Spending Habits of Teenagers

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I’m sure there is some report somewhere that captures the spending habits of teenagers, but after setting up bank accounts and debit cards for our three teenagers early this year I had to look not farther than our online statements.

Now their accounts have only been open a little over four months so this will be far from a scientific study, but will shed some insight on what at least our teenagers are spending their money on this summer.

It’s a good chance for us to review their choices and help guide them. As I’m sure others reading this with teenagers understand that teenagers know everything and are very temperamental. They need to be handled gently at all times.  I kid, I kid, they know we mean well, they just don’t like to hear it.


The Gory Details

We have three teenagers, seventeen-year-old twins (boy-girl) and a fourteen-year-old son. Now it’s a bit early to break down the numbers, so I just give you the categories at a high-level. Here’s how their spending has broken down:

  • Twin Boy
    • Food
    • Video Games (Steam)
    • Entertainment
    • Gas
  • Fourteen-year-old son

Now our fourteen-year-old son had the benefit of celebrated a Birthday recently and having a stash of gift cards which allowed him to delay cash spending. I didn’t have a good way of tracking it, but needless to say in a little over six weeks his gift cards are gone.

The other expenses the twins will begin to incur is a $25 per week charge for car insurance, payable to the bank of mom and dad. As long as they are earning enough money from their part-time jobs to cover, which should not be an issue. It will be a real impact on our son’s income who started varsity football practice this week. His working hours have dropped off until after the season.

They are also responsibly for gas in their car and we will pay for maintenance of the vehicle. We feel this is a pretty good balance. They have shown responsibility with the car so far and have done a good job sharing it.

Going Forward

My wife and realize most of their money is being spent on food and entertainment related to socializing with their friends. We encourage them to make plans and spend time outside the house. It’s a fine line with a debit card in pocket and available cash in the bank.

We want them to make good choices. Do they always? No, they are teenagers, they are still learning. Having them use their debit cards leave a nice record of all of their purchases for us to review and gives us a great conversation starter with them.

We just want them to be aware of how often they are eating out, and to remember we have plenty of food at home. It’s a great time to review the trading your time for your money, and was the fast-food meal worth 1.5 hours of your time? It’s all about choice and I know no matter how much my wife and I try to teach them, they need to experience a little bit of it on their own.

What do your children spend their money on? Have you ever reviewed their purchases with them? Do teenagers really know everything?

34 thoughts on “Spending Habits of Teenagers”

  1. I don’t have children, but I always worked in restaurants from 14-22. Seeing how long and how hard I had to work really helped curb my spending. Plus, I received a lot free meals, so I wasn’t as tempted to eat out all the time with my friends.

    • Free meals is a great benefit. The twins did get free meals during their training and now a 30% discount, so it does help them save some $.

  2. I have to say that none of those categories surprise me – especially because I think those were my main categories back in the day!

    It will be interesting to see what my daughter spends her money on when she gets older.

  3. Interesting post, especially since mine is two and will be there one day too. Have you set them up with account alerts when the balance gets low? And also curious if you’ve ever spoken with them regarding the costs you pay for monthly (mortgage etc) to give them real life example and perspective? Thanks Brian!

    • We have account alerts and they all have the banking app on their phones. They have the ability to check balance at anytime. They have been involved in our budget discussions for years. They know all about our income and bills.

  4. What a great idea Brian! Really like how you are instilling personal finance to your children at such young ages. Technology these days is great, I only wish I could go back in time and keep track of my teenage spending habits, I bet it would be really interesting to see.


  5. Food, Video Games, Entertainment, Gas sounds about where I was when I was 17. Giving them debit cards and checking where the money is going sounds like a great balance between “go do whatever you want” and “check with me before spending anything.” Nice work!

  6. What great looking kids! Food, entertainment and car expenses sounds about what I what expect at those ages. I’m glad they’re getting such good guidance on their finances now…hopefully those lessons will last them well into the future as their expenses get more complicated.

  7. That is interesting how your girl prefers books over the boys who spend money on video games. If the boys aren’t careful she might pass them on the road to success.

  8. Sounds about right to me. I used to put back $60 each paycheck into savings from my high school job (to fund college spending money and books later) but everything else went to gas, food, books and entertainment. I didn’t have a debit card though, as they weren’t really common yet. It was probably a really good thing that my spending was restricted to whatever cash I had in my purse or pocket until college.

  9. What a timely post for me, Brian! Thank you so much for sharing. I’m actually very relieved to see what your kids are spending money on because I worry about mine. Your oldest boy’s spending almost exactly matches my 16 year old son’s spending habits. He likes to go to the gas station for soda (since I don’t buy it), but also spends on going out to movies and dinner with friends and buying games on Steam. So far he’s surviving on a one day gig he had building a retaining wall this summer. He intends to get a job soon (he’s going to have to in order to continue to support his social outings!). It was funny – the last time he went to a movie, one friend bought popcorn and he bought soda and they shared both to save money! Frugal? Maybe (but I’m not into sharing my drinks)!

    • Glad to help Amanda. Our kids and their friends have gotten into the habit of going to the dollar store for candy before the movies to save money, because the realize the theater prices are too high. 🙂 Good luck to your son landing a new job!

  10. My teenage self says, “Duh!! Of course teenagers know, like, everything!” 🙂

    What a great idea to review and track your kids’ spending with them!

    My daughter is six, and the second she gets her hands on some cash, she wants to spend it. I would say she spends about 95% on stuffed animals, and the remaining 5% on miscellaneous plastic junk. For now, we let her spend her money how/when she wants, but we always enourage her to save for something she may want later. In the meantime, any gifts that she receives as checks, we deposit into her onine savings or her 529 account.

    • At six we let them have some free run with cash too. Good idea to deposit check in saving or 529, that will add up over the years.

  11. My son’s spending is exactly like your son’s and they are both busy with Varsity Football now too! My son likes to go out with his girlfriend – movies, dinner once every few weeks. There are many worse places they could be – and they both work, so we are OK with it. My son is working and doing football right now but he lifeguards and that shuts down here on Labor Day. We’ll have to compare football season progress this year!

  12. So, do you force your kids to put some of their money into a no-touch savings account? I’ve considered doing that for our kids but at the same time I want them to learn how to save on their own. Most of Madelyn’s money is spent on art stuff. The other three, strictly toys for our son and clothes for the two younger girls. 🙂

    • We have been giving them so freedom this summer, but we be getting them on a saving plan once school starts. We want them to be saving for college.

  13. I think it’s very important to teach children to manage their money. My kids are young so I haven’t figured out what I will do. Your kids are still young and sometimes it’s good to let them learn from experience and let them make their own mistakes.

    • Never hurts to learn from your mistakes, unfortunately it took us almost 15 years to, so I’d rather not have that slow of a learn curve with their money.

  14. When I was a teenager, I was soooo cheap. I saw my mom saving so aggressively on anything that we could save on and from then on, I became so happy with saving my money. Money gave me much more utility than having video consoles (except Pokemon, man I put in 1500+ hours on those things, I loved it!). I saved every birthday money that I received and I saved every penny that I earned from part-time jobs and made my parents pay for everything (okay it was usually only food and I never asked for anything more).

  15. That’s awesome you encourage your kids to spend time with their friends even if that means they might “blow” more money than you would on fast food and entertainment. I’ve definitely found that my spending has shifted slowly and steadily from those categories to future goals. In college, friends and I went out a lot. I always ordered inexpensive items, but now I hardly find it worthwhile to spend money at a restaurant unless it’s a date with my husband!

    • Too easy to just sit around playing video games or surfing the internet these days so we certainly want to encourage some real world activity.

  16. My kids are only 5 and 7 now, but they also spend their discretionary income unwisely. They’re still at the age where they love crappy toys =/ They are pretty decent at saving, though.

  17. We don’t have any kids, but my youngest siblings are still teenagers and based on the string of snap chats I get from them it is Food, Starbucks and Fun. They really make me jealous over the summer when I am sitting in the office being frugal

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