Teenagers and money

Teenagers are expensive! Everything they want costs money. Everything they wear costs money – and then they go and grow out of it before it’s even appeared on your Visa statement. And they don’t want any old stuff – it has to have some brand or label on. If you let them rip, they could bankrupt the richest of us.

That label thing – do brand labels really matter? Of course they do, if you’re a teenager. Here are some tips –

  1. Buy your teenager one or two really cool items that they can wear often. It might be a very stylish jacket or pair of shoes, something they can be really proud of. But they don’t need everything to be branded – they don’t need fancy brand undies or socks or shirts.
  2. Another idea is say to them, “I’ll buy the shirt, you buy the label”. That means, if you can get a perfectly suitable shirt for $40, but they want the classy, branded one that costs $70, you pay the $40 and they pay the extra $30 from their own money.
  3. I reckon the best solution is to get them on to a budget. Work out what you would want to spend on their shoes and clothing, entertainment and gifts, and give it to them to spend. Make them responsible for all their purchases of clothes, toiletries and shoes. If they want to go to the movies or buy a friend a birthday present, they can only do that if they use their money. You can eventually get to the point where the only extra things you are paying for are their medical and school expenses.

There are so many benefits to this. For a start, it helps you budget and watch your own money, but an even bigger benefit is that it trains them to budget. You might watch your kids make spectacularly unwise purchases – blow all their money on a pair of shoes, for example – and you will want to step in and tell them what a dumb thing they are doing. But you don’t have to. They will discover that they don’t have money to go out with their friends or to buy the new jacket they wanted. They experience some consequences – and consequences will teach your child far better than any of your sermons and lectures. Of course, it only works if you don’t rescue them.

The way they learn to handle money will be the way they will handle life. Good budgeting trains you to take control of things, rather than have things take control of you. A good budget doesn’t just look after your money – it looks after your stress levels and your peace of mind. If they learn to save and delay purchases until they can really afford it, I bet you’ll see benefits in their character as well. They will work away at goals and sacrifice to get what they really want. This is called delayed gratification – going without something now so you can have something better later, and delayed gratification is one of the key skills to master in life.

By the way, even though you are giving them the money to spend, they still have to be accountable for how they use it, especially when they’re younger. It’s their money but, no, they can’t buy a can of Coke or a machine gun over the internet. It’s the V of Love thing. One thing that takes some learning is the ‘weight’ of money. They need to learn that cellphone calls and petrol and burgers all cost money. And they learn that early when it is their money that they are spending. I reckon if they are driving or using a cellphone, they should be paying for it.

One of the things that sticks with me is a phrase I heard ages ago – an indulged teenager is just as miserable as a deprived teenager. Teenagers that have to struggle a little and work a lot, ultimately have more self-esteem and better life skills than those who get handed everything on a plate. And never think that your money is going to buy their love. There are teenagers with rooms full of electronics and high-class gear who might have the stuff, but what they would really love from their parents is a hug.