Hotel card keys as play credit cards

Liz's funny money hack:

My 2 year-old’s only concept of how things are paid for is those magical plastic cards mama keeps in her wallet. Needless to say, I don’t want her running off with my AmEx (not now, not when she’s a sixteen), so we’ve found another way to keep her play wallet full. Every time we travel, we hang on to our hotel door keys. Now she has a wallet full of different colored “credit cards” that are just like mama’s, and when she’s play shopping she can ask “Do you take Hilton?”


  1. sleepycat says

    I use used-up gift cards for this game. My daughter has a little stack from Meijer, Borders, Lowes, etc. I never thought of hotel keys since I thought you were supposed to give them back when you checked out – learn something new every day :-)

  2. Lee says

    Great idea! We do something similar. We get store flyers with credit card size “discount cards” which we keep and give to our child to use as a credit card. (Mark’s Work Warehouse comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others.)

  3. Jill says

    I also use the fake credit cards that come in credit card applications. My daughter loves to carry around her purse and pretend to “buy”. Great ideas!

  4. Mike says

    We have also been giving the fake credit cards to the kids. We also give them all the junk mail so they can get mail. They like to sing the Blue’s Clues “I just got a letter” song.

  5. Joshua Timberman says

    I would suggest not encouraging credit card use, and teaching her how bad credit cards are.

    Encouraging play with credit cards is doing exactly what the vultures at Visa, Mastercard and AMEX want – associating money with credit card spending at an early age. But don’t worry its not too late for you or your kids!

    For more information, read Dave Ramsey’s “The Total Money Makeover” – should be available from your local library.

  6. mali says

    A lot of stores have empty gift cards in front of the register, like Jamba Juice and Target. My son loves grabbing these every time.

    Joshua: Having credit cards is not bad. What needs to be taught is how to be responsible with your finances.

  7. Vredit Card Reviews says

    I have to agree with Joshua Timberman, and not encourage the use of credit cards. It may create bad spending habits once your daughter is old enough for her own cards.

  8. Preeti says

    It’s a great idea. Fake credit cards and dollar bills not only provide fun to kids but we can also use them to teach money values to kids. For example: Use the credit card sparingly. Keep the bills safe and so on.

  9. Michael says

    This is horrible! You’re stealing. And you’re giving your child (whether or not they’re capable of grasping the concept yet) the memory of you stealing.

    I find this to be a horrible idea. Instead, I’d opt for those fake cards they send you in the mail to entice you into getting real credit cards.

  10. Zed says

    This whole post is odd to me, but I have always found it weird that people LOVE the idea of kids dressing / acting as adults so much that they give them fake lipstick, fake cell phones, fake purses, fake wallets, fake credit cards, etc. A 2-year-old? My three kids have been fine without having to play the part of grownup so realistically. And it’s certainly not necessary for them to learn a great deal about money before the age of 5. But that’s my opinion.

    I also think it’s weird to take the hotel key cards and VERY WEIRD to take the empty store gift cards. So this hack is obviously not for me!

  11. Jim says

    Joshua: We’re currently reading the book Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders by James D. Scurlock. Chilling.

    Michael: Most of the hotels that I stay in don’t require you to return the key cards. The point of the express checkout (where they slip the final receipt under your door on your last day) is that you can take it and leave without having to stop in at the desk. They take the cards when we hand them back and will reuse them (that’s why we often do it), but I have been told on more than one occasion that I didn’t need to return key cards at the end of my stay.

    I guess it could be different for other hotels. I’m just speaking from my experience.

  12. daisy says

    I’ve read elsewhere that hotels store all sorts of personal info about you on those strips, including, perhaps, your credit card number. So folks might want to tread carefully with them less the kiddies lose them.

  13. LisaS says

    As a parent up to the neck in debt (mortgage, car & education loans, etc.) I share a lot of the reservations about letting children “play” shopping with credit cards. Perhaps the kids should get a pretend “bill” a few minutes later?

    But the reality is that its everywhere: most of us use a credit or debit card for almost every transaction for convenience sake. The only way to avoid the commercials is to avoid TV (which we do, but most people aren’t extremists … ) Even that isn’t a perfect solution: Visa is now integrated into Milton Bradley’s Life board game. Luckily, we still have our circa-1975 one.

  14. ross says

    Thumbs up to LisaS. They aren’t toys, and I don’t beleive they should be glamorized, but it may be a good way to teach if handled responsibly.

  15. hedra says

    Well, since the very first time my oldest played ‘pretend to buy something’, he grabbed my hand, balled it into a fist, then pretended to zip a card between my fingers and then enter a PIN on my knuckles… yeah, different world. But is that all that different from me pretending I had a checkbook as a kid?

    We have been-there-done-that with the debt, and are very into openly talking about credit, debt, investment, charitable giving, etc., etc. They still fight over who gets the next fake credit card from the junk mail, but they also are already serious savers. There are tons of ways to put the fear of credit/debt into them as you go. Also many ways to teach them how COMFORTABLE you can be if you know you are living within your means.

    Fact of life that those little cards in the wallet are meaningful. We also expand the concept so that it covers ALL the plastic cards – we give them our expired membership cards to various organizations, too. So they can have their credit cards, but they also have zoo cards, Sierra Club cards, and so forth.

    And none of them are allowed to leave the house (since some have names on them). My sister even sends us ‘interesting/fun’ junk cards, and she’s a BIG NAME in the financial world. I suspect she doesn’t think it is that bad an idea; it is more what you model yourself, and what you teach.

  16. wdskmom says

    I’m stunned that this is on here… I’ve never been to a hotel that encourages taking the door cards. This is theft. Yes, the cards are likely bought in bulk and not overly expensive, but that is NOT the point. It’s one thing to forget to hand it in, but keeping it… what are you teaching your kids? And taking the empty store gift certificates… Wow. You all do realize that extra costs businesses have to incur are passed along to the consumer?

  17. christie says

    I think it’s important for young children to learn about how actual, physical money works before (or at least concurrently with) learning how to use credit cards. They’re so concrete in their thinking that they really need something to handle and manipulate in order to understand money concepts. Their play is their way of processing the world and moving forward; they need to see BOTH ways of engaging in commerce, because that’s the reality we live in.

  18. hedra says

    clarifying by ditto-ing christie – allowance is cash money (the concrete version), and all their purchases with their allowance are cash from their ‘piggy banks’. We do both the ‘understand what it means when we use a card’ (abstract) and ‘understand what money is and how it functions in the cash economy’ (concrete).

    (I’ve never done express checkout, so I’ve never even wondered what happened to the door cards under those conditions… though I think I’d tend to encourage reuse for the business as much as possible, not just from the ‘not stealing’ side but also from the ‘keeping my prices down in the future’ and ‘reuse – for same purpose – is an often-ignored part of the recycling picture’.)

  19. CJ says

    I always just leave the cards in the room if I use express checkout. When I was a kid, my folks would leave the keys (real, metal keys…) in the room when we left, and I’ve always thought of the cards as the same thing – keys. I’ve never thought of taking one. (I have, however, seen some that have “if found, please drop in any mailbox, pre-paid postage”. To me, this indicates a desire to get the cards returned.)

  20. mama_to_two says

    Relax, people! It’s not like she said “I steal a few towels and use them to club baby seals!” I manage a hotel, and keys are meant to be taken. Some locations in our chain sell coupon/ad space on the back. They are consumables like shampoo, soap, notepads, and pens.

    And it’s a myth that your personal info is stored on the key. Check snopes.

    Think what you will about the evils/joys of credit, but don’t sweat returning the hotel keys. You don’t want to be the next guy to get the key that was tucked into a swimsuit on daytona beach for week- trust me!

  21. Jim says

    Thanks, Mama_to_two-

    I knew that we had to have at least one person in the hotel business as a community member. I would be shocked if every hotel I have stayed in just didn’t care.

    While they don’t save the information on the keycards (it’s often just a passcode), GeekDad recently ran a post about using scavenged parts to make your own magstripe reader. You can find it here and see what’s on the cards for yourself:

  22. Leah says

    Daisy: speaking as a former hotel worker, I can assure you that nothing goes on those cards except your room number. The cards are reused time and time again — we key in your room number, swipe the card through the machine, and then hand you a card. If you lose the card, or it gets deprogrammed, we just reswipe through the machine.

    The place I worked was family owned, so we did have tight margins. We asked people to leave the keycards. However, we also had a stack of keycards that just didn’t work anymore (run through the machine one too many times, I guess), and we could give those out if any kids wanted keycards for play time.