In most cases, lunchtime is hardly newsworthy. It goes off like clockwork, and at the end of munching, the kids’ bellies are full and they (most likely) go back to bouncing off the walls with energy. Lately, though, school lunch has been making headlines, not because of poor nutrition or outbreaks of sicknesses, but because of money.
The Issue in a Nutshell
A few schools have come under scrutiny for their handling of kids’ lunch accounts. When the accounts when negative, school officials didn’t spot the kids their meals on good faith. Instead, the kids were told they couldn’t eat. School officials said they simply could not afford to keep footing the bill for the meals without being reimbursed, pointing out that the cost of the food quickly adds up over multiple accounts over time. Parents lashed out at the administrators, saying that it was plain cruel to let the kids go hungry and asserting that solid nutrition was important for ensuring the children could concentrate and learn.
The Wrong Message?
That kids need good food to reach their full potential is true. Even so, there’s something to be said for expecting parents to be financially responsible. Here, the kids involved could get the message that it’s perfectly fine to expect someone to keep paying on your behalf. They could learn that, instead of keeping a close watch on an account, it’s permissible to let it languish until a lender finally has enough and cuts you off. When the kids are adults, this easily could lead to increased overspending and debt, poor budgeting and a bad reputation with vendors. In the worst case scenario, it also could lead to a slashed credit score, making it much harder to obtain loans to pursue personal goals.
What to Teach Instead
The school lunch situation provides a great opportunity to teach kids about the proper way to go about rectifying a negative account. It also offers the chance to approach a discussion about good borrowing. Here are some key take-aways:
- Be honest. Admit to your kids that you made a mistake. Let them see you figuring out exactly how much you owe.
- Look at the past. You cannot really fix a financial problem if you don’t know what caused it. Identify what led to the negative status on the account as clearly as you can and talk with your kids about what you might have done differently.
- Look at your budget. Getting rid of any debt requires you to reevaluate your budget so you can put some money toward repayment. You can’t know what you can offer the lender unless you know what you have available.
- Contact the lender. It’s always best to do this as soon as you can. Don’t shy away or hide from the problem. Work out a repayment plan that works for both of you.
- Make alternate arrangements. In some cases, a lender will keep providing service so long as you are making payments on a debt. Even so, continuing to buy means you stay in debt longer. See what you can do to stop using the account until the debt is gone. In the school lunch example, you might have your child pack a lunch instead of buying one from the cafeteria.