Things I Know 283 of 365: Financial literacy is digital too

It’s never too early to teach kids about properly managing their money.

Ken Chaplin, senior vice president of Experian Consumer Direct

I spent a bit of time this evening checking out the Secret Millionaires Club. The site from Warren Buffett is designed to help kids build financial literacy and provide parents and teachers with resources for building those skills. The few cartoons I watched kept my attention and embedded their message in an easily-understood manner. If I were bringing up a kid or teaching basic personal finance in 2005, I’d definitely use the site.

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The other day, I walked in to my local coffee shop for a muffin and a coffee. The sign hanging from the register alerted my fellow patrons and I we could only pay with cash. Through some mixup with the phone system, the line was dead and credit card purchases couldn’t be processed.

I had no cash.

I still managed to get my muffin and coffee with no cash changing hands. I didn’t even have to wash dishes.

I pulled out my phone, opened my LevelUp app and the store’s cell phone snapped a pic of my personalized QR code. Seconds later, I received a text with my digital receipt (preset tip included). Later, I found a matching e-mail for my records. Each time I spend $60 at the shop, I earn a $6 credit.

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A few weeks ago, I was at dinner with some friends and learned about Venmo. Users set up an account and are able to network payments to friends. The idea here is making it easier to move money back and forth when you split a check over anything. If you carry a balance from friends when you picked up the check, that’s the money (not your linked account) that gets moved to friends. The service is almost an intermediary bank.

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This is to say nothing of Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey’s customer-side service attached to his latest venture – Square. Enabled on iPhones and Android phones, the app knows when you enter a Square-enabled establishment and opens a tab when you walk in the door. According to Square’s website, “Give the cashier your name at checkout. Pay without touching your phone or wallet.”

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Time was, a financial literacy curriculum could be considered forward-thinking if it gave passing mention to PayPal. PayPal is old news now. What counts as money and how people interact with it are shifting concepts. While each of the services I’ve mentioned here purport and appear to be safer and more trustworthy than a credit card, I have much to learn before I can know that for certain.

What’s more, all of these are shifts to the foundation of financial literacy missing from Buffett’s lessons. I know my grandparents will never dream of signing up for any of these services. For any child born in the last 5 years, though, a wallet will likely be something on whatever turns out to be the equivalent of a cell phone. (Cows and whatever animal we get velcro from can breathe a sigh of relief.)

With recent signs pointing to the idea people had no idea what they were doing operating under the “business as usual” model, perhaps we should get head start on teaching kids about “business as unusual.”

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