Skip to main content

The teenage years are for practicing money decisions in a safe space


Previously, in our series about how children develop the skills and habits that support financial well-being in adulthood, we shared a few stories from parents. We illustrated how childhood is the time to acquire skills like self-control and planning ahead, and the preteen years are about getting familiar with the financial world around us. In this last part in the series, we’re going to explore how teenagers practice the financial skills that drive their choices in adulthood.

Teenagers can learn about personal finance through classroom courses and through real-world experiences. According to research we commissioned , well-designed classes or programs support the financial decisions teens face in their lives: how to identify facts they need, decide what information sources are reliable, and compare alternatives. Additionally, lessons can have staying power when the teenagers already use the products they’re learning about—like bank accounts.

At home, when teenagers make their own money decisions, these experiences can help make lessons learned stick. We want to share two stories we heard about teens’ experiences.

The teen who saved money by making his own lunch

As teens start to work, and earn and spend their own money, they experience firsthand the costs and value of things they buy. The idea of making tradeoffs takes a concrete shape.

"When my son Kyle was 16, he had a summer job. The first week, he bought fast food every day for lunch. Then he did the math – the $7 he spent on lunch the first week added up to $35! Kyle asked me to buy him some groceries so he could bring his own lunch. He made his lunch almost every day for the rest of the summer and he was happy he could save $35 a week."

Kyle’s parent noticed how Kyle started out with one plan for his lunch and then changed his mind, after seeing how much he was spending. When Kyle asked for support, the parent helped him stick to his plan so he could see the savings add up.

You can also look for opportunities to empower your teenager to meet his or her own needs, as the following parent did.

The teen who earned her extra clothes

"My daughter Maria and I were planning to visit the college where she would study the following fall. I told her I would buy her only one sweatshirt—and I knew she would want to buy several. Two weeks before our visit, a friend asked me if I knew of a good dog sitter for a week and I said my daughter could do it. Maria earned $130, so when we went to the college, she was able to buy what she wanted. I was really proud of the way she took responsibility for the dog and didn’t complain about the work. I think it empowered her to know that she can work to earn money for the extra things she wants."

Maria’s parent helped her gain an opportunity to earn money for something she really wanted and to exercise her ability to make her own, independent spending decisions.

Experience helps teens develop financial confidence

Hands-on experiences with managing finances help to promote teens’ self-confidence and belief in their own ability to succeed. This is one of the key drivers for financial well-being in adulthood.

An important part of teenagers’ development is taking the time to process and reflect on their money decisions—so they can learn from successful choices as well as mistakes. Whether a teen is learning from a class or afterschool program, a first job, or a decision he or she has made, parents and caregivers can act as sounding boards. As they do for younger children, parents and caregivers continue to play an important role in facilitating behaviors in teens that lead to their financial well-being in adulthood.

For more ideas on teaching your kids about money, check out our resources for parents.

How do you help your teenagers practice making money decisions and reflect on the outcomes?

The names in this blog have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

Read part 1 of this series: When your child learns self-control, it helps their financial future too
Read part 2 of this series: The right shoes and common sense can help your preteen gain financial ground

Join the conversation. Follow CFPB on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook .