Let's face it - you've got enough to handle with your teenager. The last thing you want to spend time on is money - especially when you may not be a shining example of personal financial responsibility.
But the truth of the matter is this: the habits that your child develops now will greatly impact their future quality of life. For this reason, it's important to educate teens (and even pre-teens) on the aspects of personal finance. I've included topics below to give you some basis to work with. You may not use all of the ideas, but it is important that you do something to combat the financial illiteracy that is seen in many of today's adults (who were, at one time, in the same position as these teens).
I know it sounds scary, even to adults, but it's imperative that we all understand where our money is coming from, as well as where it is being spent. One of the most eye-opening experiences one can have is to see an analysis of their spending habits. A daily stop at Starbucks or a few too many iTunes downloads can quickly add up, yet feel insignificant with each small purchase.
I recommend that parents introduce their children to a site called mint.com. No, I'm not affiliated in any way with the site (other than being a satisfied user for years). This site, as described in a previous post, is an awesome way for teens to keep track of their income and expenses. Every time you log in, the website will actually pull data from your different banks, credit cards, investments, etc. and give you a snapshot of your total financial picture, including your monthly budget. Teens, being more tech savvy than their parents, will find it a real-world way to keep track of finances (in a way that they are familiar with - through technology) The catch is that you can't enter manual cash transactions, which brings me to my next point.
Many teens have a savings account, but it's really only used for that gift that Grandma put in there back in kindergarten, which has been long forgotten. What kids need, however, is a supervised experience with the banking system. I recommend that teens have their own checking account and debit card (with a parent listed as the co-account holder so that parental monitoring can be done). This gives the teen a chance to experience the use of cards and checks before the consequences become dire for overextending themselves. It teaches them that the check or debit transaction must have the money in the bank to back up the transaction, or there will be problems.
Many parents worry that teens with a card will go on a crazy spending spree - and maybe they will! But the damage will be limited to a relatively small amount of fees, etc. and will save them from racking up huge credit card debts later in life. It also familiarizes them with the banking system and the beneficial products that are available later on in life. In addition, it can help build a relationship with a bank that can provide financing at some point in their adult lives.
I'm an advocate for allowing children/teens to make their own decisions with their money - and to live with their decisions. One way to do this is to provide an allowance for your teen. This allowance, however, should never be a right - it must be earned. It may be as simple as mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, or watching a younger sibling for an evening. This way, the correlation between income and work is developed. As we as adults know, money is rarely just given to you - it must be earned.
Once the teen has been given the money, you can encourage them to do certain things with the money, but it should end up being their decision in the end (again, so that they can live with the rewards or consequences of those decisions). If they choose to buy something spur of the moment and then have buyer's remorse, it will teach them to more carefully consider their purchases. On the other hand, if there is something more valuable that will require planning and patience to save enough money to obtain, it can teach the benefits of perseverance in a world filled with instant gratification. Clearly, these lessons cannot apply when a parent continues to provide money outside of the allowance for things that should be covered by the allowance (and, necessarily, what is then the teen's responsibility should be discussed ahead of time). If you continue to give them money for a movie ticket or a candy bar after they've already spent their allowance, you're not helping them. Instead, remain firm. You may even ask them if they'd like to look at their budget and spending to determine where they might have made different choices. Which brings me to my next point.
I believe that the number one thing you can teach your child or teen about money is to save. As we've seen, economic conditions can change rapidly. Nearly 10% of the population is looking for work but unable to find any (and many more are under-employed). The lesson of saving, even a small part, of your income is critical to both handling emergencies and being able to be successful later on in life.
One way you might do this is to develop a plan with your teen as to what percent they are willing to save (they might want to spend all of it - this conversation will go over better if you can point to specific examples of how saving has been positive for you - maybe it covered your expenses between jobs or allowed you to purchase that boat or dining room set after a significant period of setting aside money). On a side note, I also encourage tithing. From my Christian perspective, this basically asks that you contribute 10% of your income to the church. Doing this from a young age instills this trait while the habits are being formed and will result in a charitable adult. Even if you're not a religious person or family, it would still be helpful in the development of your teen to encourage some sort of charitable giving - you can encourage them to pick out a favorite charity and make regular contributions. On top of this amount, a portion should also be saved for future use (large ticket items, college, etc.). If you can get another 10% out of the deal, it would be an amazing life habit for teens to take with them into adulthood.
So what would this look like? Say your teen receives $20 per week (amounts will vary drastically based on how much they are doing to earn it and what they are expected to pay for with this amount).
Each week, $2 would go to charity, while another $2 would be placed into savings. They would be left with $16 each week that could be spent based upon their budgeted categories (clothing, entertainment, gasoline, etc). The key is, however, to give them the full $20 and then encourage them to set-aside the charitable and savings categories. That way, they are the ones doing it - not you.
These are some of the most important things that I believe teens should learn about personal finance. Believe me, there are more (interest rates, car payments, debt, investing, building credit, etc. - I'll try to touch on these in other posts). But these simple areas should give teens a base to work off of that can propel them into financial security and responsibility as they become the next generation of adults.