Three Practical Ways to Teach Your Teens About Money

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been frustrated with your teenager.

I get it. Parenting is hard. Being a teen is hard. Often it seems there is little common ground. Especially when it comes to money. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last twenty-six years of being a mom, it’s that it’s parents who have a thing or two to learn when it comes to teaching their teens about money management.

Do you want to be lectured?

Um, no. You don’t want to be lectured. None of us do! And that goes double if you are fourteen years old. If you start droning on for hours about the importance of saving for retirement, I guarantee your kid will tune you out.

Instead, make your money conversations about things that are relevant to their life right now. You know, like cell phones and video games. Or how they can afford the clothes they really want.

Use these topics to get their attention and rope them in on the retirement talk a little later on when they are more likely to be interested.

Lesson 1: Let them buy their own clothes.

When my kids turned fourteen we surprised them with a new allowance system. We wrote down all the clothing we would normally purchase for them during the year. We even included things like a winter coat and items for special occasions. Then, we estimated the cost annually, divided that into twelve equal parts, and added in the allowance they were already receiving.

That became their new allowance, and it was a lot of money.

Pro tip: This is not the time to be cheap. Nothing will make your teen angrier than if you put this on them and don’t give them enough money to purchase the clothes they truly need.

The first year offers the perfect opportunity to spend time showing your teen how to go through their closet to determine what they need and how to get the best deals on those items at their favorite stores. We reserved the right to make final decisions during the first year, and always went shopping with them.  

My daughter and I had a great chat with the manager of her favorite clothing store early on. During this conversation, my daughter learned when the store did their weekly markdowns and got the inside scoop on their annual sales. The manager also helped sign her up for text alerts and the store’s email list so she could get all the best deals.

This helped her understand how to think strategically about shopping rather than just reaching for the full-priced items in the front of the store.

The first year I provided a lot of oversight, but after that they were on their own. If they chose to spend their clothing money on something else, too bad. They’d have to wear that coat for another season.

If your child does this, don’t sweat it and don’t get mad. Wearing something old that is no longer in fashion won’t kill them.

In fact, fourteen is a great time to make mistakes with something easy like clothing money. It sets them up to make wiser decisions rather than do something foolish like take on $100,000 in student loans they have no clue how to repay simply because they were never taught how to make those important choices.

Lesson 2: Let them cook dinner.

I’m not saying I came up with this idea because I was tired of making dinner, but I was tired of making dinner every night. Honestly, the idea came about because a friend had a son in college, and he could barely make himself a sandwich. I didn’t want that for my kids so I decided that my son would cook dinner once a week.

It didn’t take long to see how it was helping him manage money.

Each week he received an allowance for the meal he was responsible for, and he had to make the list of ingredients he needed from the store. He quickly got into the habit of checking the pantry for those ingredients as well as reading the grocery ads to find the best deals.

To help him learn to cook, we purchased a simple-to-use Pillsbury cookbook magazine. All of his first meals started out using one of their pre-prepared products, which made it easy on him. He definitely branched out from there but it was an easy starting point for someone with very little cooking experience.

Not only did this teach him to budget and shop for the best deals, but he was also learning to cook — all important life skills. And, the best part was that his dad and I no longer had to worry about dinner on Thursday nights!

Lesson 3: Let them start their own business

One of the best things you can do to help your teen learn to manage money is to help them start their own business or get a part-time job.

Please note that this isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a pain in your neck most of the time, especially if your child doesn’t drive. Driving a kid back and forth to a job isn’t anyone’s idea of fun, and for some, it might not even be possible.

However, there are a ton of teen side hustles you can suggest if getting a traditional part-time isn’t feasible. There’s lawn mowing, snow shoveling, babysitting, pet sitting — this list goes on.

You can even help your teen brainstorm other ideas specific to them. For instance, are they great at basketball? Why not start an after-school basketball program for the neighborhood kids? It could easily turn into a summer basketball camp and become a real money-maker for your teenpreneur.

Just about anything they love to do or are skilled at could become a business. Take our family friend, who made $150 a week teaching piano to younger children. She started when she was in ninth grade. That was very good money and she never had to leave her house!

By integrating practical money lessons into your teen’s life, you have the opportunity to impact your teen in a huge way that will affect them for the rest of their life. Yes, it’s time-consuming and occasionally inconvenient, but so worth it!

Charlotte Baker partners with her daughter over at TeensGotCents. She spent most of the early 2000’s driving her kids all over kingdom come to various part-time jobs and all sorts of teen business endeavors. She wouldn’t change a thing because there isn’t anything much better than adult children who pay their own bills and know how to cook!

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