The Cost of Teens

by Jill Cooper


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Whenever my daughter Tawra talks about how to live frugally, she can always count on one type of feedback. Some people say, "You don't understand what it's like. You have young children and not teenagers. Teenagers cost more!" Most of the advice and tips Tawra uses come from me and I have raised two teenagers on a very minimal income. My main goal in raising my children was to teach them to become responsible and productive adults. By the time they hit their teen years, they were contributing to the household income, not depleting it.

I have never understood why people always say "wait until you have teenagers." My house payment was the same when I had babies as it was when I had teenagers. If the house payment changes, it's not because of the age of the children but because we want a house that we think is better than the one we have.

My utilities didn't increase because I had teenagers. If anything they went down because instead of having to fill a big tub full of water to give my little ones a bath, I taught my teens to take a quick shower, which used less water. I didn't do as much laundry because I no longer had to wash diapers. Even when I used disposables, I still had to change my babies' and toddlers' clothes several times a day because they spit up on them, spilled things on them or had potty training accidents. If you have had a teenage boy, you know that until he got his first girlfriend, he would have worn the same clothes day and night if you'd let him!

I admit that I spent a little more on food, but even in that case, it wasn't so much more that it led me to financial ruin the way some people make it seem. When my granddaughter was born, my daughter spent more for her special formula then I spent on food for my teenage son!

As far as clothes go, I didn't find teenagers much more expensive than young children. The cost for disposable diapers really adds up, and with babies and young children growing quickly, you have to buy them an entire new wardrobe every three to six months. Once teenagers reach high school, they have pretty much stopped growing, and many teenagers don't wear their clothes out as quickly as young children.

I can hear someone protesting, "But, teens need to have special clothes so they can be like their peers!" I could write a whole book on this point alone, but let me just give you a few hints and ideas. First, you don't have to spend a lot to dress nice. There are garage sales, second hand stores and hand me downs. If you aren't a snob about wearing second hand clothes, your kids won't be either. Second, make your teens feel loved and secure at home. You'll find that even though the way they dress and look is still important, it won't become the be-all and end-all of everything!

Last, but not least, I provided my children with the basics in their wardrobe. A pair of tennis shoes, dress shoes, three or four pairs of jeans, two pairs of dress pants, pajamas and shirts. Anything else they wanted or wanted to "upgrade," they paid for themselves. They had to work for the extras, through babysitting, yard work and other things. By fifteen, my daughter was working part-time at a hospital flower shop two evenings a week.

People often fear that working will affect their kids' grades. It won't. Teenagers have more time and energy then they know what to do with. Why do you think drugs, drinking and the lazy party attitude is so rampant among teens? I'm not saying they should work 40 hours a week, but a part-time job doesn't hurt anything and it teaches responsibility! Generations past understood this, and would expect their teens to work. They knew that it would prepare them for adulthood. Recent generations haven't taught this, which is why so many adult children mooch off their parents.

When a child is born, we provide and give him everything he needs or wants every time he cries. When he's a toddler, we wouldn't dream of giving him chocolate for every meal, even though he cries for it. Yet when teenagers whine and complain for something that they want, many people just buy it for them, instead of letting them work for it. What an injustice we do our children. Instead of using their last years living with us to teach them to be responsible, productive, hard workers, we often teach them to be dependent. I know a good education can help a person get a good job, but that education is of no use in a job if the person isn't a responsible, productive, hard worker with experience.

In the same way we teach a baby to go from milk to soft food to solid food, we need to help our children to build up their "life's muscles" concerning finances gradually. How wrong parents are to give their children everything they ask for. If you do, you will be wondering why your grown child won't move out, why he can't hold down a job and why he is such a poor money manager.

Incidentally, my teens graduated with A's, my daughter received a scholarship to a university in Sweden and my son went to school to learn drafting. They are now very responsible, productive adults and parents. Teens don't have to cost more than small children if you are wise in the way you raise and teach them.


Jill Cooper raised two teenagers alone on $500 a month income after becoming disabled with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Jill is the co-author of Dining On A Dime that has over 1,200 Money Saving Recipes and Tips. (revised, formerly Not Just Beans)

Dining On A Dime will help you shop smarter, by cooking simpler meals and by making your own basic cleaning products and beauty aids. For free tips and recipes, visit www.LivingOnADime.com/.

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