Empowering Teens through Smart Spending
Helping teens learn to handle money can be a tricky proposition. Mistakes can quite literally be costly, but there's really no substitute for hands-on practice when it comes to managing finances.
Children are the ultimate investment, so teach your teen to be a smart spender with these savvy tips:
Start with saving. As a first step, open a savings account for your teen and involve them in the process. Use this opportunity to teach good habits, such as putting away a percentage of every paycheck, creating an emergency fund and setting savings goals for big purchases. Visit the bank together and explore the account options. Many banks offer incentives for high-balance accounts, and while your teen likely won't qualify, it's a valuable lesson to see the incentives available to big savers.
Move on to basic checking. Although most banks still refer to their most accessible accounts as "checking" accounts, chances are that your teen is more likely to shop with a debit card or cash rather than checks. Still, knowing how to write a proper check is an important life skill - as are conducting debit transactions and understanding any fees associated with using the account.
Create safe zones. Even after teaching them the fundamentals, letting teens make their own purchasing decisions can be a frightening prospect. Fortunately, if you know where to look, there are options available that offer teens a customizable level of autonomy while still under the oversight of a parent. For example, Amazon introduced a way for teens ages 13-17 to shop using their own, independent login linked to a parent's account. In addition to product recommendations, order histories and lists tailored specifically to the teen's shopping history and interests, teens can exercise smart shopping decisions with access to customer reviews and comparison shopping tools. Parents have the option to review and approve every purchase, or set spending limits that offer teens the freedom to place orders up to a certain dollar amount on their own. In either case, parents receive notifications for every order and shipment.
Set a budget. Part of smart spending is learning to shop within your means. Whether your teen's income is from a part-time job, allowance or a combination of the two, building a budget that defines expenses and expectations is essential. Like any budget, it should include all income sources and all expenses he or she is responsible for, including auto maintenance, gasoline, insurance and beyond. Reinforce the importance of saving by including a regular savings allocation. Putting all of these numbers to paper lets your teen see clearly where the money is going and how much is left over for extracurricular spending.
Put safety nets in place. No matter how much planning is done in advance, surprise expenses will inevitably pop up. Teens can prepare for these expenses while also guarding against mistakes and the temptation to over-spend by taking advantage of special services available through banking institutions, such as setting a per-transaction or daily spending limit and investing in overdraft coverage.
Ultimately, money management skills come with time and practice. Creating a safe environment for your teen to practice these life lessons sooner rather than later can pay dividends down the road.