My Journey out of Debt

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Making Your Children Pay

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My son is eleven, and entered middle school this year.  He's at the age where many of his friends and classmates are getting cell phones.  Inevitably, he asked if he could get one. 

My initial thought was that he didn't need one, and there was no reason for him to have one just because his friends had them.  My wife pointed out that as he is getting older; he is doing more and more things on his own.  He's going to friends' houses, riding his bike around the neighborhood, and will also be in after-school activities. 

Having a way for him to be able to call us easily if he needs to, or vice versa, may not be a bad idea.

Even though I could understand the reasoning behind getting him a phone, I wasn't sure how much it would cost to add an additional line to our cell phone plan and wasn't excited about an extra expense.   We called our cell phone carrier, and found that with my corporate discount, adding an additional line is only five dollars a month.  So, we made a deal with my son. He could get a phone, but he has to pay the five dollars a month. 

He gets an allowance, and he has a job cleaning up dog waste from our neighbor's yard.  We figured this would be a good opportunity to teach him that working hard allows him to have extra privileges. 

Having our kids pay for some of their own activities and "extras" is becoming an increasingly common event in our house.  Occasionally a movie comes out that the kids want to see.  Sometimes it's within our budget to go as a family.  Other times, it's not.  In those situations, we tell them that we can go, but they have to buy their own tickets.  We haven't gotten any grumbling about this, as it has always seemed that they believed the movie was worth their money.   One time, they decided they were going to buy snacks at the movie theater as well.  Once they saw how much they cost, snacks were out. 

Now, even when it's a family treat, they don't ask for as many snacks, because they understand how much it costs.

When we took a family vacation to Florida earlier this year, we were on a very tight budget.  We had planned a few days at the beach, a few days hanging around the condo grounds at the pool, and one day at an amusement park.  The kids really wanted to go to one more amusement park. We calmly told them that it just wasn't in our budget to buy four tickets to another park.  My son, remembering the deal we have with the movie tickets asked, "How much does a ticket cost?"  Both my son and my daughter were willing to use money they had received as gifts from their birthdays to buy their own ticket into the additional amusement park. 

On one hand, I feel that as their parent, I should be providing all of this for them and shouldn't ask them to pay for part of a family vacation, or pay for their own way to go to a movie.  On the other hand, I think this is teaching them that in life, sometimes you just cannot afford to do everything-- you have to pick and choose what things are worth spending your money on, and which things are not 

What are your feelings about having your children pay for their own events?  Do you feel it is appropriate?  If so, at what age?  I'm really interested in your thoughts, so please post them!

Related Posts:

Planning a Budget Friendly Family Vacation

Can Your 7 Year Old Plan Their own Birthday?

Debt is not Genetic


Travis Pizel

Travis is a contributing writer for the My Journey Out of Debt blog and is a very active member of the community forums. Travis is currently enrolled in a CareOne Debt Management Plan and in his posts he shares his personal journey to pay off his debt and the tips he's learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family. Compensated CareOne Blogger.

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  • I think having kids pay their own way sometimes gives them a dose of reality and will help them have better money management skills as an adult. Unfortunately many kids today are growing up with a sense of entitlement; they feel their parents owe them cell phones, or high priced movie tickets. By having kids pay their own way they see, as your kids did, how expensive things really are and that sometimes its a tough choice to make. Congrats on raising financially fit kids you are doing a great job!


  • Thanks for your comment, Coach Suzanne, I appreciate the kind words.  My wife and I continue to struggle with the line between "we want to supply everything for our kids" and having them have to save up to purchase their own extras.  It is nice to see them doing the math to figure out how long they have to save up for things at their curent "income" rate.  My daughter doesn't quite get the concept of sales tax, or why she should have to pay it, though.  :)    One step at a time....

  • Travis again you have inspired me.  I honestly believe you and your wife are doing well by your children as well as yourselves.  I am sure when your children are adults you will be proud.

    I agree with CoachSuzanne.  Teaching our children about financial responsibility is actually being a great parent.  Even if as adults we could afford to pay for everything then the children do not learn how to manage their own money.  I certainly hope my children never get into the same predicament I got into.  I started teaching my children at a very young age.  As soon as they were receiving money for chores or helping out others etc... I started teaching them about saving for what they wanted.  When my daughter was about 6 I remember her asking for a pair of roller blades instead of roller skates.  I told her that if she could save up for half of the roller blades I would kick in the other half.  It took her a very long time to save that amount as she had a very difficult time trying to save for it as there was always something else she wanted.  She had to make choices on what items were more important to her.  I am happy today that she has learned to save.  And now that she is an adult she has been able to go on many trips by way of cash.  My son also saves for the things he wants in life.  They both can afford now to do the things that seem to be important to them while they are young adults and don't have a family to be responsible for.  Both have been at the same job for quite a few years and both have been promoted into supervisory positions.  So I feel you are doing what helps our children to become responsible adults, in learning the differences between wants and needs and how important it is to save up for both and still have money for the rainy day that may come.  

    I have also let my children know where I am financially and how I got here. It is very interesting as my son now comes to me for advice (even though he knows I have been struggling) he tells his friends how smart his mom is on financial issues.  He will ask me whether he should pay off his credit card or put the money into savings.  We will sit down and figure out financially which way he would really be saving the most money and why.  He also has learned why it is important if he can to have the most taken out of his check to put into his 401K so the company he works for matches it.  He was able to buy a car with a very low interest rate.  His credit score is pretty high for someone at the age of 22.

    So, yes it is very difficult as parents to not give into our wants of being able to do everything we can for our children.  But in the end if we teach them to have to do for themselves they learn more then if we do it all for them.

  • Thanks for your comment, mdavis1964.   I see the opposite side of the coin where kids are allowed  to get pretty much anything they want, and truly believe we're on the right path.  I never thought that watching your children learn how to be responsible people would be so difficult, yet rewarding.

  • I agree with teaching them that things cost and we as parents can't always afford to get them. My daughter is 8 and when she gets her allowance (after saving a couple of weeks worth), she comes to me and asks if we can go to a movie or out to eat and she pays. I feel like she is learning that in order to have things that she wants, she is willing to pay for them herself.

  • It's comforting to hear from others following this same path, thanks for your comment, lakesha026!

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