My son is a junior in high school and desperately wanted his own vehicle. So he had to get a part-time job to pay for one.
I know some parents don’t want their kids working during school and want all the focus to be on academics and extracurriculars. But I’m not one of them.
Part of this belief stems from my childhood. I had a job and believe that I’m better off because I had to work for things like a car, expensive sneakers, trips to the mall, and dinner with my friends.
I also have three teenagers with only three years between them. I’m not willing to buy them each a car and provide money for gas, insurance and repairs. And I’m not willing to listen to them argue about who gets to use the car if I only buy them one.
My kids have to pay for a car themselves if they want one. And obviously that means they need to get a job, even though we all know how busy teens are with friends, sports, and extra-curricular activities.
Now that my son has a part-time job and a car, it’s his name on the paycheck. And it’s great that he has his own money to spend when he goes to the movies or needs an oil change. But how much should he save for his future?
I certainly can’t make him save a specific dollar amount unless I take his checks, cash them, and give him an allowance out of the money he’s earned. Honestly, I have no desire to micro-manage him in this way.
These years are about evolving and becoming an adult, and this definitely defeats the purpose. I’m trying to teach him responsibility, consequences for his actions, and the positive effects of having will power and not giving in to instant gratification.
Telling him what he’s allowed to spend from a job where he reports to work and collects the funds isn’t the answer. However, I can tell him that if he wants to go to college, he’s in charge of paying for a certain amount of it.
In our house, we’ve decided that this amount is one-third of the cost of college. He also knows he’ll be in charge of his own spending money. Whether he earns money now and saves for it, or takes out a loan, or finds scholarships and grants, it’s his decision.
To encourage him, I can share my stories about how nice it was when I went to college with a few thousand dollars in my checking account as a buffer, while I still worked. But I can also share how huge my student loans were because I didn’t save very much money toward tuition (I’m still paying off my loans at age 44, by the way).
I can also explain how I had to start paying them back after graduation. I would have loved to go out and buy a nicer car after college, but there was no way I could do that.
It was a big lesson for me in planning for my future. Since then, I’ve been more mindful of planning for my future and not just where money is involved either. That situation shifted my opinion about the importance of planning for the future and how it’s not a good idea to set yourself up for a harder time when you can do something to help yourself now.
Every parent has a different system in place when it comes to their teens and money. It’s definitely not one-size-fits-all.
If my son was in the running for a big sports scholarship or getting a full ride for his excellent grades I’d probably be singing a different tune. I wouldn’t want him to feel too pressured to do it all, and I know he’d need to spend more time on academics or his sport.
But that’s not the case, and his freedom and car are important to him. There’s no reason why he can’t work to enjoy them.
I hope he makes decisions now that pay off for him later. But if he doesn’t, I’m pretty sure he’ll learn a valuable lesson about money. If you ask me, that’s the kind of experience which sticks and is the best way not to repeat mistakes.
Really, you can’t put a price on that.
Need Help with College Planning?
Hi, I’m Brad Baldridge, a college funding specialist and the owner of Taming the High Cost of College.
If you’d like to get great tips and advice on how to save more money for college, reduce your costs, and put your student on the road to a bright future, subscribe to my free e-newsletter.
You can also check out some of my useful college planning articles and resources below.
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Expected Family Contribution Calculator
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The Free Scholarship Guide for Busy Parents
Find out if scholarships are worth your time and a viable option for your student.