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On frugality and teenagers

Joshua and Lisey

In last week’s survey, quite a few of you said you wondered how it’s possible to stay frugal when you’ve got teens in the house. I’m not super far into the teen years (only two of mine are teens so far, and the oldest is only 16), but I’m glad to share my thoughts on this topic so far.

(Incidentally, two frugal bloggers who have more teen experience than me come to mind: Katy from The NonConsumer Advocate, and Jen from Beauty and Bedlam.)

We pay for needs, they pay for wants.

There are some exceptions to this, and we define “need” fairly generously, but the basic idea is that if they want something a little frivolous or unnecessary, they need to pay for that themselves.

This policy really is fundamental to the way we handle money with our kids, and it’s the way things go at our house from an early age.

We don’t do this because we’re trying to pad our bank account, but rather  because we want to prepare our kids for wise money handling in the future.   If they get used to Mom and Dad buying them anything they want, they’ll be in for a rude awakening when they hit the real world.   It’s better to be 6 than 26 when you learn that you can’t always get what you want!

Plus, having to pay for some things motivates kids to do paid work and helps them to treasure their possessions more (which is important because you tend to take good care of a valued possession.)

Teenagers = Higher Grocery Bill

My two teens are super slim, but boy, they do both eat a lot more food than they used to!   They eat more at meals and they’re hungry pretty quickly after meals too.

homemade whole wheat sandwich bread

This past year, I’ve averaged about $200/week for groceries, whereas when my kids were younger, I used to be more around $150.

I think this increase is somewhat unavoidable, but one thing that helps is to give up on the idea that every item which goes into a teen’s mouth needs to be packed with nutrition.

I don’t buy a lot of junk food and I try to provide nutritious items for meals (green smoothies, whole grains, vegetables, fruit, meats, etc.), but I really do not stress about it if, say, Joshua eats three banana muffins and a bowl of cereal at 8:00 PM.

I’m not saying nutrition is irrelevant, but if I tried to keep my teens fed on only vegetables and lean proteins, my grocery bill would be through the roof, and they’d probably be unhealthfully slim.

There will be other times in life where they will need to watch their carbs and such, but now is not that time. 😉


Luckily for me, neither of my teens are particularly obsessed with fashion, and they’ve both been happy with somewhat minimalist wardrobes.

frugal teen wardrobe

We buy all of their basic clothing, and if they want something out of the ordinary, they spend their own money on it.

(For instance, Lisey bought a Totoro dress with her own money, as she already had plenty of dresses, and this was just a fun item she wanted to have.)

I buy almost all of Joshua’s clothing new, although we look for sales and clearances.   He’s so tall and slim, buying secondhand would be nigh onto impossible.

Lisey’s clothing is a mixture of new and second-hand clothing (mostly from Schoola).   As with Joshua, I keep an eye on sales and clearance racks to help keep her clothing costs down.


Lisey has Mr. FG’s hand-me-down iPhone 4s, and Joshua has the Android phone that Ting gave me to try out a few years back.   Thus far, their phones do not have service, so they’re limited to using them when wi-fi is available.

Soon, Joshua will be driving, though, and a job will be coming shortly after that, and we plan to get him signed up with Ting so that he has a way to contact us even without wi-fi.

how to save money on teen smartphone

Like Mr. FG and me, though, we expect him to keep using his phone mostly as though it has no service (which he’s pretty good at, given that he’s had a lot of experience!).

So, that should only add about $6 to our low monthly cell phone bill.

(He does like to talk on the phone to his friends sometimes, but we’ve got our Ooma service  at home for that, which is costing us $0.00/month apart from taxes.)

The story will be the same for Lisey when she gets a little older.   She’s not much of a phone talker at all, though, so she probably won’t be chatting on either our home phone or her smartphone.

She’s more of a texter.   😉

FamZoo for money management

I keep meaning to write a post about this, but we’ve been using (affiliate link) for the last year or so, and it’s pretty great for helping to keep track of our kids’ money. I bought  Joshua and Lisey both prepaid cards for giving, spending, and saving, and the cards basically function like debit cards.

Their allowance is automatically distributed to each card every month, and when I do something like paying Joshua for mowing the lawn, I can put the funds into his FamZoo account electronically, which is super handy.

(I paid the $60 for two years of FamZoo service, which means I’m paying $2.50 a month for having all four kids use the service.   Totally affordable.)

Extra-Curricular Activities

I’m probably not the best person to address this because we are not a sports family, and sports are probably the most common expensive teen extra-curricular activity.

fg and kids

But here’s how things go at our house:

Neither Joshua or Lisey are interested in team sports, but they do both participate in a martial arts class.   This isn’t super cheap, but the nice thing is that since we all go, there’s a sliding discount.

Joshua and Lisey both play music (guitar, bass, ukelele) and generally, we’ve helped support their musical purchases by splitting the cost 50/50.   This makes their budget go farther but still helps them value the item.

on teens and frugality

I teach piano to both of them, but the cost of that is free.   😉

As far as other extra-curriculars go, they both babysit (yay for earning money!), they both volunteer at church, and Joshua plays some airsoft, a hobby he pays entirely for himself.

I have some general thoughts about extra-curricular activities, which I’ll share in an upcoming post, but for now, I’ll just say that it’s ok to have your teen contribute to part of the cost if the expenses are out of your budget, and I’d also encourage you to remember that most kids don’t need to be in multiple activities, so it’s completely ok to limit these to what works with your financial situation.

Oh, and do check out what scholarships might exist for your extra-curriculars. Those are there for people to use, and there’s no shame in taking advantage of ’em when there’s just no budget room.   I know my even my martial arts school has scholarships, so I imagine they’re available in a lot of places.


Alrighty!   I know that there are a lot of you out there with teenagers, and I’m positive some of you are more experienced than me.

So, would you share your wisdom in the comments?   What are your best tips for keeping expenses down with teens in the house?


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Saturday 10th of October 2015

I have two with big appetites (15 & 12), and it is amazing how much my very thin 15 yr old can put away! He's gone through a huge growth spurt recently, and he's constantly active. As long as they are eating mostly healthy, I think that's good. My kids aren't into sports either, but are constantly active. I agree about the needs/wants for kids spending. Part of that is them learning to manage their own money. My kids have fairly small wants, so it hasn't been an issue. Thanks for the post. :)


Friday 9th of October 2015

We pay for needs, they pay for wants - great system, I hope I can remember it for when I have a teen (about 12 years from now!)


Thursday 8th of October 2015

My son is all grown up now. In the 1980's when he was in high school there were no cell phones but somehow we all survived.If he HAD to reach me, he found a landline somewhere and called me! LOL!! For some reason he was not eager to drive! (lucky us!!) Most of what he needed to was close to home, and his friends had cars!! He enjoyed riding a bike! (And we live in Az. where the weather is good most of the time.) So--we got a reprieve on that for a couple of years then when he graduated high school, he got a car with our help and a license. We helped with auto insurance, he paid some as he went to community college and also worked. Food bills: Somehow our house was THE PLACE to hang out and I bought so much food at Costco to keep the teens all fed.. at least they cooked their own lunches on our barbecue grill-- but at least I knew where they all were.. in my pool and hanging out in the garage playing on our pool table.All of them are grown up now with their own kids, and know what? They are really good people and we're all still friends including the PTA parents (We still meet for coffee and wine!!) .So-- all that time and money is well-invested!!!! AND-- those years go by in a FLASH--enjoy! enjoy! enjoy!!

AnnMarie J

Thursday 8th of October 2015

We're much the same on a lot of things. I wanted to comment on the kids treating things better when they have paid for them. ::Sigh:: I can only hope one day my daughter will learn that. So far (at almost 11) she hasn't (except for summer camp). Stuff in her room? Doesn't matter if it's a library book, a school book, one I bought, or one she bought. All are treated the same--poorly. She paid almost $10 for a new water bottle (despite my having a number of new ones for free...she didn't like them). Dropped it within a week and broke it. She shrugged and threw it away. She buys snacks at school lunch...even tho it would be far cheaper to buy them at the grocery store and bring them. We have conversations about this...and she still "wastes" her money.

We've been doing an allowance and paid chores since she was 5 or 6. She saves really well for Girl Scout camp every summer (most of her allowance actually goes to that). But stuff just isn't sticking. And it's so important to me! (Which might be the reason it isn't to her. hmmmm....)

BUT, what I really want to say was I'm learning to let go and it's so much easier when it's her money. She wants to spend money on a water bottle and then break it? Her loss, not mine. Harder when it's the clothes I purchased, but at least this year I gave her a budget and said no more unless she out grows them. She she draws all over her pants and tears holes in the jeans? Oh well, not very many left she can wear to school. Her problem, not mine.


Thursday 8th of October 2015

Three grown children in their 30's and a fifteen yr old I adopted - only this time I'm single parenting. She would love to play the piano but it's not in the budget so she plays trumpet in school and cornet at church and French horn in community band all of which cost nothing but time. She was a competitive swimmer, but when fees, meets and travel crept up to nearly 20% of my take home pay I must admit I was relieved when a medical issue forced her to quit. Within the year we hope for her to start doing the courses she needs to become a lifeguard and instructor so she can earn money with her awesome skills. She has a small clothing budget. She has discovered Value Village so her clothes are a mix of thrifted and new. Her favourite snack food is home popped popcorn which will never break the budget. We focus on having fun spending as little money as possible but some experiences are worth spending a little extra.

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