeks.
Hmmm, this still seems like a pretty cheap deal. Good bargain! Good value! OK, how about this: What if I give you some money, and then I ask for a loan. How about that deal? Would you be willing to lend money to your dad? How high of an interest rate? Am I creditworthy?
Sebastian: How much would that loan be? If it were less than the amount of money you gave us, I'd say yes. If it was more, I'd say more.
Ethan: You're already the one who pays our allowance, so I don't think this is going to work. It's like the bank asking for a loan.
How much is your allowance?
Ethan: $10 a week.
Sebastian: I get paid $12 a week.
Ethan: You do??
Clearly, none of us know what's going on here. I need to have better financial management of my own house. So basically, kids don't need money, and I'm wasting my life by giving you an allowance, which is just piling up in the corner of your room, gathering cobwebs.
Ethan: Kids use Steam and Epic, for video games and online purchases.
Sebastian: Kids use money to buy video games and micro-transactions. Like in Fortnite, there are V-bucks, which can be purchased with real-life currency.
Ethan: Or kids will use money to buy premium versions of services, like Discord Nitro or YouTube Premium. Some kids subscribe to their favorite Twitch streamer, which sometimes costs money.
Living in the future — it's fascinating! What are some big-ticket items that you want to save for? How long would it take to save that money for yourself out of your own allowance, instead of constantly asking me for more money, despite all the good things I do for you out of the kindness of my heart?
Ethan: There are some cool games I saw on Steam. Oh! A VR headset! Like an Oculus Rift. Those cost like $400, so I would save up for that. That might take like 40 weeks to save up for, but it would be worth it.
Sebastian: Maybe a boom arm microphone. I think those cost like $150 or $250 with the wall mount. I would just get the cheaper sticky wall mount. It's better microphone quality.
Ethan: I would also maybe save up for a wireless headset; that's maybe $100.
Sebastian: You realize this is like an entire year of your allowance, right?
Ethan: I'm planning for the future!
That's actually a really good point, Ethan! Saving is about planning for the future. When you save money, it's like giving your future self a big pile of money. So, if you save today, Future Ethan is going to be able to buy that VR headset. Saving money is like a time machine. You're sending money to your Future Self.
Sebastian: Oh, and I also want to buy a series of books, “Keeper of the Lost Cities," and donate them to the school library.
That's another great point – giving money away. Why do you think it's important for kids to give money away?
Sebastian: Kids don't have all the expenses that adults have, so maybe it's easier to give some money away.
Ethan: It's expensive to support a family, and kids only need to worry about themselves. Kids don't have house payments. Kids don't have many expenses so we should be able to save and give money away too.
Sebastian: Also, kids don't have to worry about taxes.
That's true, you've got the rest of your life to worry about taxes and house payments. So, are you using your new GoHenry cards? What do you think of it so far?
Ethan: It was easy! It works like a regular debit card, just how Mom does it when she buys something online for me. It's easier than cash that you have to carry around – if you have cash, what if you get robbed or something?! No one else knows your PIN on the GoHenry card, so it's safe.
Before we got our GoHenry card, we couldn't buy video games without asking Mom to do it, but now we can ask for permission to buy the game, and then we can do it ourselves.
Sebastian: It felt really good to have my own card, it was quite a big deal. It worked right away. It works like a MasterCard debit card. I don't know a lot of other kids who have a card like this yet, but I really am glad to have it. I'm 13 now, and I see myself using this GoHenry card for the next five years. It's a good transition step toward financial independence.
Can you use your GoHenry card to buy your dad some coffee, or maybe some lunch? I'm a little short this week...
What do your kids want from their money? Tweet @gohenry with #kidstalkmoney to share what your kids are saying.