Does it Really Cost More to Raise Teens? Frugal Parenting 101

the cost of raising teens
My oldest child turned 17 yesterday. Seventeen.

I can’t believe it myself, wasn’t she a toddler 15 minutes ago?

Oh yeah, and kid #2 is going to be 15 in six weeks.

I am so not old enough to have two teenagers.

Many years ago I joined a Listserv (that’s a group that communicates via email, for you youngins), most of the parents had children older than mine. They all warned me that while diapers and formula are expensive it’s nothing compared to the cost of raising a teenager.

I didn’t really believe them then and I definitely don’t believe them now. Sure, my kids want gadgets that are more expensive than your standard baby toy (although, have you see the price of play kitchens lately??) and they have cell phone plans and need clothing….but I’m here to tell you that raising a teenager CAN be done frugally.

1. Don’t throw out your financial goals just because your child is growing up. Your goals are more important than ever because now they’re old enough to see how you budget. They’re old enough to participate in the “We really need a new vehicle but don’t want to take out a loan” conversations.

2. They’re old enough to start carrying some of their own weight. I’m not suggesting that you demand they get a job, but they are certainly old enough to pick up some of the financial responsibility of caring for themselves.

I’ve been accused of being too strict with the kids and expecting them to start carrying their own weight but my argument is:

If Jason & I don’t teach them financial responsibility who will? The bank when they overdraft? The collectors who call them every hour? Bankruptcy court?

Here are a few of the arguments thrown out in the “teens are more expensive” argument:

-Teens like to wear designer clothing.
My response: Meh. I’m sure SOME teens do. Maybe it’s the teens my kids are friends with, because this really isn’t an issue. Now, my oldest did go through a phase when she was 13 in which she really, really wanted to wear name brand clothing. I think this had more to do with transitioning from homeschooling to public school and the desire to fit in. I’m not an unreasonable person and I didn’t say “no”, I told her what our budget was and we worked with it by shopping at resale and outlet shops.

My daughter learned an important lesson through all of this, compassion. She learned that people are sometimes jerks regardless of what you wear, especially if these people happen to be in middle school. My kid no longer bothers with name brand clothing and she’s developed a strong sense of justice when it comes to people being treated differently for the way they look.

-Teens like expensive gadgets
My response: Sure they do, so do I, but that doesn’t mean they NEED them.
My teens so have some tech gadgets, sure, and they both have laptops. Here’s the thing, we didn’t buy them just because our kids WANTED them. The laptops were actually gifts from grandparents and the other gadgets they either saved their own money for or were given to them as a combined birthday gift and babysitting payment.

Believe it or not, your child WILL be ok if they don’t have a smartphone or the latest video game system.

-Two words: Teen Drivers
My response: Boy you got that right. It cost us $100 just to go through the permitting process. There are ways to make driving fit into your frugal living goals though.

First, we paid the $100 for the learner’s permit but it was her birthday present, and it’s what she asked for.

Second, adding a teen driver to our insurance was expensive but not nearly as bad as I thought it would be. You have some control over this. If YOU have a good driving record it won’t cost as much to add a teen to your policy. If your child maintains a B average the company will probably give you a discount. Some policies offer discounts to kids who take a driver’s education class, the state of Florida doesn’t even require you to leave the house to take the class! Find out what kind of discounts you can get and ask your child do whatever is necessary to get them or pay the difference.

Third, it’s ok to expect your child to foot some of the bill. Our kids know that once they get their full license they’re expected to chip in for gas and insurance.

17 years ago I held my child in my arms and promised to give her the world. I meant a world of security, and nothing provides a better feeling of security than knowing you have enough money to last the month.

-COLLEGE!
My response: My husband graduated from college 18 years ago and we are STILL paying off his student loans. We’ll probably still be paying them off when we’re dead. I don’t want that for my child but I also don’t have the luxury of being able to pay for my child’s college education. (Yes, I should have started saving for her when she was little but back then eating was more important than saving for college…)

For the sake of argument let’s assume you are where we are…with 2 kids in their mid-to-late teens and no money for college.

Kids don’t HAVE to go to college. In fact, there have been a lot of recent studies that say a college degree usually isn’t worth the high financial cost. You know that degree we’re still paying for? My husband has a great job with a great company that continually makes the Fortune 100 and Best Places to Work list. This company was founded on the principle that hard work and experience are more valuable than a college degree. Not to mention, have you seen the stuff going around congress lately about school loan rates doubling? I really think that’s a crime, and definitely a good reason NOT to go to college.

Kids don’t HAVE to go to college when they’re 18. Most colleges have a special plan for “older students”, and in some places you only have to be 20 to be considered “older”. Colleges love older students because they’re more likely to stay enrolled, which means big bucks for the college. Many universities offer tuition discounts and special financing for older students. Additionally, it’s a whole lot easier to qualify for financial aid and grants when you’re an adult versus when you’re living in your parent’s house. In the grand scheme of things 20 year olds are still practically babies, postponing your education for 2 years while you get a taste of real adult life isn’t an awful thing.

Conversely, why not start college early? Community colleges (and state colleges here in Florida) offer something called dual enrollment. These dual enrollment programs allow kids to start taking classes for credit as young as 14. Here’s the big bonus: these credits are usually TUITION-FREE. The more classes you can get in for free the sooner you’ll finish college and if you’re lucky you won’t be paying school loans when you’re 40 like *cough* some of us *cough*

So, there you have it, Meg’s responses to the top 3 “Teens are more expensive than kids” arguments I hear. Now it’s your turn, what do YOU think??

3 thoughts on “Does it Really Cost More to Raise Teens? Frugal Parenting 101

  1. I love this. Thank you. We have four boys, and my oldest is turning 16 in September. I agree completely with the idea that they can start to earn their own money to pay for the extra things they want. I have begun to consider it a blessing that we have enough money, but not tons, because it has forced me to have frank discussions with them about money & what we can and can’t buy. They have been super okay about buying their own extras, and deciding what extras they want. I think it is an excellent way to teach them about priorities, and a great way for me to start separating — their choices aren’t always things I agree with! I think learning about money at home, before they are “on their own” will really set them up for a responsible adulthood. Thank you!!

  2. Great post Meg! Especially the whole college thing. I am right there with you. If either of children knows exactly what they want to do with their lives when the time comes, and truly understands what the cost of that degree will be, understands the job market, etc etc….then we will talk college. It’s a touchy subject around here. I say things like “our goal is not really to send our kids to some top ten school” (my baby sister is a professional student, and educator at Purdue btw, about to get her doctorate in a few months, and I come from a long line of public educators in my family) people look at me like I just tossed the baby out with the bath water. But I refuse to let my kids, when they are still very much KIDS, go tens of thousands of dollars in debt, shackling them to that debt during their most vital years, I refuse to PUSH them into that, for some degree which really, in many many cases, is not worth what was paid for it. I am so proud of my sister. She knew what she wanted. She worked hard, constantly, to get where she is. And for her, she will be secure. But she also really wants a family. So I think about these friends, people I knew from highschool who went off to college right away, and here they sit, back in our old hometown, with a stack of debt, a degree on the wall, and STILL eating ramen and working at walmart. Basically living like teenagers only they have kids now some of them and they, ugh sorry for rambling but they are just so damn broke. *I* am so broke. We live on one income while I homeschool. Sometimes I think sure it’d be nice to have more money but again…a piece of paper. Is it WORTH what I would be giving up, this time with my kids? Never. And man, I am thankful I did not go to college. I may be broke but I am not “I owe someone thousands and thousands of dollars” broke. Credit. Loans. The worse things that ever happened to this country. *end incoherent babble* Again great post Meg. ❤

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