Money, Money, Money: Teaching Teens to Budget

“Mommm can I have some money?” If you have a teenager, chances are you hear this on an almost daily basis. It’s not uncommon for parents to complain that they feel like nothing more than an ATM to their teenager, constantly being asked for money to buy anything and everything. This continual bombardment can not only breed frustration, if it’s not managed well it can quickly lead to financial strains and family conflict.

While it’s normal for teenagers to be focused on nothing but their needs and not understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, it’s also important for parents to help them become budget-conscious. Even if they don’t take it to heart now, what you teach them will most definitely help them in the future. Here are few good tips for teaching teens to manage money:

Be consistent.  Whether it’s a set weekly allowance or a chore chart on the fridge, it’s important that you pick a system for giving them money and stick with it. The worst thing you can do is be unpredictable about when and how you give them money. If sometimes they harass you and you give in – whether it’s for money to go to the movies or for that dress they “just have to have”- the second you hand them a wad of cash, you better be prepared for constant pestering from that point on. Even if 90% of the time you say no, if they think that there is the slightest chance they’ll get money, they will keep trying. And trying. It’s kind of like slot machines- you don’t know when you will win, so you keep going on the hopes that this time, you’ll score big. However, if they come to realize you mean it when you say they get a set allowance each week and nothing else, they’ll eventually stop trying so hard to hit you up for cash. Not only does being consistent teach them to manage money, it also helps you to budget better.

Use a reinforcement system. Teenagers love money- so why not get them working for it? Setting up incentives that allow them to earn money is a great way to keep them motivated while also teaching them real-life skills. They are a lot more likely to clean their room if they know every time they do it gets them the cash they need to go out with their friends. Make sure you take the time to negotiate a reinforcement system with your teens, however: if you create it without their input, they are a lot less likely to follow through. What you think will motivate them and what will actually motivate them may be two very different things.

Set limits. While positive reinforcement systems work best- systems that allow them to earn cash, not lose it- it’s also important to also set limits that prevent any financial hardship for you. For example, massive cell phone bills is a major source of conflict in many families. While you might think yelling at them will help them learn, your best bet is to create clear limits and consequences before things get out of hand. If they know that every time the bill goes over they will lose their phone for a month, they are a lot more likely to pay attention to how much data they are using. While they are sure to push these limits on a regular basis [that’s what teenagers do!], as a parent it’s important to stand firm. Following through with limits will not only keep you financially stable, it will help save your sanity.

Anna Coutts, Med. CCC

Coutts Anna Feb 2015

About Anna 

Anna is a youth and family therapist based out of Toronto, Ontario. She splits her time working at an accredited children’s mental health agency and running her online private practice, Coutts Online Counselling.

September 2, 2016

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