Mindful Money: Teaching Your Teens to be Conscious Spenders

B y now, you’ve probably taught your teen about the basics of financial literacy: how credit cards work, why saving is important, and how to calculate interest. However, developing healthy money habits requires much more than just a surface understanding of how finances function.

Even with all the knowledge in the world, your teen runs the risk of reckless spending and is at the mercy of their instant gratification. That’s why teaching them to be conscientious and mindful of their spending is another lesson altogether – and one that can be taught through simple, day-to-day practices.

Conscious Questions

Your teen may already be at the age where they’re shopping on their own, whether it’s online or during after-school mall visits with their friends. With no weighty financial responsibilities on their shoulders yet, it might seem easy for them to instantly buy whatever they get a desire for, and that’s where teaching them conscious questions comes in.

Especially when it comes to a big purchase, you might want to encourage your teen to ask themselves these questions. You can even write these down on a slip of paper they keep in their wallet:

  1. Did I want this before I saw it?
  2. Does this purchase solve an immediate problem for me?
  3. Does this item fulfill a need or a want?
  4. When was the last time I spent money on a want? (If it was recent, encourage a 3-month period between want-driven purchases.)
  5. Could I borrow or rent this potential purchase?
  6. How long would I realistically use it?

Eventually, it’ll become second-nature for your teen to ask themselves these questions. And, down the line, it’ll lead to a lot less impulse buys.

Test of Time

It’s best to begin this lesson when you and your teen are shopping together. If your teen expresses a sudden want for an item, encourage them to wait and see if they still want that item in a few days. Promise your teen that you’ll personally bring them back to make the purchase if it withstands the test of time and if they show they’ve asked themselves the conscious questions.

If your teen forgets about the purchase entirely, it’s an opportunity to teach them the value of the time-test. It will show them that items of substance and purpose tend to engrain themselves in our memory, while items based on superficial interest tend to wane.

Opportunity Costs & Trade-Offs

You can illustrate the concepts of “opportunity cost” and “trade-offs” to your teens at an age as early as 13. Whenever your teen wants to make a pricey purchase, encourage them to consider the trade-offs. Spending money on a new video game might mean they won’t have money to spend on lunch with their friends that week.

Is the trade-off of buying that new video game worth the opportunity cost of not being able to spend time with their friends?

This lesson teaches your kids that behind every purchase is a sacrifice, and they should analyze those sacrifices in order to become more mindful spenders. Would the alternative provide more value, be it monetary or emotional?

App(ly) Their Knowledge

We’ve heard of mindfulness journals for tracking our mental state, but what’s the mindful equivalent for tracking our spending? As it turns out, there are a number of apps that can put things into perspective for your teen and teach them to carefully consider their spending habits.

One such app is FamZoo. It allows you to set up chores for your kids to do, as well as a monetary value for doing them. When your kids check that chore off as complete, the amount is released into their account. You can oversee your teen’s spending and they can get a sense for what it’s like to “earn” money.

It’ll only be a matter of time before your teen translates their spending into time. Is that $10 hat worth the one hour they spent cleaning their room? Is that $30 pair of shoes worth the week they spent doing the dishes?

Left To Spend is another app that you can encourage your teens to get. Its uncomplicated interface serves one purpose: to let your teens know exactly how much money they have left to spend that month after all other expenses (or even minimum savings requirements) have been accounted for.

Telling your teen to spend less is one thing, but teaching them to consciously spend is another. It allows them to develop a deeper relationship with their existing possessions and to make shopping a more substantial, meaningful experience.

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