My teens spent $400 on fast food last month (and how I learned to deal with it)

This guest post is from Naomi Mannino. Naomi is a freelance consumer personal finance and health journalist who reports on health, medical and personal finance news and how it will affect your life today. You can follow Naomi on Twitter @naomimannino.

My 19-year-old daughter came to me sobbing and wanting to borrow $20 for a concert because she didn't have any money. I simply said, “Nope.” That made the sobbing worse.

Now, before you accuse me of being cheap and mean, know that she works at McDonald's about 15 to 20 hours per week (more in the summer) and has for many months. She also has a habit of completely spending every penny of every paycheck, even though her direct-deposit paycheck splits the money into a checking and a savings account. My husband and I insist she pays us first for her portion of the car insurance and her smartphone service, but then she spends the rest from both accounts as she pleases on gas for her car, clothes, nails, cosmetics and — most of all — fast food.

I have found that you can set up bank accounts with savings, model good spending (and eating) behavior and show and tell teenagers what to do but you can't make them save the money or not spend money they earn. So through the sobbing, I tried to be helpful and said, “Let's sit down and look at your account online and see where you spent all your money. Maybe you can change your spending so you have enough for something unexpected next time.”

Time To Do the Math

We opened up that month's transactions and faced page upon page of $1 to $5 transactions at Taco Bell, McDonald's, gas stations, Dunkin' Donuts, and many larger transactions from Starbucks and Panera Bread. “I just bought a drink, that's all,” my daughter whined. I also heard, “It was $1 nugget day.” The grand monthly total for just the junk food came to $180. And she had hardly been eating anything at home. (Don't get me started on the nutrition aspect of this problem because I am a mom who loves to cook five to six nights per week.) She was stunned at how much money her junk food cost her.

She was dismayed to learn that she was giving a large percentage of her paycheck back to McDonald's (despite a discount), but in the end, I didn't get the sense that she really cared what I had to say or was interested in changing her behavior because she stormed away calling me “mean” and “cheap” when I wouldn't give her the $20 for the concert.

What if they are paying their needs first? Should you have a say in the rest?

My younger teenage daughter (age 17) works at Wendy's, and she also pays her smartphone service and a portion of her car insurance from every paycheck. She spends more on clothes, shoes and accessories than her fast-food-loving sister, but her fast-food bill still came to a whopping $120 per month with an additional $40 at IHOP and Applebee's. And, although she has never asked me for money, she's occasionally felt the pain of spending her whole paycheck, though not enough to make her reconsider her spending.

My son is turning 16 next month and does not have a job yet or a car yet, but he does have a small allowance of $15 per week, which goes straight to the corner gas station for a huge soda and a bunch of candy from Dollar General almost every day. How can I stop him? It's his allowance.

Letting Them Learn the Hard Way

Given what's happened to my kids, I feel like having them get jobs has not taught them what I was hoping, which was that fast-food, minimum-wage jobs stink (and you should go to college) and to learn to budget the money they earn for things they need and want plus to save a portion for an emergency. Instead it has taught them to spend every cent they have on whatever they want.

I think of all the reasons that their spending habits could be our fault:

  • Our expenses every month equaled only a little less than we brought in for so many years.
  • We said no to things because “we can't afford it.”
  • Could it be our fault because I never use credit cards and wait to purchase things I both need and want until I have enough cash?
  • Do they hate my couponing?

My kids seem to want what they want when they want it. My daughters' friends also make car payments and pay for their phones and also seem to be equally fast-food addicted. Maybe it's the company they keep? (Beggars can't be choosers when it comes to jobs for teens in our town.)

Every day, they drive and pick each other up and head straight to the nearest fast food. My son waits anxiously for his sisters to come home and drive him for his fix. I have learned that nagging and pointing out truths about a fast-food diet or making snide remarks about their spending, being broke or fast-food calorie consumption definitely does not work.

Pick Your Battles

It's sad for me to watch my kids squander their money, but I think they have to learn their own hard lessons, and I must stick to my guns. If they run out of money, I don't give more. Beyond the money, it hurts me to see them enslaved by the scientists behind the food industry, as I read about in Michael Moss's new book, “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.” Morgan Spurlock of “Super-Size Me” fame also discovered the addictive quality of fast-food in his famous documentary.

I just have to pick my battles, as they say. When it comes to teenagers, there are so many worse things they could be spending their money on, such as alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, and these vices are non-negotiable with known bitter consequences in our family.

I hope this phase will pass sooner rather than later. I know my kids will wish they had more money saved one day for a car, traveling or for college living expenses. But I am secretly saving the money they give me for their car insurance and smartphone payments as their savings. (Shhh! Don't tell them!)

Do your teenagers spend more on fast food than you ever thought possible? What do you do about it?

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nicoleandmaggie
nicoleandmaggie
7 years ago

I went through a fast-food phase in high school, but I grew out of it.

Here’s our discussion on whether or not teenagers should take minimum wage jobs: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/should-kids-have-to-take-a-minimum-wage-job-while-theyre-teens/

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

Speaking as a former educator, I agree that sometimes you have to let kids make their own mistakes! You can give them the tools and learning they need, but they have to want to be successful. I don’t think parents should blame themselves — so much depends on the kids’ personalities. I’m not sure if this helps, but one thing my parents had us do when we were young was put a certain percentage of our earnings in a non-liquid savings vehicle. (The goal at the time was saving for college/university.) Bonds and GICs don’t pay the same now as… Read more »

Sam
Sam
7 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I agree, my niece and nephew (he is in college) were required to put a certain chunk of earned income into a college fund (and no withdrawals were permitted).

I think its great the kids are working, earning money and learning about money, but I think a little more structure is called for.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Sam

You can “structure” until you are blue in the face. You can model a perfect economic life.

Some people will not learn financial lessons – EVER. It is not the parents fault. You have done what you could.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago
Reply to  Anne

I disagree – unless a disability is involved, most people are capable of learning money lessons. That doesn’t mean everyone is motivated to follow them. IMHO, we need to help people work with their abilities and personalities rather than throw up our hands and say “some people will never get it.”

If the OP’s daughter wants to spend everything she sees, then maybe it’s time to learn how to hide money from herself by putting it somewhere untouchable. That’s a structure she can use the rest of her life.

stellamarina
stellamarina
7 years ago
Reply to  Anne

Yes….I think there should be a rule of 10% savings. they have to set up a bank a/c and make the deposit every pay day.

Chasa
Chasa
7 years ago

Do NOT give your children that money! You are very brave for talking about your parenting challenges on a forum. Perhaps your children are rebelling specifically because you care so much about they’re up to. From your post you seem very type A; maybe you have non-type-A kids who are purposing choose their own (less than desirable) path in response to you. I believe there’s a bell curve of positive results from parental concern, with too much and too little giving negative results. If this spending pattern really does bother you, I would spend additional time in introspection, because you… Read more »

AMW
AMW
7 years ago
Reply to  Chasa

I think you SHOULD give them that money and let them make mistakes now rather than holding on so tight that they go and make mistakes later on when there is much more at stake. The only way they are going to learn the consequences is if it actually happens to them. My kids had to put 50% of their money in accounts they could not touch…they other 50% was theirs. They blew it on mostly stupid stuff. My 20 year old is now on her own, paying for her own education, and- SURPRISE -she is a very frugal woman.… Read more »

Stacie
Stacie
7 years ago
Reply to  AMW

But if you give them that money, what do they learn? They learn that they can spend all their money and mom and dad will give them more. I don’t think you learn from mistakes unless there are consequences (i.e. no money for the concert). Another option might be to offer alternatives, like a loan with some interest, or a way to earn that money doing housework/chores/whatever. But I think just giving them the money is taking away a potential lesson learned.

AMW
AMW
7 years ago
Reply to  Stacie

Stacie…there is apparently a misunderstanding. They EARNED that money at their jobs. They learned that a value meal, or a tank of gas, or an overprice pair of sweatpants = x amount of hours worked. And eventually they learned by doing this enough that stuff=hard work and that sometimes it is a waste to spend it. And when they finally get access to the 50% that we wouldn’t let them touch they learned the power of putting some aside and how little amounts can accumulate.

Danielle
Danielle
7 years ago
Reply to  AMW

I think “that” money Chasa is referring to is the extra cash for the concert. She’s free to waste the money she earned, but receiving extra money when you’ve spent all yours reinforces the wrong message (I don’t need to save; My parents will bail me out; etc.).

Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
Michelle at Making Sense of Cents
7 years ago

We used to spend tons of money on fast food. We have changed a lot since then!

Tara
Tara
7 years ago

As a teenager, I had two jobs, one in food service working 10-20 hours a week {more in summer) and a Sunday morning job working at a wealthy church nursery ($55 for 4 hours, what what!). I spent all my money on gas and CDs (no kids buy those anymore)… and sometimes clothes and the occasional concert. I never saved for anything I wanted really. But I knew I couldn’t ask my parents for anything except something for school or a pair of jeans if my last pair ever was destroyed. I do wish my mom would have been more… Read more »

Brett
Brett
7 years ago

Your teens sound like a bunch of…teens. I remember eating out a lot as an 18 the summer before heading to college. I had a good summer job making $10/hr and felt almost wealthy. Stupid me soon realized that first semester of school that eating out cost me too much. I missed out being able to pay for other things at school and had to get my parents to pay for my gas and other discretionary expenditures. Fortunately, they paid for a lot of my education. I learned from those years and am the most financially responsible person among my… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago

I don’t think you’re a meanie at all! One of the biggest perks of growing up poor is dispensation from parental guilt. Or at least parental guilt about making our kids pay their own way. We don’t tell our kids how to spend (or save)the money they’ve earned. And while we cover all their necessities, we would never cover something like a concert ticket unless it was a birthday present. My daughter was commenting just a couple of nights ago how one of her friends had to buy her own winter coats. My daughter didn’t think that was fair. I… Read more »

A
A
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

While this may not actually be the case for your daughter’s friend. I remember my parents refusing to buy me or my brother new winter coats one year in highschool. I live in New England, so winter coats are a necessity. They weren’t mean or abusive, they refused because they had bought us new winer coats the year before. We were even allowed to pick them out. The coats still fit and were in good condition. We just didn’t like them anymore because fashion had changed and they were no longer “cool”. At the time I remember being embarrassed having… Read more »

queeb
queeb
7 years ago

Thank you Naomi for sharing your story. Too often parents only relay their dealings with their kids in those obnoxious Christmas letters where everyone is too perfect. You did a great job with your oldest by both showing her how to analyze her finances and by not giving her money. She may have still called you mean, but I would bet she took in what you said and will eventually apply it. It may just take her some time to realize it. If not, she will have at least been given some guidance and she can then make up her… Read more »

Maria at Pocket of Money, LLC
Maria at Pocket of Money, LLC
7 years ago

Great article. Changing a person’s mindset or behavior (especially a teenager) can be very tough. They will realize the errors of their ways and when they are ready will want to learn better money management skills. It sounds like at that point you will be ready to help teach them.

Tracey H
Tracey H
7 years ago

The deal we had with our kids is they could get part-time (or summer) jobs as long as they saved 50% of their paychecks for college/university. It taught them to save (the oldest saved way more that 50% because he wasn’t into clothes, etc.) and they graduated from post-secondary education debt-free (we paid most of it from money we’d saved, but they did have to put in a significant amount).

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago

Amount 20-year-old son spent on fast food last month: $20; 17-year-old son: $0 We made the decision when our sons were young that they wouldn’t have fast-food type jobs as teens. What do these jobs really teach kids? To live a “fast-food” lifestyle–buy what you want when you want it, without considering the long-term cost to your health or your wallet. We also don’t think high school kids need their own vehicles, designer clothes, or smart phones. Too many kids learn to live a lifestyle they won’t be able to continue as adults, when they will have to pay all… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

This is a completely different parenting style from ours. I understand it and can respect it, but we want our kids to realize how lucky they are. And we feel nothing helps them realize they don’t want to spend their entire lives cleaning out the French fry machine than actually cleaning out the French fry machine. Or doing dishes, mowing lawns, digging ditches, or scrubbing toilets.

M
M
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

My son is just quitting his ff job this week after working there for two years. He now understands it’s unhealthy food and it’s no career-choice. He could have only learned that through experience. He made plenty of mistakes with his earnings but, again, that’s how he learns. My father taught my sister a lesson many years ago when he refused to fully fund her college education because she hadn’t saved her (already agreed-to) share. I watched and learned to save. She still lives beyond her means. Go figure.

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago
Reply to  Mom of five

My kids do plenty of hard labor and housework–it’s just all for our family. Just this morning, younger son was filling in the large hole his older brother had previously dug into the side of our basement walkout stairs. The side walls were reinforced after being dug out. Right now, younger son is out hanging clothes on the line and older son just left for his summer college course. To hire someone else to do the work would have cost $2,000. We bought $300 worth of supplies and tools (which can be used for other projects) and will give our… Read more »

Mom of five
Mom of five
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

But you’re probably not rude to them or unappreciative like the general public or an unfair boss could be in a minimum wage job. Your sons also get to see the pay off of their hard work. Contrast that to cleaning a public restroom, it’s disgusting again shortly thereafter – unfortunately nobody cares about your work like you do.

I understand where you’re coming from and you’re sparing your boys a lot of yucky work, but I just really believe there’s a great deal of value and life lessons to be learned starting at the bottom.

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

For a kid that’s not getting with the program, I completely agree with you. Put them to work cleaning public toilets. As a high school teacher and guidance counselor, I’ve had several graduates who goofed off in high school, worked manual labor for a year, and then decided to get further education. One of my former students came to younger son’s graduation party a couple of weeks ago and told me that he should have listened to me in high school. After a year working fast food, he’s enrolling in college and is prepared to work hard. But I don’t… Read more »

Daria
Daria
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

I am a mother of four. All four started working at Chick fil A at 14. None of my children were interested in playing sports in high school. They were in a club and all four volunteered with Teen Court run by a County Judge. Two of my children earned full rides to college and one earned a merit scholarship for 50% off of her tuition. What was mandatory was after tithing 10%, they had to save 50% in a savings account that the money could only be approved by us for big purchases. They all bought their own computers,… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Daria

I’m curious about this notion of mandatory tithing. I grew up in a very religious family. My parents tithed over 10%, but they never made me do the same. In my opinion, it goes against the spirit of tithing to force it on your dependents. I would rather my children develop a sense of free giving, even if it means they don’t give 10%. I just worry about the potential resentment and backlash.

Bethany
Bethany
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Hypothetical question: will you teach your children to only contribute to their retirement accounts on the months they ‘feel like it’? Of course not, you’ll teach them to be steady contributors because you believe consistent saving is the right thing to do. Well, we believe the discipline of consistent giving is also the right thing to do. My husband & I don’t give 10% of every single paycheck because we feel bubbly warm fuzzy emotions motivating us to do so; most of the time we do it because we firmly believe it’s the right thing to do – and afterwards… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

You extrapolate too much from my comment regarding my views about feelings versus responsibility. This led you to dilute and misconstrue my argument. Teaching your child that tithing or contributing to a retirement account is important is much different than making it mandatory. You can direct without dictating behavior. As children grow into teenagers, I tend to think that it is counterproductive to exert so much control over how they spend their money. Forcing a child to donate 10% of their part-time job to their church could backfire in the long run. When I worked outside the home, the money… Read more »

Waverly
Waverly
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Ah, the old resentment. Yes, I know it well. My mom and dad made me tithe 10% of my earnings (allowance and actual salaries from work outside the house) from the time I was a small child until I left the house at age 18. Unfortunately it went along with a lot of other religious tenants that were forced upon me. As an adult, I’m agnostic and resent all those years of having to give to the church. I understand the concept of giving money to others, but I think it would have been better if my parents had said,… Read more »

Bethany
Bethany
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Let’s go over a few different points here: 1. I’m sorry for coming across as sounding smug. In the particular quote that seems to have got your goat, I was trying to sound out which would be the best adjective to use, but ended up not deleting the others. I should have proof-read more carefully. 2. You asked about mandatory tithing. Not about teaching responsibility versus inspiring feelings. If that topic is what you were actually interested in (which is indeed a challenging and important balance for parents to maintain, one which I am still figuring out) then let’s redefine… Read more »

Jill
Jill
7 years ago
Reply to  Marsha

Oh, I’ve worked with research assistants like this. Its terrible when the kids are older and get their first new job. They have this mental block because they come into lab thinking that they’re going to be really important. They don’t know how to take constructive criticism, they don’t know how to behave at the bottom of the totem pole (i.e. their superiors have been working in lab for a really long time and know what they’re talking about), they don’t know how to interact with their bosses. Research is really hard and nothing is going to work them. You… Read more »

Marsha
Marsha
7 years ago
Reply to  Jill

Wow, what a way to stereotype someone you don’t even know! Do you categorize everyone based on your limited experience? When it’s due to someone’s race or sex, we call it racism or sexism!

My son’s professor sought me out at a college function to tell me that he’s the best research assistant she’s ever had, and she’s had dozens over the years. But you probably don’t believe that’s possible, given your small-minded prejudicial viewpoint.

David Hunter
David Hunter
7 years ago

Next time your kids ask you for money give them a personal finance book to read and tell them the book will show them how to get extra money.

Matt Becker
Matt Becker
7 years ago

Honestly, I think your approach to all of this sounds very health, and is very much in line with how I would like to do this when my children get old enough. I don’t believe that we can force our kids to make good money decisions. I think we can model good behavior, we can discuss their options with them, we can go over their budget with them like you did, but in the end they have to learn from themselves. They are earning money through their jobs (great!) and they are spending it how they want. Hopefully not being… Read more »

Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies
7 years ago
Reply to  Matt Becker

I’m with Matt. Your kids will learn, and you’ve done a great job of showing them where their money is coming from and going to. Then you’ve put limits on your expectations. As for me, I spent far too much of my meager income as a high schooler on cafeteria french fries and wild cherry pepsi. As a freshman in college living off my scholarship provided meal plan and the remnants of that high schooler’s income, I got with the program, ate at the caf, lost 15 lbs eating healthier foods and got a LOT less wasteful with my money.… Read more »

Johanna
Johanna
7 years ago

I believe that as a parent, it’s your job to teach your children that saving small amounts of money over a long period of time is a worthwhile thing to do. That’s a lesson my parents taught me at age 10. They said, “If you put aside $1 from your allowance each week, at the end of the year, you’ll have $50.” Then they said I could do whatever I wanted with my allowance, but at the end of the year I was responsible for having $50 (to buy Christmas presents for the family). I don’t know what they would… Read more »

Petra
Petra
7 years ago

I would also NOT give them that money for their phone and car insurance back later. They should know that they themselves paid their phone bill and part of their insurance. It will be a source of pride, later; and a feeling of being able to be independent.

You ARE currently teaching them about money; that it buys you things, but that it can also run out. Stay strong.

And don’t worry too much; it took me until age 25 to learn about money. They might understand it sooner than I did.

Anne
Anne
7 years ago
Reply to  Petra

Totally agree about NOT giving them back their car insurance and phone bill money. What the heck is the lesson here? Mom says I have to pay my bills but really she is tricking me into saving money which I will eventually get back to blow, also.

grrlpup
grrlpup
7 years ago

Maybe part of the issue is that the fast food places are the center of their social lives– do they have friends over at home, where they could even hang out and cook something? It sounds like the whole peer group might have to shift their habits in order for it to take.

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
7 years ago
Reply to  grrlpup

I agree. When I was their age I didn’t spend that much on fast food, but I bought a lot of CDs. I’m sure your children would be spending money on SOMETHING frivolous, it just so happens that their social lives revolve around junk food – perhaps at the mall?

chris
chris
7 years ago

They will wake up one day and be disgusted – with their friends, too. My daughter, who is 15, a dancer, had a similar experience. She had a friend who only wanted to go out to eat and then he bullied her around for rides, etc. After a while (not too late, thank goodness) she saw he was very selfish and his habits were disgusting (everything centered around food and he wasn’t fit). She didn’t like seeing her stash of cash dwindle. She didn’t like to see her friend’s photos on instagram of food, she didn’t like everything they did… Read more »

Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries
Kyle @ Debt Free Diaries
7 years ago

When I was a teenager I spent the majority of the money I earned from my job on fast food and entertainment. Good for you about not giving them more money after they’ve spent everything they’ve earned. Eventually they will grow out of it and spend less frivolously.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
7 years ago

This was fun to read and… yeah, all you can do it let them learn by themselves at this point, but our consumer culture has the odds stacked against you right now. Though on purely technical grounds you can talk her into setting up a small emergency fund? You know, instead of hovering +/- a zero balance, keep, say, a $200 cushion? Because otherwise next thing she’s going to apply for a credit card (if she has no qualms spending what she doesn’t have). Regardless, it’s going to be a tough learning curve. The world is telling her that she… Read more »

John G.
John G.
7 years ago

I am not a parent, and I do enjoy fast food from time to time. I know the feeling of that draw. Having disposable income enables this. I just never had any money to eat it when I was in high school. I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have fast-food addicted friends. I really think the company you keep is a big part of this here. My mom wasn’t really into cooking, but she expected us to eat at home and that’s what we did. Even if it was hot dogs and mac and cheese. I guess it… Read more »

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  John G.

You had me on the first part about Spurlock, but not on the second part about grains as poison. I know it is de rigueur these days to think of grains/carbs as the worst thing for our bodies. But here’s the thing – we have been eating them as food for over 10,000 years. Perhaps we need to reevaluate the types of grains and carbohydrates we eat and exercise portion control, especially in light of our sedentary lifestyles. But to demonize them as poison is rather facile and pseudo-scientific in its own right.

Sara
Sara
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Check out Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. We may have eaten wheat for 10,000 years, but for the last 30 it’s been modified so much that our bodies don’t recognize it any more. Modern wheat can be linked to the rise in Celiac disease, acid reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and skin disorders.

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Thanks for the recommendation. I haven’t read it. I am, however, curious of this idea of crop mutation, as if that has only happened over the past 30 years. Farmers have been cross breeding and altering crops since well……forever. Just because we now know how to do it at a genetic level doesn’t mean that people 10,000 years ago ate the same wheat that they did 5,000 years ago. I think the more compelling argument why things have changed and waist lines have expanded is because we are so sedentary. If one is moving around all day, carbs provide essential… Read more »

Sara
Sara
7 years ago
Reply to  Sara

Jane, Check the book out, it’ll give more info than I could give you right now on how the crops have been modified beyond any thing that a farmer could ever do. I think the sedentary lifestyle is caused by our food. Eating more carbs, mainly anything made from grains, than we should causes us to feel tired more often than not. We definitely need to address how lazy we’ve gotten, but by changing some of the things we’re eating it’ll start the process of being more active because we have more energy. If you don’t believe me google “carbs… Read more »

Tom
Tom
7 years ago
Reply to  Jane

Some people (like Mark Sisson, et al) say we’ve *only* been eating grains for 10,000 years – and we may not be totally adapted to processing them.

Jane
Jane
7 years ago
Reply to  Tom

If it takes our bodies over 10,000 years to successfully adapt to a food source, then I would say as a species we are pretty unadaptable and somewhat doomed. In that case, I think we should just eat whatever makes us happy during our short lives, instead of speculating on “ideal” food sources and micromanaging what goes in our gullets.

Steve
Steve
7 years ago

You can’t make your kids good with money, you can only give them learning opportunities (better known as letting them screw up) as early as possible before they become harmful. There are plenty of 60 year olds horrible with money. I’m pretty sure they had plenty of ‘learning opportunities’ throughout their lifetime. Its only an opportunity, it takes certain characteristics to be good with money that some people don’t have (just like about any other thing in life). I was never a very bad spender, never cared for accumulating junk, its a trait I’m lucky to have. But I gambled… Read more »

KD
KD
7 years ago

You are watching them learn. Good for you for sticking to your guns and not giving the money for the concert! It’s clear that your teens see you not spending. But do they see you budgeting and sitting down at the table every month to pay bills and to figure out what expenses are coming up? In other words, do they understand *why* you are saving money? Do they understand that you have needs and goals? Sacrifice makes no sense unless there is something larger to be desired. You have learned, probably over time, to anticipate future costs, to set… Read more »

WWII Kid
WWII Kid
7 years ago

I cannot believe I am writing this, but,

Do you remember when YOU were a teenager?

I know I did, and I’d never go back and be frugal like I am now.

Carol C
Carol C
7 years ago
Reply to  WWII Kid

I agree. I spent all my money as a teenage and young adult. I think I needed to go through that spending phase before I was ready to grow up and be careful with my money.

infmom
infmom
7 years ago
Reply to  WWII Kid

I remember when I was a teenager. My parents were idiots about money. They blew it all on things they felt “entitled” to or on “keeping up with the Joneses.” I answered calls from bill collectors. I once wore the same pair of ripped up sneakers to gym class for an entire school year because somehow or other there was never money to buy me a new pair of shoes (my oldest brother actually borrowed MY sneakers to play baseball in, another year, because somehow there was no money for shoes for him either even though there was plenty of… Read more »

Sheryl
Sheryl
7 years ago

I’d echo the idea that instead of putting half your daughter’s paycheque in a “savings” account that she can access freely it might serve her better if you helped her set it up to deposit into an educational savings account or some other account where the money is locked up. Without knowing how your family plans to cover college, I’d also recommend talking to her about expectations about what portion of her own money she needs to be contributing to that and what reasonable goals for reaching those savings would be. Also: don’t cave and give her more money just… Read more »

smirktastic
smirktastic
7 years ago

I loved this post until the very end when you admitted your plans to return their car insurance/smartphone contributions as their “savings.” Nobody in the real world will (secretly or otherwise) save any of their money for them, so why should you? All they will learn from that is that someone will always take care of things for them.

Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
Jake @ Common Cents Wealth
7 years ago

I know I spent quite a bit of money on fast food back when I was a teenager. It’s all a part of the learning process with money. I think you’re doing the right thing by not giving them more money and showing them where their money is currently going. In the end, they’ll have to want to change their habits because just you telling them to won’t do it.

Kathleen
Kathleen
7 years ago

You are a great mom and doing a wonderful job. All I can say, as the mom of two 40 year olds, is that someday your kids will thank you. One of the best things I ever learned about parenting was the concept of “natural consequences.” You often don’t need to be the bad guy, but just let your kids suffer those “natural consequences” of their sometimes ill-considered actions. I say your daughter running out of money for the concert fit beautifully into that concept. She needs to figure it out, and you’re helping her, not hurting her. Nice going!

Sandra J
Sandra J
7 years ago

MANY years ago during my first year out of high school, my Dad required $10 toward food and $10 toward gas from me. We rode to work together as he could drop me off on his way. When I decided to go to college full time after that year. He told me the $10 for food was gone (eaten up!) – but he had saved the gas money for me. I was THRILLED and appreciated what he had done and the lesson.

cherie
cherie
7 years ago

First to the initial issue, instead of giving them a bill and letting them spend the rest how about an incentive? Why do they only pay a portion of their car insurance? They’re just blowing the money, and their health, with your generosity – so how about something like: you must pay x% up front of that bill, but at months end you owe me the rest of the cost unless you can show me that you’ve saved half your paycheck [or the amount of that remaining bill or whatever]- and if you do that you’ll get to keep what… Read more »

Bob
Bob
7 years ago

Really nice article and I like the way you handle it with one exception:

…which was that fast-food, minimum-wage jobs stink (and you should go to college)

The jobs do stink but college isn’t necessarily the answer. Not everyone is cut out for it academically or financially. Generically “going to college” can cause more financial woes than eating fast food all the time.

SAHMama
SAHMama
7 years ago

Why don’t your kids eat at home? Is there a problem with the food available at home? Do they not like it? Is there not enough? Is it not ready at the right times? Get those kids into the kitchen and cooking. Teach them how to grocery shop and compare the cost of a fast food meal to a home cooked meal. Show them websites where they can knock off a restaurant version of a meal at home for pennies on the dollar. Have them invite their friends over to help. Instead of Taco Bell, have taco night at home.… Read more »

EMH
EMH
7 years ago
Reply to  SAHMama

When I was a teenager, dinner at home was mandatory but I still went to Taco Bell, Denny’s and Wendy’s because that is where we hung out after school. I could be wrong, but I imagine many of these meals are after school or late night weekend meals and not dinners.

Linda Gertig
Linda Gertig
7 years ago

I never told my kids that we could or could not afford something. We chose or did not chose to spend our money that way. When a kid is being urged by his peers to spend money on something and he does not want to it feels far more powerful to say,”I do not choose to use my money that way,” than to be asked,”What’s the matter, can’t you afford it?”

Heather
Heather
7 years ago
Reply to  Linda Gertig

We do the same. I read that advice years ago and liked the approach. I remember as a kid internalizing “We can’t afford that” weirdly and not discussing things with my parents because I just assumed we couldn’t afford it. I missed some opportunities as a result that if I had talked with my folks, I am sure we could have worked something out. I am very careful to tell my son we choose to not spend on certain things because that choice can limit us later. I want him to understand that money is tool we control. It shouldn’t… Read more »

Jen From Boston
Jen From Boston
7 years ago

I was raised eating healthy food, and we NEVER had sugary cereals at home. Only had Grape Nuts 😛 , rasina bran, shredded wheat (not frosted), you get the idea. So when I went off to boarding school (on massive financial aid), what’d I do? I ate Captain Crunch cereal to my heart’s delight! Sometimes we just do what we weren’t allowed to do… I would keep on doing what you’re doing, but do NOT use the saved money to pay their expenses. Eventually they’ll come around. Perhaps when they’re off at college and can’t work during the school year… Read more »

Barbie
Barbie
7 years ago

I am hopelessly old fashioned I guess but all of this would come to a screeching halt at my house…and yes, I did raise two daughters and an orphaned brother not that long ago. All worked during high school and school night meals were eaten at home, period. They could eat out on the weekend with friends if they chose. They paid for their own gas and car insurance when they worked and each got an allowance and a modest clothing allowance after age 12. My kids not only survived but they thrived. One daughter graduated as valedictorian if her… Read more »

butterbean13
butterbean13
7 years ago

Wow, this brought back many memories of teenage years! I had read somewhere that children become the socioeconomic class of their peers, not of their parents. My parents were working class, debt-free and very cautious with money. We lived in a town that was mostly middle and upper middle class. My brother and I always knew our parents couldn’t and wouldn’t give us the toys and splurges that our classmates enjoyed. So I worked 30-hour workweeks during high school (and maintained high grades) in order to afford the clothes and times out that my more-affluent friends had. My brother figured… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
7 years ago

Maybe in addition to going over HER budget and finding out where her money went, you could also go over YOUR budget with her and show her what the $20 she wanted was being allocated towards?

You may also want to be sure you are couching it in terms of “I already have plans for that $20,” rather than “I don’t have $20,” which she will probably recognize for a lie. (Unless it’s not a lie, in which case your budget will reveal that, too.)

Kat
Kat
7 years ago

Sounds like your kids don’t have any long-term savings goals, so they have no reason to save their money. Saving for something abstract like “the future” or “college” doesn’t work. It has to be concrete. When I was in college, I had to cough up $5,000 every August to pay for my half of the tuition. This meant I had to save $417 per month ON TOP OF my normal expenses like textbooks, clothes, fast food, movies, and gas. That gave me a very real goal to work toward, and man did I hustle. Nothing motivates you more than knowing… Read more »

Julie
Julie
7 years ago
Reply to  Kat

I don’t think you can make such an absolute statement as all 3 if my kids save money even though they were never saving for anything in particular. They just like to see the balance in their account growing. Every now and then they decide they want something and use a portion of their savings, and then they start saving again.

Scondor
Scondor
7 years ago

My daughter is only 11 months, so I don’t have experience as a parent with teenagers on this yet, but I do remember a very valuable lesson I learned that started in kindergarten but only sunk in after college. My teachers taught me to draw the number 5 as down, curve, and then cross the top last. They specifically said that if I started at top-right; went left, then down, and curved last; that it would end up looking like the letter S. I decided immediately that was ridiculous, took the second route, and as a result, today my 5’s… Read more »

AJ
AJ
7 years ago

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. You do your best to give your kids a solid financial education–both through your lessons/words and through the example that you set–and hope for the best; if they don’t follow it, or have growing pains, you’re being unfair to yourself by thinking it’s your fault. Also, they sound like typical teenagers. I was an excellent saver as a kid, and I follow good money habits as an adult, but I blew my share of cash in high school. (Though I will say that even in my lean… Read more »

HipHopAnonymous
HipHopAnonymous
7 years ago

$15/week is not a small allowance, and could be the source of some of these issues. When I was a kid, my parents gave us $1 a week. We’d get an extra buck if we did our chores. As I grew older, allowance was bumped to $5/wk but it would be forfeit if we didn’t do our chores. I had the option to earn an extra $5 if I mowed the lawn (1 acre property). By having a very meager allowance, it forced me to save for the things I wanted to buy because $1/wk doesn’t get you very much.… Read more »

MamaMia
MamaMia
7 years ago

Sounds like pretty normal teenage behavior to me. That said, I can’t help but wonder, could working for a fast food joint have encouraged their bad eating/spending habits? Sure, they’re learning what it’s like to make minimum wage flipping burgers. But they’re also being exposed to food-like substances that were created in a lab for no other purpose than to make gullible humans hunger for them. I’m a health food nut myself, but even I get a craving for a greasy burger if I catch a whiff of one. Plus, the convenient-oriented work they’re doing may be teaching them instant… Read more »

Alexis
Alexis
7 years ago

I’m 25 and I just bought my second house with my own money. I’m *so* glad–now–that my mother did not give me an allowance after I started working at 14. I also had to do chores at home (because my sister is way younger than me and my mom is a single mom) in addition to earning my own allowance, but mom paid for my car insurance and gas in return. It’s also an extremely important lesson to learn how to budget, how to identify what are needs vs wants, what are actually good deals, and the fact that money… Read more »

infmom
infmom
7 years ago

My kids, now 36 and 33, never had problems with money. They both got jobs early on (all on their own, we didn’t push them) and they have always been prudent and even on low wage jobs managed to save and put money in IRAs. No, it’s my 57-year-old brother who’s got the spending habits of a 15-year-old. If a band he likes is playing anywhere within 300 miles (I’m not exaggerating here) he goes to see them. He once blew $100 for a ticket to see Paul McCartney and then called me two weeks later in tears because he… Read more »

adult behavior
adult behavior
7 years ago
Reply to  infmom

answer: Don’t give him any money. That’s how to handle it.

Savvy Financial Latina
Savvy Financial Latina
7 years ago

I’m a little shocked but not really. In college, I spend a lot of money in fast food, but believe me if my mom had been cooking at home, I would have eaten her food.
You really can’t influence their spending. Since they are working and spending their money it’s hard to control it.
I worked part time and college, and thankfully saved almost every penny I had. I would go and deposit my check every other week, and only keep $20 in cash. I did not touch that money, and only spent the cash, if at all.

UCSB Student
UCSB Student
7 years ago

I’m 21 and never worked until this year, at my university. My mother has bought most everything organic for years, and I still try to follow this practice in school with the little I make. Thus, there simply isn’t enough money for me to eat fast food often when purchasing organic and saving. I did make a friend this last year who spent at least $20 most days on fast food. Sometimes he threw half of his food away because it was too much. It was never a financial concern to him because he received money from the GI Bill… Read more »

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
7 years ago
Reply to  UCSB Student

I know someone who while in school bought fast food/take-out 3x a day (with his credit card too), every day and then 8 months later he seemed surprised that he had packed on 60lbs.

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
7 years ago

It could be worse, YOU could have spent $400 last month on fast food for your teens.

Matt @ Your Living Body
Matt @ Your Living Body
7 years ago

That is an absurd amount of money. Imagine if they were just spending that on the dollar menu? I’m in my 30’s now but when I first moved away from home when I was 20 I went through a Mexican food phase (it’s just so good here in San Diego). I think that generally happens with most young people as for the most part they’re still used to their parent’s meal planning/cooking. It honestly takes a while to get adjusted to living on your own, learning to cook, and keeping tack of finances to see what you’re spending and where.… Read more »

Julie
Julie
7 years ago

I agree. As a teen I was required to cook twice a week and was shocked when I left home and my roommates were just “learning” to cook. I also regularly did the family grocery shopping as an older teen with a car (with my Mom’s credit card).

It might not stop them going out for fast food so much, especially if they are working there – but it might help them appreciate good, fresh food and the enjoyment it can bring.

Derek | MoneyAhoy.com
Derek | MoneyAhoy.com
7 years ago

Good for you for teaching them hard love! I have a suggestion that may help the lesson stick with them more. How about setting a goal for them based on a dream or interest of theirs? This dream could be a vacation/trip/car/pony/etc. that they can actually save up for that they can take with them for their next 10+ years or have as a memory they will always cherish. The point being you can match them dollar for dollar as they save up for the “thing” to show them how to develop good saving/investing habits. It sounds to me like… Read more »

marie
marie
7 years ago

I started working as a very young teen on the family farm, and by the time I was 18, it was probably close to 25 hours per week on top of full time school. We got a monthly paycheck, from which 1/4 was for spending and the 3/4 was for college savings. What did I spend the 1/4 on? Gas, junk food, clothes and yearly band trip. My parents had plenty of food at home, but you know what, forbidden fruit tastes better and when there is only healthy food at home, the first thing you will buy once you… Read more »

Thomas
Thomas
7 years ago

Its just sometimes easier to let them learn on their own. They work so they know money doesnt grow on trees yet they will spend it like its water and always available. Of course they think they can run to parents when they are short. This is way finances and money are so important. Better they make the mistakes while living with you then out on their own.

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