Parents, picture this:
You’re cleaning house. You know you’ve told your teenager a thousand times to clean his room. At the very least, you hope he has put the painstakingly folded laundry away in the dresser. But, as you look into his room, you see clothes everywhere. Instead of fighting this battle for the 50th time, you give in. You pull out the top dresser drawer, a handful of socks poised and ready to finally be back where they belong, but you stop short. There is cash everywhere. Ones, fives, tens, and twenties fill the spaces in between your teenager’s mismatched socks. What’s your first thought?
Of course, your mind goes directly to the worst case scenario, speeding straight past rationality. Where did all this money come from? Is my child involved with drugs? Is he stealing? Is he part of a band of teenage bank robbers who have somehow evaded the attention of both police officers and parents?
What if the answer isn’t as sinister as you think? What if, instead, a drawer full of cash is cause for concern of a different kind? In this moment of surprise and panic, you don’t remember that your teenager has a job, gets an allowance, and often receives birthday cash from distant relatives. So, what if a drawer full of cash is actually a small, yet significant sign that your child needs help managing his money?
When I was in high school, I did not have a drawer full of loose cash. Instead, I had a manila envelope stuffed between some books on the nightstand by my bed, full of money. No, I was not involved in selling drugs. I’ve never stolen money from anyone, and I was not busy robbing banks with my friends after school let out. I was, in fact, quite the opposite. Smart in nearly every facet of my life, I seemed to be one of the good kids who had it all figured out, and I loved that people thought of me that way. So I worked hard to maintain my status as a good, responsible teenager. I made great grades, had a steady, part-time job, excelled as a student athlete, and maintained a solid relationship with my family. But I was an absolute idiot when it came to managing my money. When I started working at my first part-time job, my mom would help me cash my checks, and then she trusted me to handle the cash responsibly. But I didn’t have the slightest idea what that meant, and I was too ashamed to ask her for guidance. I didn’t want to tarnish anyone’s opinion of me, least of all my mother’s. If she trusted me enough to manage my money, then shouldn’t I be able to manage it?
Enter, manila envelope. I knew I needed somewhere to physically keep all my money, and since I did not yet have a bank account, I figured I should keep it somewhere relatively safe. Thankfully, our house was never broken into during this time, or else I’m pretty sure a bulky manila envelope, awkwardly shoved by some books on a nightstand screams: I CONTAIN LOTS OF UNGUARDED CASH!
It seems rather obvious how this story should end, right? Eventually, one way or another, I would figure out how to get a bank account, deposit all my money there, and be well on my way to living a financially healthy life. Sounds perfect, right? Well, it also sounds idealistic and untrue. Yes, I did end up getting a bank account, and my money was tucked safely away in a vault. But I was still the same stubborn person, still too concerned about how others viewed me to risk asking questions about my money.
Unfortunately, my teenage ignorance lead to a young adulthood filled with multiple instances of blindly hoping that my debit card or credit card wouldn’t get declined because I was always too nervous to actually look at my bank account and try to balance my money. I have been guilty of simply deleting emails from my bank and throwing away correspondence, unless it looked too important to risk it, all because I was uninformed. I didn’t know what I would do if there was a problem with my account. I didn’t want to think about how to find more money to augment a low balance. I had no clue how to actually establish and grow a saving’s account. So I ignored everything and hoped for the best.
Parents and teenagers alike, I urge you, please do not let this happen to you! It took me entirely too long to understand my own finances, and my lack of knowledge was a true detriment to me because it has required me to spend the last few years playing catch up and educating myself, instead of saving and spending wisely.
The task at hand is quite simple: talk to each other. Parents, if you find a drawer of cash, or a manila envelope, don’t automatically assume that your child has gone rogue and gotten into a messy, illegal situation. Likewise, don’t assume that your teenager knows how to be financially responsible just because he’s a great kid in all other areas of life. Leaving something this important up to assumptions and chance could condemn your teen to a lifetime of money troubles.
And teens, please don’t be afraid to talk to your parents! Take it from someone who tried so hard to be good at everything, and in doing so, totally failed at being good with money. Knowing how to actually manage and use your money is going to make your life so much less stressful and so much more enjoyable. So just ask. I promise, it’ll only help.
(photo courtesy © Pictures of Money cc2.0)