Generation X — The Credit Card Kids

If you went to college in the early 90s, then you’ll likely remember getting an offer from MBNA in the mail. MBNA merged with Bank of America over a decade ago, and its pioneering move to solicit cash-starved college students, however ethically questionable, was a stroke of business genius. I returned a torn sweater to L.L. Bean, which was 30 minutes away, to get $25 for beer money. You think this kid was going to like the idea of a credit card? 

Sign me up!

I recall that time as being a bit like the Wild West of credit card expansion. Banks like MBNA were becoming national powers and were finding ingenious ways to expand their revenue. The college crowd was ripe for the picking. I’ve blogged about how I began my march towards money smarts, starting after I paid off my Gateway computer after accumulating close to $1000 in interest charges on a $2000 machine. What was I thinking?

A good friend had it worse. She buried herself in much more debt via her college loans: “I feel like I’m STILL trying to extricate myself from that first $20k.”

I’m one of the fortunate ones. 

Though my divorced parents had no discernible plan to teach my brothers and me to get money-smart (the lack of a consistent approach to anything is an obvious side effect of divorced families), both my dad and mom were pretty frugal. That money-smart modeling certainly didn’t hurt.

Faulting my parents for not preparing my brothers and me to get money-smart is also hard. Though our consumer-driven culture was in full bloom, predatory credit cardpractices hadn’t begun in earnest until my generation headed to college. The basic American Dream — that you could have the house, the two cars, a steady job and a pension for retirement simply through hard work — was firmly in place in our society.

Much has changed.

As parents, we are now realizing that we must start teaching our kids money-smarts from an early age.

We know more about the dangers of financial illiteracy for a number of reasons: Namely, we’ve experienced The Dot Com Bust and The Great Recession. Organizations like Jump$tart, financial institutions and companies like ours (The Money Mammals) are just a few of the folks driving awareness and providing programs to help this cause. An awareness of predatory practices has increased, and our government has responded by founding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to advocate for and provide protection for consumers.

We’re moving towards a more enlightened approach to money smarts: start early, focus on the basics, train kids with an allowance (by giving them real money to “practice”), discuss money in the home. Our parents had an excuse. We do not. In order to live money-comfortable lives, we have to teach actively.

I’m hopeful that by actively raising money-smart kids, we can make sure that they aren’t selling their sweaters to make ends meet.

Here are some easy ways that you can use to get started.


Chief Mammal