Save Money, Restrict In-App purchases

Does your kid have an iPod touch or iPad? Do they like to play games? Download free apps? Then you need to know about in-app purchases.  Once you know about them, you will definitely want to restrict them and I’m going to show you how.

What is an in-app purchase?

An in-app purchase is a purchase that is made from within an application rather than from the app store or iTunes.  Some applications, particularly games that you can download for free, will suggest that you collect more “points” or “gems” or “coins” or what-have-you while playing the game.  Kids can click and not realize that they are spending real money.

For example, I have recently started playing Draw Something, which is kind of like Pictionary, with my daughter.  You can use “bombs” to skip certain pictures, which can be useful during the game.  You can buy bombs with “coins” that you’ve collected by guessing pictures correctly.  But it is hard to build up enough coins.  So you are given the opportunity to buy them.  A kid (or adult for that matter!) might assume that because the game was free, the coins will also be free and that the “purchase” isn’t real.  But guess what – it is!  Here are the screens I see when I click to purchase some coins.

Confirm your In-App Purchase Prompted for Apple ID for purchase

If I enter my password and click OK, $4.99 will be charged to the credit card associated with my Apple ID.


How to restrict In-App purchases

From the child’s iDevice, go to Settings > General > Restrictions.

General Settings Restrictions under General Settings


If you’ve already set up restrictions, you’ll be prompted for the passcode.  If not, choose Enable Restrictions and enter a pass code.  Be sure to use a 4-digit passcode that you will remember and your kids will not guess.

Then scroll down under the heading “Allowed Content” and change In-App Purchases from On to Off as shown:

Restrict In-App Purchases in Restrictions on iPod touch or iPad

I also recommend changing Require Password from 15 minutes to immediately.  This means that a password will be required for every single individual purchase of apps or songs (if allowed).

Next time, this is the message that appears when attempting an in-app purchase:

In-app purchases are not allowed


Allow in-app purchases without going broke

If you want to allow in-app purchases in a limited manner, there is an option.

Allow your child to use their own Apple ID, but do not tie the account to a credit card.  If your child receives iTunes gift cards (a popular birthday gift these days) they can apply it to their Apple ID account.  This allows them to buy points, coins, gems and whatchamacallits without breaking the bank.

What about Android tablets and Kindle Fire?

Parental controls on Android tablets and Kindle Fire are even more limited than on Apple devices – so check your documentation thoroughly to see what your options are.  I have a Kindle Fire and have been exploring the options, and will write about them in a future post.  In the meantime, this post on C-Net explains how to prevent accidental in-app purchases from the Amazon app store.

So in summary, I recommend restricting in-app purchases on your kids iPod touch, iPad or other device. It could save you loads of coins!

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  1. Jon says

    The real Apple RIP OFF is that these are not the default settings. We got our disabled daughter an iPad for Christmas, she knew to download free apps, we gave her a gift card but it quickly expired and she then ran up over $300 in inApp charges for stupid things like backgrounds and costumes.

    Apple has a duty of care here. I am requesting a refund but the fact that you can only access invoices via Itunes and installing that ruined our PC, it disabled the DVD Drive and refused to work.

    You cannot get a text download of your purchases I have had to go through a plethora of invoices and take screenshots

    WHAT A RIP OFF Apple is.

    Now we have to cause our disabled child huge distress.

    • Jean says

      Sorry to hear that happened, I know of several people who went through a similar situation. There are also countless horror stories like this on the web. Seems like in many cases Apple does refund the money so I had that happens in your case. Another option is to remove your credit card from your account in iTunes.

  2. DL says

    I have tried to set these restrictions and then I tested it. It STILL allows my son to buy apps! How can I unlink my CC info from his ipod as this restriction is not working! HELP!

  3. Jean says

    Hi DL,
    The instructions in this article are for restricting purchases made from within an app that has already been installed. If you want to restrict the ability to install any new apps, then you can do that also. Just go to Settings – General – Restrictions, and change the option “Installing Apps” from Yes to No. If you want to allow free apps, this won’t work. If he has his own Apple ID then you can log into iTunes with that Apple ID and from there you can remove the credit card info.

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