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Using Their Own Money is the Very Best Financial Lesson

“Teens don’t realize how expensive they are—until they have to pay for things with their own money.” 

You’ve likely seen the meme where one of the Little Rascals is tossing handfuls of money out the window—a picture that seems recreated daily if you’re a parent of a teen. Not only do we house and feed our offspring, but we typically shell out big bucks for extracurricular activities, vacations, and school events. Sometimes we get caught up in feeding their insatiable appetites for the latest and greatest—whether it’s a hot sneaker, a video game, or the newest drink at Starbucks. But a funny thing happens when you ask them to pay for something with their money. Often the “must-have” item isn’t quite as crucial anymore.

Teens and Money

At times, my kids requested some nonsense item they already had multiples of, and I told them that was a good use of their birthday money. Or, if it was something I was on the fence about, I suggested we split the cost. If they demurred, I figured they didn’t want it anyway. If they agreed to split, I realized it was important and sometimes I’d pay more than half my share. (Yes, they soon caught on to this trick.)

I’m not alone when it comes to costly teens. When we posted the topic on our Facebook page, our trusty parenting community dove into the discussion, adding over 100 comments and more than 900 shares on teaching the value of money. Beyond the basic life lesson that, well, life is expensive, here are three other things they shared that their kids have learned by using their own money.

Necessities aren’t fun to pay for. 

Recently, we’ve all been feeling the misery of rising prices at the grocery store, gas pump, you name it. When our kids share in that pain, they’re the tiniest bit more understanding of why you don’t want to run to the store yet again or be the default designated driver picking up the friend on the outskirts of town. Said one, “Every time my son goes to the gas station he knows how much more money he is paying compared with the week before. Priceless moment indeed.”

This works for food, too. They might needle you to get burritos on the way home when you already have dinner ingredients at home. But when they have to spring for the drive-thru meal themselves, suddenly they enjoy that already-bought food even if they have to prepare it. 

Bargain shopping is worth it. 

When it’s your money the most convenient option might be their favorite one, but when it’s their money, teens are more apt to comparison shop and note the price differentials. “Drug stores are very expensive compared to our big box or regular grocery store,” noted one parent. When teens have to pay that “convenience” surcharge, they’ll probably hit the big box store after all. 

Having money is important. 

Shared one parent, “When I made my teen pay for his own haircut, he said, ‘But I don’t have a job.’ Ummmmmm…..” Refusing to pay and allowing your kid to miss out on the fun their friends are having at a concert means they might find a job far quicker than by parental nagging alone. Or, as one parent said to their kid who “needed” a new phone, “Sounds like a terribly difficult goal to reach with no money to make it happen.”

And on that note, kudos to this mom who kept a running tally: “Gave the kid a full listing of things bought for him in May, and his jaw dropped. Now you see why we need to eat at home?”

I think we can all agree that the best payoff for having them spend their own hard-earned money is that ideally, it brings another exciting byproduct–a little more appreciation for when you pick up the tab yourself. 

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at