What I’ve Learned from Teaching Money Management to a Disorganized Teen

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” Romans 5:3–4

Almost two years ago, I wrote about giving our teenage son, Jake, more financial responsibilities. My wife, Robin, and I believe that teaching our kids how to handle money is more than modeling sound financial behavior or preaching wise principles. It is providing them with experiences to learn from both their mistakes and their successes. I wish I could tell you that Jake has embraced his financial responsibilities and thrived, but it’s been a slow process. I’m not waiting until he figures it out to write about the challenges, lessons learned, and the triumphant victory. I’m writing to you now with a more valuable lesson from the thick of failure.

The premise has been simple: Jake receives a monthly stipend from us to manage. He is responsible for facilitating three payments plus most of his entertainment expenses. Remember, this is a beginning step. He’s 15. He doesn’t have a job yet. These are expenses that we as his parents had been paying directly. Two of his payments are due on the 1st of each month. One is to me for his phone since I pay the entire family bill. The second expense involves soccer as he plays competitively year-round. He has grace until the 5th of each month to get those paid, and if not, $1 per day is added to each amount due. We also encourage him to tithe to our church. (You can read why we believe tithing is important.)

Jake has been late almost every month and wasted a lot of money as a result. With such simple and doable obligations to meet, why is he losing money each month on late payments? I believe his lack of success is primarily due to two reasons:

  1. He doesn’t care that much about money.

Let’s unpack those …

  1. He does not care that much about money. This can be viewed from a positive angle. When Jake was a little kid and even today, he doesn’t ask us to buy things. He’s highly relational and experiential. He would rather play soccer, attend a basketball game with friends, or go to the beach with his cousins than have someone take him on a shopping spree. He’s different from our youngest son, Henry. I recently wrote about Henry’s lesson in debt and the far different reaction he had to paying interest. Jake doesn’t count his money. You might think that would drive me crazy as a financial planner, but it doesn’t. Jake is a fantastic young man with many talents and outstanding character traits. He’ll eventually learn responsibility through these types of lessons and when he’s on his own in the real world. He’ll also appreciate a dollar more when he earns it and when it has a more dramatic effect on the things he wants to do and the people he loves.

Teaching healthy money practices to your kids is not about hearing the correct answers from them or manufacturing the desired result. Your kids might have totally different reasons if they miss the mark. Your job is to stick with the training no matter how frustrating and stick with them. As parents, we have to walk (sometimes painfully) through the process with our kids and allow them to figure it out. They’ll be much better off when it really matters.