How to Teach Your Teen to Budget Like a Pro
Written by Elle Martinez
One crucial piece of a financial foundation kids and in particular, teens, need to master is learning to budget (and sticking with it).
While they’re home now, you have a fantastic opportunity to get them comfortable with handling their money.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips from fellow parents and experts in the personal finance space to make teaching this life skill a bit easier less stressful for you and your teen!
Teach Your Teen to Budget for Real Life
Teens or not, whenever most people hear the word budget, they also hear the word ‘no’. To them, budgets feel like a strict diet. Just as fad diets fail, an unrealistic or extreme budget will more than likely discourage your teen and they will quit.
The first step before you even talk about the numbers is to discuss exactly what a successful and sustainable budget should be. When done right, a budget is something that helps you move your money towards your goals. Explain to them that at its root, budget is simply a plan about what they’d like to do.
You want a budget that can cover:
- Essential bills
- Future goals
- Discretionary expenses
When your teen’s budget covers those goals, they’re not only putting their finances in a good spot, but they’re moving closer to their specific long term dreams.
Creating a Doable Budget (They’ll Actually Enjoy!)
Once your teen(s) understands how a budget works, it’s important for them to create a budget that they can use in the real world. You can honestly budget however you want, but an easy budget to get your teen started is the 50/20/30.
Quite simplify, the 50/20/30 budget puts money into those three main buckets:
- 50% goes towards essentials
- 20% towards savings (or investing)
- 30% for fun and discretionary expenses
I appreciate how easy and flexible this budget can be. You can adjust the percentages for your teen’s needs, but it gives them some ballpark idea of how to portion their finances when they are out on their own.
How do you start them out on this budget?
With teens, you may have expenses like clothing or their cellphone bill count as essentials, or you may want to give your child the experience of being responsible for a small, shared family bill while they are still at home.
For older teens, you could even charge them a nominal ‘rent’ to offset their portion of the bills. In some cases, parents give that money back to their child as a gift to help with moving expenses (like for their security deposit) or use as additional savings.
However you decide, talk it over so your teen understands why you’re doing it this way.
Share Your Family Budget
Creating a budget isn’t complicated, but it can difficult if your teen has no idea what to expect. Knowledge can be empowering.
While we may take it for granted since have to deal with the numbers, but your teen may not be aware of how much it takes to keep the lights on and roof over their heads. If you haven’t already shared your own budget already, now is the time.
Not knowing also puts them at a disadvantage when they start searching for a place or are comparing prices on expenses. Being armed with the numbers makes your teenager a more informed consumer.
When Your Teen Breaks Their Budget
Will there be times where your teenager will mess up with their budget? Probably so. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As parents, we tend to want to protect our kids, but we also have to prepare them for the real world. As Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled, pointed out we should let our kids make financial mistakes.
Wouldn’t it be better for your child to break the clothing budget while they’re still at home allowing you to help guide them through rather than having break their monthly budget while they are on their own and have bills to pay?
Mistakes will happen, they’re a part of life so giving your teen time to work those them and adjust their budget is a blessing for their future selves.
Essential Accounts for Your Teen to Have
Since we’re talking about budgets, we should also mention some essential accounts you’d want your kid to have so they can practice managing their money.
Opening up student checking and savings accounts (usually free low on fees as well as not having minimum balance requirements) are good foundational accounts for your teen. They can deal with real-world situations pending charges, automatic transfers, and direct deposits.
As Family Balance Sheet founder Kristia Ludwick pointed out, teens should have the skill of balancing a checkbook even if they decide to go all-digital with their banking.
If they work, talk it over together and see if they can open up an IRA and start contributing. It doesn’t have to be much. The idea is to get them familiar and comfortable with the basics of investing.
Even if they put in $25 a paycheck, having them practice setting aside money in their budget for both long and short term goals is an invaluable lesson. You can also encourage them to contribute by offering a match for what they put in.
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