How to Teach Budgeting to Teens in the Age of Consumerism

Admittedly, this is the most boring title for a post ever, but after raising three kids through junior high and high school, I'm telling you, this is something that will come up in parenting and it's best to have a plan. We are constantly bombarded with messages everyday tempting us to buy things we don't need. But we are adults. Teens are walking the halls of school or hanging out at sports events or scrolling social media and they are REALLY getting bombarded. They get messages that they can only be cool if they have this new pair of shoes {that cost $125}, or to look their best, they need the super special lip balm that costs $25 {and they will promptly lose it in under a week}. They see viral and trending videos with quick and easy ways to purchase BUT only for a limited time or it will run out and you will suddenly be the uncoolest uncool person in your whole school. 

As parents, how do we raise budget-minded kids in a world full of consumerism? I'm going to lay out a few practical tips that we did while we were raising our kids and hopefully, you'll get an idea or two so that you can help created budget-minded teens in a world full of consumerism.

teach teens budgeting in an age of consumerism

How to Teach Budgeting to Teens in the Age of Consumerism


Start here: How to Teach Teens About Money

Learn More About Marketing

I've been a content creator since 2010. I've worked with a lot of brands and I'm part of a fair amount of affiliate programs. I also follow other influencers and I can usually tell you when an influencers affiliate commision {the money they make from trying to sell a product to their followers} goes up, because then all the influencers in the genre start pitching "their favorite items".  I can tell when Lululemon or Abercrombie & Fitch starts offering a bonus because it's all over my feed.

There's nothing wrong with this. It's simply understanding marketing. While I'm from the generation of marketing that had catalogs, billboards and magazines, social media isn't that different. Brands use psychology to create a feeling of want, and influencers create demand for a product, once your teen understands the marketing behind it, they can start to tear apart the why behind wanting an item. 

Don't miss this post: Teaching Teens the Value of Money

Understanding the Value of a Dollar

I've always been a fan of shopping used. Not only can I purchase high-quality name-brand items at a fraction of the price, it also helps my kids understand the value of a dollar. When they were little, by default they'd all go to garage sales with me on Fridays during the summer. I'd usually give them four quarters they could spend any way they wanted. Not only did that help them hunt, find and negotiate an item that could entertain them, they started to see the value of buying used.

On one occasion, we started our morning at garage sales before heading to the toy aisle at Target to pick up a birthday gift for a friend's party. One of my kids had picked up a toy for a quarter that they saw packaged in the aisle for more than $20! It was like watching a gerbil run the wheel as they started connecting the dots in their head and seeing how much further their money could go with some careful shopping and purchasing. 

Finding the Best Deals on Secondhand Clothing and Household Items

This doesn't have to relate to buying just used items. If your teen has a job, it's also helpful to break down the cost of an item with how much time is involved in paying for that item. For instance, if you'd like these shoes, it will actually take you eight hours of lifeguarding {or babysitting or whatever} to purchase them. They can then decide if it's worth it or not to desire that item or if it's better to seek an alternative. My college-age daughter still does this!

Set a Budget

Start here: How to Teach Teens to Budget

We were never really good with giving our kids an allowance. They never got money from us regularly, but we'd pay them {poorly} for doing chores on the occasion. I would often set aside a certain budget for them for new school clothes or shoes. This would allow the kids to decide how they wanted to spend their money. 

To be fair, that budget rarely covered all the things they really wanted, but we always covered all their needs. It also required them to prioritize what was important to them. Did they want to spend the whole budget on a new pair of the fancy shoes everyone else had, or could they find a different pair of shoes so they could also get the new shirt and jeans they really wanted?

I also set a budget for the amount of money we would spend on haircuts {or skincare and personal items}. It was a reasonable amount, but once my teen daughter started wanting a balayage and to go to a fancy salon {or buying fancy hair care items}, it definitely didn't cover the full amount. 

teens and consumerism

Be Smart Shoppers

I love a good sale. It requires a little bit of patience in an age where it's really easy to get instant gratification from pushing the buy now button. But learning how to wait to buy an item {delayed gratification} is a skill I'm not seeing be taught quite as much these days.

My kids always saw me walking to the back of the store to shop the sale rack, or holding onto those promotional coupons or searching for online coupon codes. They know that most things eventually go on sale and they'd often see me wait to buy something until it did.

Being a smart shopper also goes hand-in-hand with a lot of the other tips you'll see in this post. Smart shopping requires a plan, and a plan is never a bad thing. I'm a huge used clothing shopper {both thrifted and at garage sales} and I'll tell you, good quality items really do hold up better. Would I rather buy used Lululemon leggings for $5 at a garage sale than $5 leggings from Shein? Yes, yes I would. That's a much smarter buy if you ask me.

How to Find the Best Stuff in Any Thrift Store

More is Caught Than Taught

This was always something we had in the back of our mind as we parented our kids. Kids pick up more on your behavior than your words. They are influenced by what they see you prioritizing and doing and by showing them healthy habits with money and a modeling good examples with budgeting and spending, you'll be setting them up for a lifetime of success. 

If you are trying to teach good spending habits and budgeting to teens while you are deeply in debt and struggling to pay your bills, your kids are watching. Seek help, there are lots of resources out there that can help teach you good financial habits so that you can teach your kids good financial habits. It's not too late to start.

Examine the Difference Between Needs and Wants

I've seen parents take this lesson a little TOO far. This isn't one of lessons to teach in a manipulative way, but more of a concept learning lesson. Learning the difference between a want and a need is a life-skill that will help your teens learn to prioritize their spending responsibly. Once they grasp the concept, they can start learning how to develop a budget and create the self-disciple they need to realize that paying their rent is more important than going on a trip with their friends over spring break. 

Don't miss this post: Wants and Needs: How to Balance Both in a Budget

Splurge Every Once in a While

I told my college kids while they were home over break that I was going to be writing this post and I asked for their opinions on it. They both said they knew they could get splurge items for Christmas, so they'd often ask for things they really wanted then. Not only is it fun to splurge every once in awhile, it also helps to teach your teens that maybe the grass isn't really greener when they get the trendy items all their friends had.

Talk About Money

I grew up in a home where we talked about money without talking about money. For me, it still feels tacky to talk about real dollar amounts, though I know there are some families who don't mind sharing how much they make each year and how much they get for promotions or bonuses. That's not really our style. 

I think you can talk about money without sharing all the details about how much you have in your bank accounts or how much you spent on your car or last vacation. Thankfully, we both grew up in homes where money was a tool that you were able to control, not the other way around. We talk often about our priorities for our family, and when we'd make sacrifices when they kids were younger, they knew the financial goals we had in mind for their future. 

money and budgeting with teens in age of consumerism

Don't miss this post: How to Pay Off Your Home Loan Early

It's always been important that our kids understood that we weren't going to be an unlimited ATM for them to purchase all of the trendy items they thought they wanted or that all their friends had, but instead that they knew that we were prioritizing saving for their education so they could all graduate college debt free. This wasn't a concept they embraced in junior high, but now as they are looking in the rearview knowing they are a semester away from college graduation without any student loan debt and a lucrative career path ahead, it's easier to grasp. 

Setting up healthy money habits is something that has been very important for us to teach our children. In a time when consumer debt is high and boomerang young adults are headed back home after college graduation to save money, these are practical skills that can be taught throughout the teen years that will help set them up for success. 

disclaimer: this post may have affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing through them, I may receive a small commission. These small purchases help me to continue to keep writing content and creating at Rachel Teodoro. Thank you!

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