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College Prep: 5 Tips to Make the Most of High School Summers

College Prep: 5 Tips to Make the Most of High School Summers

By Lisa Margolin, Founder of Journey Ahead, College Admissions Guidance

As an independent educational consultant who helps students and families identify suitable colleges and successfully apply, I am often asked what high school students should be doing during their summers. In short, gone are the days when students could hang around all summer doing nothing in particular except waiting for the next school year to start. Now students need to make the most of high school summers.

These days, colleges are expecting that students do something meaningful with their summers This could translate into a lot of different possibilities, depending on the student.

girl holding two kittens

Caring for animals at the Humane Society can be a rewarding summer experience.

5 Tips to Make the Most of High School Summers

Here are 5 tips high school students can do to make the most of summer breaks.

1. Gain Work Experience

Work experience is a very valuable way for students to spend time during the summer. They learn responsibility, how to be part of a team, some new skills, and make new friends outside of their peer group. Paid work can be just about anything for colleges to consider it a valuable experience — fast food or restaurant work, yard work, babysitting, or whatever a student can line up. The type of work is not important. The fact that the student found a job, kept regular hours, and accepted responsibility is.

Checkout Server Serving Young Woman Customer Ordering at Fast Food Restaurant

High school students can always benefit from summer work experience.

2. Get Internships

It used to be that students late into their college career were the only students that were seeking and gaining experience from internships. Now, high school students are finding that internships are a good way to learn about the world of work, specific careers and industries. Colleges find this experience valuable for a number of reasons. Many internships require students to go through an application process that requires job search and employment skills.  Internships also introduce college applicants to potential majors and careers, research skills, and lab skills. In addition, internships give students a view into the real world of work and careers. This happens in a way that an entry-level summer job can’t, allowing students to understand their potential options.

Students seeking summer internships must keep in mind that many applications close between January and early Spring.

To obtain internships, students can google internships in their area. They can also ask friends and family if any of their contacts would consider a high school student summer intern.

High school intern learning how to use a builder's level

Internships are helpful in learning valuable on-the-job experience before college.

3. Create a Personal Project

Some students undertake a personal project in their area of interest that can teach a student business, social, or entrepreneurial skills. Some students start a business, collect money for an existing non-profit organization or start their own, work on a political campaign, or any variety of possibilities that would create a meaningful experience.

4. Volunteer at a Non-Profit

Summer camps and churches are often looking for teens to help out with programs targeting younger students. Those who enjoy working with kids or animals may find non-profit work stimulating and enjoyable.

volunteers planting seedlings of trees in the park

Volunteering for a non-profit has many advantages.

5. Take Classes

Summer is a great time to make up a class in which a student performed poorly. It also can be used to get ahead by taking a community college course in a favorite subject. Some students take a community college class so that they can advance to a different class when they get back to school in the fall. Or simply because they are interested in a topic not offered in high school. Before taking a community college class, students must make sure that their high school honors credits earned from community college.

Young Male Student attends class

Summer school can be a great way to make up low grades.

Rising Seniors

Summer is a low-stress time for rising seniors to knock out a number of time-consuming tasks in advance of applying to college in fall. I recommend my private students have these items finished before the fall semester of senior year begins:

  • Create a meaningful summer, as noted above. Job, internship, volunteer, etc.
  • Finalize your college list. Research all colleges you are interested in, and make a final determination whether you are going to apply. If you are going to apply, determine if you will apply early or within the regular decision timeframe.
  • Start the Common Application, the online portal most most students will use to apply. Set up an account, enter demographic and school information. Then begin to fill in the extra curricular activities list and the honors and awards list.
  • Start on any other applications your list requires. Those might include University of California application, the California State University application, the ApplyTexas application, or others.
  • Review personal statement, personal insight, and essay prompts for all colleges on your list. Essay prompts for colleges using the Common Application will be visible in the application.
  • Finish standardized testing. If a student wants to take a final try at the SAT or ACT to improve their scores, summer is a good time. Spend two weeks preparing on your own, online, or with a tutor, and take the test for the last time.
student volunteers with donation boxes

High school volunteers gather donations of clothing for people in need. (photo credit: fstop123)

If rising seniors complete the items above, they will be ahead of the game and have much less to do once school starts.


Journey Ahead is an independent educational consulting firm located in San Diego, CA that helps students find and apply to colleges that fit their educational, academic, and financial needs. They can be reached at 619-417-9242.

Lisa Margolin, Journey Ahead

Lisa Margolin of Journey Ahead, College Admissions Counseling













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Self Defense Classes for Teens

Self Defense Classes for Teens

Recently there were some incidents at our girls’ high school that freaked us all out a little bit. We’ve always talked with our daughters about being aware of their surroundings. We’ve discussed how to get help if they found themselves in a difficult situation. However, boys can be aggressive and girls can be mean. We wanted Sophia and Ava to be able to physically defend themselves should they ever have to do that.

We decided to sign them up for a self defense classes for teens, and it was well worth the time, money and effort.

self defense class in session San Diego

Coach Tracie Arlington teaches the girls how to escape from a man sitting on them.

Self Defense Classes for Teens

It was interesting to learn that both girls were all in on this adventure. We researched several local options, and decided on Play It Safe Self Defense – classes for women and teens. Our girls really wanted to learn how to defend themselves physically. Not only would this process be a confidence booster. It would also empower Sophia and Ava with an important skill set. It turns out these self defense classes for teens was way more than that.

Some Alarming Statistics

According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, one out of every four women will be attacked or raped in her lifetime. Look at these alarming statistics from the Play It Safe website:

  • 83% of rape victims are between the ages of 12 years and 25 years of age.
  • 90% of women assaulted knew their assailant.
  • 25% of college women surveyed are victims of rape or attempted rape.
  • 85% of rapes on campuses are acquaintance/date rapes, and most happen in the first three months of college due to Fraternity and Sorority pledging and parties.
  • 90% of all campus rapes involve alcohol.

Women who resist are twice as likely to escape injury as others. According to the Women’s Self Defense Institute, an analysis of 3,000 actual assaults showed that half of the attackers fled from a woman who was willing to resist!

coaches with girls at self defense class

The class gets instruction from Coach Matt in preparation for each having a chance to defend themselves.

Finding the Right Class

After searching online for options, we found way more than we expected to see when we googled “self defense classes”. We found an enormous array of classes offered, and the choices became overwhelming. Did we want boxing? The use of tools like pepper spray or whistles? Did we want the classes to be more educational from a book lesson? Indoors or outdoors? Men present, or women only? Multiple days, or one long session? Hard core, or just tough enough?

After narrowing our search to wanting physical defense tactics with practical hands-on experiences, we started asking other parents for recommendations. Surprisingly, not many had researched this subject for their kids. We guessed there was a bigger need for self-defense services than any of us realized.

Triton finally spoke with a friend who had taken classes from Play It Safe. On her positive review, we decided to sign Ava and Sophia up for a 3 1/2-hour Saturday session.

girls self defense class circle

Standing in a circle, ready to practice their new skills on the guys.

What They Learned

On the appointed Saturday, the girls gathered with several others similar in age at a warehouse gym facility about 10 miles from our house. The organizers of Play It Safe told the parents they could stay for a bit and watch, but could not participate.

One of the greatest things that impressed the girls was the hands-on lessons in fighting back – with a real guy trying to attack them! There were two guys helping with the class, fully suited up in protective gear. One by one, the girls and women in the class took turns kicking and punching these poor guys. They used the skills they were learning in the class about how to fight off an attacker.

Some of the skills each girl learned how to:

  • Fight off a guy grabbing her from behind
  • Break his hold on her arms
  • Get away from a guy on the ground
  • Hit an attacker in places that will disable them quickly

And there was so much more.

(Photo courtesy of Play It Safe)

How Self Defense Classes Made Them Feel

When they got home from taking this class, they were nearly giddy with excitement. They couldn’t wait to tell us all of the things they had learned (and demonstrate some of them)! They felt empowered and capable, but most of all they felt confident. Both Sophia and Ava were more self confident, and said they knew more from that three hour class about how to defend themselves than they had learned in all the years prior.

They’ve still got a lot more to learn, and need to be careful about letting down their guards in unsafe situations. But they are definitely more knowledgeable and prepared in case something ever happens.

Honestly, after watching them demonstrate some of their newly-learned moves, I wouldn’t want to cross them!

The 3 Weapons of Defense (Photo courtesy of Play It Safe)




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Prepaid Cards Are Like Digital Piggy Banks

Prepaid Cards Are Like Digital Piggy Banks

*This post was created in partnership with Starbucks, and as always, all opinions expressed here are our own.

When our girls were very little, we introduced the idea of piggy banks – with a twist.  We gave each of our daughters three piggy banks, marked on their sides with a sharpie: “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”.  These days, those piggy banks have gone online, and now prepaid cards are like digital piggy banks that help kids save, spend and give through the use of tools like the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card.

Prepaid Cards Are Like Digital Piggy Banks

In this modern world of online banking and finance management, we are teaching our girls the value of money by allowing them to use our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card. The idea of saving, spending, and giving is still the same.

girl in Starbucks with Starbucks mobile app

Sophia and Ava can both check their balances from their phones, and make Starbucks mobile purchases in any Starbucks location


As little girls, Ava and Sophia learned the value of saving for what they really wanted. The piggy bank marked “Save” collected $2 of the $5 we allowed each girl per week. With these two dollars accumulating per week until a small fortune (at least in the minds of young kids), they could witness what saving for something was all about.

We would ask them what they wanted to save their money for. Usually the answer was a new Malibu Barbie or Play-doh, or some fun toy. Then we would go online or show them in the store how much the item cost. We’d then help them tally their savings until they reached their goal amount. The reward for patience was to take the money and purchase the toy that had been saving for. Reward system!


Granted, the money in the “Spend” piggy bank did not last very long in that piggy’s belly. These $2 per week was designed for immediate gratification. Ava and Sophia could go immediately to the store and spend their $2 on whatever they wanted that week.

There was another benefit to this system – they also learned that $2 does not go very far. In fact, $2 does not buy very much at all. More the once, they would get a dissatisfied look as they held a few small pieces of candy or a Japanese eraser in their hand. To them, the rewards of saving for something bigger started to seem like a pretty good idea.

corner Starbucks store exterior

Our neighborhood Starbucks is within walking distance, and we’ve been going there with the girls since they were babies.


Our girls have been fortunate to have the opportunity for a weekly allowance. The “Give” piggy bank was designed to help them understand the power of sharing with those in need.  One dollar of the five each week was placed in this piggy bank, collecting until there was enough to make a gift of some kind.

As the money accumulated over a couple of months, we asked the girls where they would like to donate the money for that round. Sometimes their answer would be to help homeless people; sometimes it was school supplies for kids that couldn’t afford them. Heartbreakingly, one time it was for the janitor at school who had lost everything in a fire.

The look of pride on their little faces was priceless, as they realized their “Give” piggy banks had helped in some small way.


Now that the girls are teens, they’ve obviously outgrown the piggy banks. However, the concept of Save/Spend/Give is something we still talk about.

Starbucks Rewards Prepaid Visa Card

We felt like the cool kids in our local Starbucks store, whipping out our new card when no one working there had seen it yet.

We’ve shifted our conversations to how prepaid cards are like digital piggy banks that help kids save, spend and give. Through the use of tools like our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card, we can use the card to help them learn about the value of money with an added bonus. Although far more sophisticated and powerful, cards like this can still operate in a similar fashion. We give the girls the choice to spend it all, or save it to amass for a larger purpose.

Once or twice a week, we sit with them in front of a laptop to view our card balances online. We talk though each purchase, the price of what they paid, and whether or not they feel that purchase was worth the cost. So far, the eye rolling and heavy sighs have been kept to a minimum. Instead, they actually seem interested in how it all works.

For The Love of Starbucks

A huge added benefit of the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card is the ability to earn Starbucks Stars with each purchase we make on the card (some restrictions apply, so see for details). We can earn an easy 125 Stars the first time we use the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card to load $10 or more to our registered Starbucks Card. Purchases outside of a Starbucks earn 1 Star for every $10 spent, but purchases made with our registered Starbucks Card at Starbucks stores earn 2 Stars for every $1 spent!

original Seattle Starbucks with Starbucks prepaid Visa card

We even visited the original Starbucks location across from Pikes Place Market in Seattle, and yes the card works there too.

We have no illusions as parents that their interest in talking finance with us will continue, but we are gaining confidence that the habits will last.  As digital piggy banks help kids save, spend and give through the use of tools like the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card, these old habits will die hard.

And in this case, that’s a very good thing.


At participating Starbucks stores. Some restrictions apply. See for details.

Debit cards are provided by JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.  Member FDIC.

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9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

It’s really hard to believe that Sophia is a Junior in high school already. It was just the other day we were pushing her around in the stroller while she gummed a handful of Goldfish Crackers. Now as a high school Junior, she has to start thinking about college. But where to go? Many parents have to help their kid visualize potential college options by actually going to visit them. We’re starting this now, and wow is it fraught with questions and landmines. Turns out planning college tours for your high school kid is no walk in the park!

This past week, we loaded up a sleek 2019 Chevrolet Traverse (#brandpartner) on loan for our family to test drive, and headed to Arizona. First up on the college tour schedule were Arizona State University in Tempe, and University of Arizona in Tucson.

Chevrolet Traverse with desert background in Tempe Arizona

With the Arizona desert landscape of Tempe in the background, the Chevy Traverse showed up nicely. #brandpartner

9 Tips for Planning College Tours for Your High School Kid

As we prepped for beginning this process, we learned some things about planning college tours for your high school kid worth sharing. Already we’ve made a couple of mistakes, so let us help you avoid some of our pitfalls and learn from our experiences. I imagine this will be an ongoing series, because we still have a lot to go!

9 Tips For Planning College Tours
  1. Talk with you kid about what they want to study. I know this seems obvious, but when we started planning this process Sophia did not have an answer to this question. Without knowing what she wanted to study, we were flying in the dark on choosing college campuses to visit.
  2. Know your budget in advance. One of our mistakes was planning to visit schools before we had checked on tuition and other costs. Well THAT was a shocker. We live in California, and out-of-state tuition and associated costs like housing, books, etc comes to $44,000/year for ASU and $48,000 for UofA. Not to get into anyone’s personal finances, but that might be a lot for some people to shoulder for 4-5 years. PER KID.
  3. Buy this book: Fiske Guide to Colleges. It lists every college in the US, complete with important stats like tuition costs, GPA/SAT requirements, strong areas of study, acceptance rates, financial aid and more. We’ve been pouring through this book, looking for potential college fits for Sophia using a list of criteria combining her desires and ours. It has been immensely helpful in narrowing down on great options.
    Fiske Guide to Colleges book cover

    This book, Fiske Guide to Colleges, is the bible for kids (and parents!) researching which colleges best suit their needs.

  4. Consider hiring a college coach. This may seem like a luxury for some, but we have found it to be money extremely well spent. You know that thing your teen does, where she looks at you like you are an idiot and know absolutely nothing about anything? Yeah, well they don’t pull that with a neutral third party. The college coach has gotten more information out of Sophia than we have. Plus she’s helping Sophia prepare for writing entrance applications, essays and more.
  5. Plan your college visits to include an actual school day. It may be hard to drag your kid out of school to miss a day for touring, but it will be good to see the campus with actual students and activity. On our recent tours, school was out on vacation and the colleges were deserted. It was a chilly way to see what is normally a bustling campus. Part of the reason for touring is to see the other students, and have your kid determine if they like what they see. Can they be friends with these people? Are these people they could be dorm roommates with?
  6. Make appointments for your college visits far in advance – the dates book up quickly. Most college websites have a built-in scheduling function so you can request your chosen day and time. The tours are very full, and no walk-ups are allowed.
  7. Encourage visits to large and small campuses, colleges and universities, public and private, small town and big city. This will help you kid start to envision themselves in this place, living here for most of the year. Do they like the energy and bright lights of the big city? Or maybe they prefer a quieter, less active country location.
    University of Arizona sweatshirts

    Waiting at the UofA bookstore for our tour of the campus, it was hard not to purchase a signature sweatshirt.

  8. Don’t stress if they hate it. This touring business is as much about helping your kid determine what she doesn’t like as what she does. Just like you, they are not going to like or feel comfortable in every location. Some will naturally drop off the list after touring.
  9. Have your kid keep a notebook for writing down pros and cons of each college you visit. Good advice given to us by our coach was for Sophia to ask herself the same four or five questions after each campus tour.
Tucson mountain landscape

The landscapes in Arizona are breathtaking, like this one in Tucson.

Arizona College Overview

Arizona State University

ASU is located in a sweet little town called Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Located right next to downtown Phoenix, Tempe is a mix of hotels, retail, residences and the Arizona State University campus. Our tour started at the Welcome Center, and was extremely well organized and planned. Starting in an auditorium with a slide show and video, our host guided us through a great amount of information. She was warm and personable, and Sophia felt instantly at ease.

family entering Arizona State University Welcome Center

The ASU Welcome Center was, well, extremely welcoming! Great way to start a campus tour.

After that 30-minute orientation, we were split into groups by major or interest, and off we went to tour the campus. Because it was holiday break, we did not see lecture halls or dorm rooms. However, we did tour the sports center and student union buildings – both were very impressive. Sophia’s eyes were wide open, taking it all in.

University of Arizona

A more informal tour, this one started at the bookstore on the Tucson campus. We were split into random groups and assigned to a guide for our walking tour. Since there was no orientation, the guide became the source of information about all things University of Arizona in Tucson. Our guide was knowledgeable and funny, but not overwhelmingly personable. We toured the student union, sports center and even a dorm building.

Old Main building at University of Arizona

The Old Main building at UofA was the original university structure, and now houses administration offices.

Sophia was not feeling this one, and I think maybe seeing a dorm room was the clincher. She will get used to it, but at first glance these rooms are S-M-A-L-L. She did not like the idea of having the shared bathroom down the hall either. We will be encouraging her to shake off the princess attitude, but this first tour was not the time to address that.

After a very brief comparison of pros and cons, Sophia decided that she did not want to pursue either of these colleges in Arizona. We’ll see if that view changes after touring more!

red 2019 Chevrolet Traverse in driveway

This sweet red 2019 Chevy Traverse was our loaner car for our Arizona college tours, and it was the perfect fit for our family. #brandpartner

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Prepaid Cards Are the New Allowance

Prepaid Cards Are the New Allowance

*This post was created in partnership with Starbucks, and as always, all opinions expressed here are our own.

Do you hand your kids cash? We’ve been talking with several of our friends with kids the same age as ours, and we all grapple with giving our kids cash money. We all ask ourselves the same question. If you hand your kid a $10 bill in the morning to go get a snack after school, do you really know exactly where they spent that $10? Yeah, neither do we. That’s why we decided that prepaid cards are better than cash.

Oh, and good luck trying to collect the change leftover from that $10. Not that we don’t trust our kids – it’s just they can be a little…..careless with the cash.

In our family, we’ve got a Saver and a Spender. Ava is our little Saver, and she often squirrels away her allowance to save up for a big purchase. She has a goal in mind, and she will work towards that goal until she achieves it. On the other hand, Sophia is a spender. She neeeeeeds thiiiiiiings, and she must have them right now. (Kind of like a sweeter, kinder version of Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory – “I want an Oompa Loompa NOW, Daddy!”)

Either style works, we tell them, as long as they keep responsibly within budgets. Honestly, it’s important for both routes to keep track of how many dollars are actually available, whether saving or spending.

girl in Starbucks with app

It’s easy to check our card balances online, and manage our purchases to a set budget while watching our Starbucks Star balance grow.

Prepaid Cards For Kids Are the New Allowance

We’ve been experimenting recently with the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card, and it’s been a great teaching tool for us. Helping the girls understand how to manage a budget, we are parenting them in financial responsibility. And best yet, they feel like it’s freedom!

Loading our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card with their allowance each week, we are able to monitor their expenditures on the cards we got for this purpose. Sitting down at the computer with them on a weekly basis enables us to teach them how to manage their budgets.

Starbucks prepaid Visa rewards card and drinks

This card has brought our family all kinds of benefits, including a Starbucks treat now and then.

Why Cash Can Be Difficult

Cash is so easily lost or misplaced by kids. Our girls shove cash into their pockets without a wallet, crammed and smashed into little balls. Mixed with random coins, these pocket-fountains-of-cash often erupt when being pulled out. Money goes flying all over the floor. Plus, cash is easy to spend without full knowledge of where it actually went. Easy come, easy go – until it’s all gone, that is.

And even though we harp on the girls to carry a purse or backpack with them, they don’t always remember to bring it. However, they do remember to stick our prepaid cards inside their phone cases. Because they never go anywhere without their phones! At least we know the card will never be left behind or forgotten. We can also link the card to the Starbucks App, so they can make in-store purchases directly from their phones.

Starbucks and Chase app on phone

Connecting the card to the Chase App allows us to see the remaining balance, as well as purchases.

Prepaid Cards Allow Insight

One of the tools which automatically come with the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card is the ability to check balances online.  We like this card because there are no monthly, annual, or reload fees (other fees may apply) and it’s really easy to reload. For more info on the card, go to

Through the Chase website we can track the girls’ expenditures ourselves, or better yet so can they. We’re teaching Sophia and Ava how to log on, access their card accounts, and view every purchase they’ve made.

Yes, the first couple of times we sat with them were complicated, as we talked through navigating the site to access the available information. Keeping the conversation under 10 minutes, we found these quick sessions provided great ways to have a conversation about the value of money. How far $10 goes (or doesn’t go) was a revelation to them. We also covered budgeting tactics, and planning for the things you want to buy.

So far, so good. No transgressions so far. We have not seen them go wildly over budget, or misuse the cards. They don’t seem to hate the conversations held over the laptop about budgets and finances. After all, it seems like a good exchange for the freedom of having the cards available for their use.

Chase Visa Starbucks reward card

Win/win! We get Stars towards Rewards for using our card at a place we love, and then redeeming those Rewards for something we also love. Genius!

Racking up Starbucks Stars

All of these financial lessons have a silver lining for Ava and Sophia, and it’s called Starbucks. A place they already love to go for drinks and snacks, Starbucks now brings them new interest. The girls can cash in the Rewards they earn with purchases they make anywhere using our new Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Cards.

Not only do we get 125 Stars after the first time we use our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card to load $10 to our Starbucks Card, we can earn Stars for using the card to make purchases at Starbucks. And you get Stars when you make purchases outside of Starbucks stores.

Now it’s just a question of what they will get with those Stars. A Strawberry Frappuccino drink? Cinnamon Dolce Latte? Cake Pops or mini vanilla scones?

So many choices….


At participating Starbucks stores. Some restrictions apply. See for details.

Debit cards are provided by JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.  Member FDIC.

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New Starbucks Visa Prepaid Card Helps Teach Our Kids About Budgeting

New Starbucks Visa Prepaid Card Helps Teach Our Kids About Budgeting

*This post was created in partnership with Starbucks, and as always, all opinions expressed here are our own.

With two teen daughters in the house, their desire for purchasing things is through the roof. We make more trips to the mall than any other location in town! Now that both girls are old enough to shop on their own without us – and our wallets – present, we need to teach our kids about budgeting.

Teaching kids about responsible spending habits is not for the faint-of-heart. There is a great deal written about this subject, with many recommendations from finance experts about various ways to teach important lessons about finance. After careful research, we decided to teach our kids about budgeting using a prepaid card we can monitor together.

Girls looking at computer screen

Just a few minutes at a time, we check in on purchases with the girls so they can see how expenses accumulate.


We chose the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card because, duh! Starbucks Stars! It’s like a built-in reward system for learning about spending responsibly. The kids love to go to Starbucks anyway, so this is a great incentive to learn and earn at the same time.

How We Teach Our Kids About Budgeting

Apply for the Prepaid Card

The concept behind a prepaid card is simple. Triton and I both simply applied online, were approved and sent cards through the mail to begin. The online application took about three minutes, super easy. And better yet, while some other fees may apply, there are no monthly, annual or reload fees to complicate the process. Both parents got cards so that we could share with each daughter as part of the learning process.

Learn more at

Load the Card with a Set Amount

Okay this post is not about allowance, which we know is a flash point for some parents. For purposes of this post, let’s just disclose that we give the girls an allowance of $20 per week. If they do chores above and beyond, they can negotiate with us to be paid an extra amount. At the very least, we will be loading $20 per girl on the Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Cards.

To test this new program, we loaded $100 per card.

Set the Rules With Them Up Front

Before just handing over the cards, we knew it was important to go over our house rules for how the girls would be allowed to use our cards. The operative word here is “our”. We made it clear that the card is ours as their parents, and we are allowing them to use the card under strict rules:

  1. The card can only be used to make purchases we have pre-authorized. They cannot just buy whatever they want, whenever they want. By asking us if they can go clothes shopping at the mall, we can grant them permission to use the cards.
  2. They must keep a balance of at least $20 on the card at all times. Through this, we can teach them about managing to a budget. If we let them go all the way to a $0 balance, there would be no wiggle room for mistakes and overages to learn from.
  3. Each girl must show us their receipts after a purchase, and then we can go over those purchases with the girls online to check against the card balances.
Our Modern Answer to a Checking Account

When most of us were kids, checking accounts were still a thing. We wrote checks to make purchases or pay bills, and kept track of our purchases and deposits in the checkbook ledger.

Now prepaid cards are the new answer. We still teach the kids to keep track of subtractions and additions, but online through the Chase website. It’s easy-peasy, and we can sit with the girls and show them how to track their cards on either laptop or mobile.

If you would like to learn more, go to

Starbucks Stars

The bonus in this plan is racking up Stars in the Starbucks Rewards program! As we teach the girls about responsible budget management, we can also earn Stars everywhere we make purchases.

Starbucks QR code on phone

Adding the Prepaid Card to your Starbucks app allows you to use it for easy purchases in any Starbucks store.


The first time we use our Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card to load our Starbucks Card in the App earns us 125 Stars (enough for one food or drink Reward). Plus, we earn 1 Star for every $10 spent outside of Starbucks stores, but at Starbucks we earn 2 Stars for every $1 we spend using our registered Starbucks Card. The way our family consumes Starbucks menu items, those Stars will add up veeeerrrry fast.

Our whole family wins, because we can go to a Starbucks and use our Rewards to get free goodies. Win/win!

Venti nonfat iced white chocolate mocha with extra ice no whip, here we come!


At participating Starbucks stores. Some restrictions apply. See for details.

Debit cards are provided by JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A.  Member FDIC.

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Acts of Kindness You Can Do With Your Kids

Acts of Kindness You Can Do With Your Kids

Sometimes Triton and I get all caught up helping our kids with school work, getting them to and from their music and sports lessons, etc. But really? The single most important thing we can teach our kids is to be kind. Bullying (both online and in person) is rampant among kids as well as adults. If more people lived by kindness first, the world would be a better place. (Ahem, that means you too, 45.) Part of fostering genuine kindness in our kids is by coming up with acts of kindness you can practice with your kids on the regular.

Kindness has a ripple effect. When someone receives an act of kindness, particularly a random one that requires no reciprocation, they are more likely to pass that kindness on. You know, pay it forward!

My mama and pop taught me well, and we’re showing our kids how to show kindness to others.

Acts of Kindness You Can Do With Your Kids

Hold the door

When I am running errands by myself or with my family, it always gives me a smile when I see a kid stop to hold the door for someone – even me! It’s such a simple act, but it shows such courtesy and respect to others. Remind your kids to open the door for others, especially those with young children, carrying things, or the elderly or disabled. However, holding the door just to be kind regardless of the baggage being carried by the recipient of the kind act is also appreciated! After a while, it just becomes habit – a good habit.

Kindness rocks

This is such a fun activity regardless of age. In fact, teenagers are often the biggest fans of kindness rocks because it allows them to be creative and spread a positive message at the same time. Start with a bunch of plain rocks and paints or markers to decorate. Be artistic – write positive messages on the rocks and hide them throughout your city. Many communities have social media pages or groups that designate a hashtag or saying to write on the rock. Finders then post the rocks on social media, hide the found rocks, or create more to keep the positivity moving. Messages such as “you matter”, “you rock”, and “be kind” are often found on these stones of kindness.

peace, love and kindness rocks

Decorating rocks with messages of kindness, we can then put them in public places around town for others to find.

Share talents at a nursing home

Find a local nursing home and have your child share their own gifts with members of the community. If your son or daughter is a musician, they may choose to play a special recital or concert on their instrument. Singers could perform solos or ensembles with other talented vocalists. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t have a musical bone in their body. Simply reading a story to a resident is sharing the gift of time, companionship, and education. We’ve even just had the kids read one of their children’s books aloud. Believe me, those residents just love the time spent and don’t expect for you to read them the next great historical novel.

kid reading book

Even reading a kids’ book to a nursing home resident will make their day so much brighter.

When I was a kid, we did this through our church. I hated the thought of having to spend time with old people in a scary nursing home, but as soon as I got there and saw how happy they were to see us I changed by mind. It may be intimating at first, but your kid will quickly warm up once they are there.

Send thank you letters

Think about someone who has made a difference in your life. This may not be an obvious person, like a parent or your spouse. It may be a teacher, a mentor, or a colleague. Write a letter to that person or take a moment to call them and read your words of gratitude. Model this with your children and have them do the same. This not only will add joy to the recipient’s day, but it feels good to show kindness and gratitude without having a particular reason. We have taught our kids to handwrite thank you notes for gifts received at holidays and birthdays. But this is something even more special. Believe me, you’ll want to do this with your kids again and again.

thank you note and pen

Writing thank you notes is one of the most gracious and polite things my parents taught me.

These are simple tasks to promote kindness in your home. These acts of kindness you can do with your kids can spread positivity way beyond your own family. Hopefully, you can these as a starting point to make a difference in your community and the world around you.

Most importantly, you will be teaching your kids to make a difference with their positive actions. Good lessons all the way around!