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I was babysitting two kids one evening last week and read Newsweek as they watched the Disney Channel. I can’t stand the overacting and laugh tracks on those shows so I normally try not to pay too much attention (to the TV, not the kids). When I heard something about credit cards, however, my ears perked up.
The show was “That’s So Raven” and the episode was “Clothes Minded.” Besides a befuddled story line about a stolen wedge of smelly cheese that stinks up a school, there is a subplot about Raven’s middle-school-aged brother, Corey, who checks the mail one day and finds a letter addressed to his pet rat, Lionel. He opens the envelope and finds a credit card offer with a credit card attached.
“Look, it’s a credit card!” Corey says to his friend. “My parents use them when they don’t have any money,” the friend says. Corey replies: “Lionel doesn’t have any money — but he does now. Cha-ching!”
In the middle of the episode (6:38), Corey’s dad receives a package at the door. He thinks it’s a birthday present, as his birthday is the next week, but he realizes it is addressed to his son’s pet rat. He opens the box and finds a rat-sized leather jacket.
Cut to Corey and his pal, lounging on new recliners in his bedroom. Lionel the rat has a huge playhouse. “Ever since Lionel got his credit card, we are living large!” Corey says. In comes Dad. “Why does Lionel have a little leather jacket?”
“So he can look cool on his little motorcycle,” Corey says, as he holds up a new rat-sized bike.
“Son, where did all this stuff come from?” the dad asks as he looks around the bedroom and notices speakers, a bike, a guitar and a variety of other pricey new purchases.
Corey explains that his friend helped him order it all on the Internet. “Life is good,” Corey says as he leans back farther into his La-Z-Boy. “Is life still gonna be good when I find out how you paid for this?” Dad asks.
“That’s the beauty of it! It’s all on the card,” Corey replies. Corey’s friend hands over the credit card, and Dad expresses shock that a platinum card (which he says he can’t even get himself) was issued to a rat. “Do you know how a credit card works?” Dad asks. “Obviously!” Corey says, as he points to his abundance of new toys.
“Corey! When you use a credit card, oh sure you can buy stuff with it now, but someone has to pay for it later!” Dad says. “Pfff, who’s that gonna be?” Corey asks nonchalantly. The dad says, “It’s gonna be you.” Wake-up call!
“Me? I can’t afford all this stuff!” Corey cries. “Now you get it!” Dad says. “That’s why all this stuff has to go back.” Corey said he was sorry and didn’t know — and that this means he’ll have to return his dad’s birthday present. “Oh, you got me a little something-something?” his dad asks. Corey points out the window to an ice cream truck. The dad said everything had to go — but only after they each had a Fudgesicle.
As silly as this episode was, it made me so happy that Disney made the effort to teach kids a major lesson about credit. The children I was watching are in elementary school, with the youngest at just 5 years old, so it may have totally gone over their heads. Even so, they were glued to the television and observed a valuable personal finance lesson. I hope television shows continue to educate the young viewers on money smarts — in this day in age, financial literacy needs to start as young as possible — especially when it involves the use of credit.
Have you observed any other television shows that taught important money lessons?
See related: Financial boot camps shape up kids’ financial knowledge, Poll shows teens lack credit card knowledge, Preparing kids for credit card management, How to discuss financial woes with children