iOS 101: Manage Your Family’s iTunes Store Spending

Even if your kids understand the value of a dollar, do they appreciate how quickly they add up when using an iOS (s aapl) device? Unprotected iDevices can lead to big accidental iTunes charges. Here’s how to stop that from happening to you and your family.

Create an iTunes Account Without a Credit Card

Free apps can be pretty entertaining, and you don’t need a credit card to get them. Here’s how to create an iTunes store account without one:

  1. Make sure you are not already logged into an iTunes Account.
  2. From within Apple’s App Store, select and ‘purchase’ a Free app.  This will not work with free music, movies, or other media, only free apps.
  3. You will be prompted to either log in or create a new account.  Create a new account as you normally would.
  4. When selecting a payment option, make sure you select “none.”  By selecting “none”, you won’t be asked to enter payment information, and the account creation process will complete successfully.

Pretty simple, and incredibly handy. You can give associate your kids’ iOS devices with this account, or use it yourself to make sure you limit your spending. You can also have a paid account associated with a credit card attached to a different email address for when you absolutely need to make a purchase.

Set Up an iTunes Allowance

Establishing an allowance is more like setting up an automatic iTunes Gift Card plan. Each month your iTunes account will be charged for the amount you create the allowance for.  You will be charged even if the recipient of the “allowance,” I mean Gift Card, doesn’t use it.  Funds will accumulate in the recipients account until they choose to use them. Might still be useful as a reward for good behavior or chore completion though:

  1. Open the iTunes Store.
  2. Click “Buy iTunes Gifts.” This should appear under “Quick Links” on the right.
  3. Scroll till you find the “Allowances section” and click “Set up an allowance now.”
  4. Fill out the information as requested.

Parental Controls Within iTunes

Setting up Parental Controls in the iTunes Application itself is only a half-solution (see below), but it does have its uses.  You can even remove the iTunes Store from iTunes entirely.

  1. Go to iTunes>Preferences in the menu bar while the application is active.
  2. Click on the Parental icon.
  3. Check the box next to “iTunes Store” beside Disable.

Without any way to get to the iTunes Store, there is no way to make purchases. It’s key that you lock the parental controls.  This will then require an administrator account and password in order to turn the iTunes Store back on. You can also use this to institute a tiny bit of self-control by removing the obvious temptation.

Enable Restrictions on the iOS Device

If you’d rather have more granular control of exactly when purchases are made, instead of disabling purchases altogether, enabling restrictions directly on the iOS device works best.

  1. In your device’s Settings app, go to General>Restrictions.
  2. Tap “Enable Restrictions” and enter a passcode. Write it down somewhere so you won’t forget.
  3. Disable the options you’re concerned about and adjust the content settings to your needs.

In particular, I’ve found turning off iTunes, Installing Apps, and In-App Purchases to be most effective in controlling spending. These restrictions even apply when syncing to iTunes on the desktop.  If you’ve turned off installing apps, you won’t be able to add new apps to the device, or even update existing ones without first turning that particular restriction back on.

The iPhone 3G that I gave to my six-year-old daughter has well over 100 games installed.  While she didn’t purchase or install a single one of them, I doubt she feels restricted.  The four techniques outlined above should provide help with reining in spending when handing over your iOS device to one of the click-happy minis in your life.

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