Teens and expenses: how we do it

The winner of last week’s book giveaway Tokens of Affection is commenter #1 Stefani.

Thrift store shoes

I thought it might be interesting to some of you to hear how we work all the ‘extra’ expenses that teens tend to have.  We have a moderate budget which allows us to supply all of our kids’ needs, but it doesn’t always allow us to fund the ‘wants’.  So that’s where they come in.  If they want something badly enough, they work for it.  Here’s how it currently works at our house.

I will often buy kids some new clothes for Christmas. They also have a grandma who gives them new clothes at birthday time. At other times in the year I will grab them items at the thrift store  or on sale as I find them and I see that they have need. When we go thrifting together, I will often tell them I’m game to buy them one item, and then they can buy whatever they find beyond that one item.

When it comes to shoes, the girls have so many, and get so many hand-me-downs that I don’t buy them much beyond what we occasionally find at the thrift store. In the photo you can see some thrift store shoe finds from a couple years ago. The boys wear out their shoes much faster than the girls, which I replace at the cost of up to $30. If they want to buy something that costs more, it’s up to them to pay the cost beyond that first $30.


We don’t really have a big entertainment budget these days, and our teens (like typical teens) have lots of wishes. In general if the activity is less than $5 or so, and we’re all going, we pay.  If it’s more than $10 or so, and/or if it is something they’re doing on their own with friends, it’s their deal. Some examples: a couple of our teens have done judo at our local rec center, which they’ve paid for themselves, though I have several times paid for a month or bought them a judo gi as a Christmas or a birthday gift. We are willing to spring for dollar theater movies every few weeks.  We also will pay for them to go to a couple other new-release (full price) movies during they year.  When we went to the water park this year, the teens paid their own admission.  But we had several half-price coupons, which made the cost a lot more reasonable.  A few times our kids have done paint-ball, which they’ve paid for themselves.  But we paid to take them all ice skating awhile back.  This seems to work pretty well, and it also makes kids think about how badly they want to do any particular activity.


We have a minivan that has been our ‘teen’ car for years.  We  pay those expenses and the kids can drive that vehicle for free to necessary activities.  Our daughter who currently uses the car most is doing a one-year dental assisting program at the community college this fall, and to assist her in that goal, we are letting her use the van for free, and will supply the gas.  Once she gets out of school and gets a job she will be able to save and purchase a car for herself. We have also been driving our teen sons to their jobs this summer, which has allowed them to build up enough savings to buy cars of their own.  Our teens typically don’t buy cars til they’re at least seniors in high school, but we currently have three 16 year old teens and one 18 year old.  There just won’t be enough car to go around between all four of them.  So it is actually a good thing that our boys are so eager to buy cars on their own. Once they have their licenses and their own vehicles (bought for cash– no loans allowed) they will be paying all auto expenses, as well as half the cost of insuring their vehicles.  My dad has typically helped us out by fixing broken vehicles very affordably.

College Expenses:

Some of the teens have taken college classes in high school, which they pay for themselves.  They’ve also been helped out by a dual-credit scholarship that our local community college offers to high school students interested in taking college credits during high school.  Once they are in college, they will continue to pay their own way.  So far two of our kids have graduated from college with no debt.  We are hoping it will work that way for the younger kids as well, and are encouraging them to apply for scholarships and keep grades up.  Thanks to our large family, the kids do also tend to qualify for Pell grants.

Housing for College and Beyond:

Kids can live at home for free as long as they’re in college and are being responsible about their studies.  Our current 18 year old is planning to stay home while she gets her one-year program done, but most of the other kids have opted for dorms and later apartments.  We are willing to let kids stay home beyond college for a small amount of rent, but so far all the kids have been eager to get out on their own and live independently.

Sometimes I wish we had the finances to afford this or that special activity for the kids– I’m a momma, after all, and want to give good gifts to our kids. But then I have to remind myself of the good growth that is coming from this; the limits of our budget are teaching our kids a lot about their limits of their own budgets.  I’m sure there will be budget stumbles for them along the way— we all have them.  But I think that having to work and pay for some of their own wants from an early age will help them have more realistic ideas about budgeting as young adults.

What about you?  If you have teens, do you pay for all their expenses, or do you encourage them to pay some of their own?

If you’re interested in reading more about teens and money, you might enjoy our $20 Grocery Experiment




  1. I have two teens, and we are working on the balance of what we do and don’t pay for. Typically, we pay for outings for the entire family, though we are struggling more now than when they were younger, so we are having them pay their own way more and more. If they go out with friends, they typically pay. All the kids get a generous allowance until they get a job. The allowance stops with the job. Our oldest is a poor money manager, and he has to learn everything the hard way. I am very worried because he is headed to college with loans in the fall. We cover his car insurance but not his gas (usually). He will work in college, but none of our local schools have his degree program, so he will be on campus four hours away from home. Our second teenager just started her first job. We are now working out how she will balance that with school. She is headed into her junior year which is brutal nationwide, and she has two AP classes and a dual high school/ college credit course added to her load. We have to be realistic about how much work she can handle with that course load because we want her to have a life. She is sixteen, and we know that school will pay off much more in the future than her minimum wage job. We do help out with expenses for school dances and such. Fortunately, our daughter is very frugal, so she is fine with our year-round clearance rack shopping for formal dances. Winter ball and junior prom dresses are already in her closet, and both only need minor alterations. We invested in two pairs of shoes: one in silver and one in black. We figure that between those two pairs of shoes, she should be able to match any dress she chooses for the dances. We have learned that getting boys ready for formal dances is definitely more expensive, but our son has always paid part of the expense 🙂 As for other teen expenses, we started putting aside $5 per paycheck for each child when they were born or entered our family. We doubled that when they reached 4th grade to cover class rings, senior pictures, and senior trip. As for senior pictures, that was a “mom” thing as I am not sure how many of my kids care to have money taken from their own pockets for them, but I insist on that expenditure. They can choose for themselves whether they want to use the money for the trip or ring, but it is really nice to have it ready for them. There was enough left over for my son to cover bedding and materials needed for dorm life. Yes, we are taking out hefty loans to help with college, but we see that as their inheritance.

  2. I’ve never meet you, but I thought of you today. I live far, far down south. My local Khols had a white, pleasant top w/blue stitching. It was very cute! It was about $12.00 on sale. Don’t know if you could find it online. Reminded me of your recent Stitch Fix.

    Don’t have any teens yet but always appreciate your large family advice, and I love Frugal Fridays! Keep ’em coming!

    Thank you!

  3. Thanks this was really interesting! I guess I also wondered how do your kids have money to buy things for themselves. I understand that your teens work, but how do they afford to pay for college classes at such a young age? Also, before they work how to they afford to purchase things like trips out with friends that you mentioned? Do you give an allowance? I know someone who gives each teen $100/month and that has to pay for all their clothing, shoes, friend stuff etc., anything else they have to work at a job for. Thanks!

  4. IF you are around a Kohl’s store, their sales are amazing, well worth a visit! Bought daughter skirt, top, pants, and sandals for a mere $10. Cheaper than the discount box store. Luckily the store is well over an hour away from our small town- or would be there way too much.
    Another place to find great prices is Zulily (my daughter loves this site because her name is Lily), and
    just found another site that is worth a looksee- Soft Surroundings.
    As far as how I support a household with teens in it, pay for everything while they are living at home. I do not encourage part-time jobs because feel very strongly that kids should be kids as long as they can and their time and effort should be spent on education.

  5. I personally feel a part time job should be part of a teen’s education. Learning the concept that hard work = money is a lesson better learned sooner than later. Learning the lesson of managing one’s time & money is also very important. I guess I’ve seen several of the men in my extended family who weren’t required by their parents to work or contribute in any way when they were young and now in their 30s they still don’t know how to work and have yet to “grow up.” I enjoyed this post, Mary and felt it was spot on.

  6. I am enjoying the frugality series. This post brought some questions to mind. I don’t have teenagers yet, my littles are 9, 8, 4, and 2. I was wondering at what age you start making the children pay for things on their own? At what age do they get a job? Do you give your children an allowance or pay for them to do any chores at home? Thanks so much!

    • I know you were asking the question of Mary, but thought I’d throw in my 2 cents. Starting very young (i.e. 5 yrs) we give each of our kids a small weekly allowance. From that point on, any toy/game/frivolity they want they have to buy themselves. We don’t buy any toys/games other than for birthdays or Christmas. By the time they are a bit older (yet still too young to have a part time job — say 9, 10, 11) I start to suggest they buy clothes if they “want” something but don’t “need” it (e.g. they have enough shirts, but really want something specific they see at the store). Technically it’s still our money, but it teaches them the value of that money. If they have to fork out their own money, they are much more selective about how they spend it.

  7. Mary, I want to thank you for this post. As a single disabled mom I too often feel such guilt over what I cannot give. But then I look at my amazing kids whose needs and most wants are taken care of who are grateful,responsible, respectful and amazing and I think it is going well. But thank you for the reminder that yes it isnt just me and that they are going to be excellent adults.


  1. […] Teens and expenses. How we do it. (Owlhaven) […]