Teaching your teen about money, even when times are tough

In another area of my business I do sessions called Ask Pete the Planner® Day for the employees of our clients. It’s a full day of 15 minute, one-on-one sessions. I love them. What often happens on a particular Ask PTP Day is a trend emerges among the employees. On my last Ask PTP Day the trend was struggling parents of teens. After hearing so many stories of parents who are struggling financially but want to shelter their teens from hardship, I started to really think about the topic. Let me clarify, this isn’t parents who are struggling to teach their teens about money, it’s parents who are in a financially tough spot and want to keep their teens from feeling the effects of their financial bind. Interesting, huh?

Let me start off by stating the obvious: I’m not a parenting expert. I’ve never parented teens. There’s a lot here I can’t personally relate to, but on the other hand I am a personal finance expert. I have thoughts.

The concept of you not wanting your teen to hurt because you don’t have your financial life together is both selfless and selfish. It’s selfless in the sense that you want to provide a great life for your kids, but it’s selfish in the sense that you want to rob your kid of a great financial lesson by pretending everything is alright. Maybe you struggled as a teen. Maybe you didn’t get everything you wanted. But buying your kid the fancy $150 tennis shoes he wants, even though you can’t afford them, doesn’t prove anything. It may temporarily appease your kid, but what are you going to do the next time they ask for something expensive? Will you keep saying yes until you have nothing left to give?

The best thing you could possibly do for your teen is to sit down and show them your bank statement. Tell them, this is how much I make each month. Tell them, this is how much your expenses are each month. Tell them, this is what I’d like to save for college but can’t because there isn’t any money left at the end of the month. You’ve heard of multigenerational poverty. It’s a layered concept, but I’d argue a piece of it is lack of openness between parents and kids. When your teen knows you’re struggling, they can side with you in making smart decisions. It may motivate them to get a weekend job so they can have their own spending money. They may even help keep you accountable to your financial goals. You won’t know unless you try.

2 thoughts on “Teaching your teen about money, even when times are tough

  1. When our family gave up a comfortable, steady paycheck so that my husband could launch his own business, we did just this with our kids. Everyone has bought into a more careful treatment of the money that comes in, and we’ve actually begun saving more now than we used to. The kids (two teen girls) have adjusted beautifully.

  2. I propose that the “selfless” part of this summary is overly generous. Parental esteem is often linked to how well provisioned their families are. Parents can (and do) measure their own success by the quality of their children’s consumer goods, participation in blue-ribbon activities, attendance at sought after schools, and on and on without limit. Realistically, frugal parenting doesn’t feel nearly as awesome as indulgent parenting… and it makes us feel inferior to more seemingly-affluent/successful parents.

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