As the Christmas season approaches, and I begin to make my lists and check them twice, I am reminded anew of a truth universally acknowledged: kids get more expensive as they get older. The family finances thus look a lot different when there are teens in the house than when all the children are small. Let’s talk about some areas in which this is true:
1) Clothing. When the kids were babies and small children, we survived almost entirely with gifts and hand-me-downs. Clothing expense was little to nothing. As elementary and even middle-school age children, Walmart fare was sufficient.
Hit the teen years and WHOA. Now we have to shop at the mall to satisfy sartorial tastes, and those jeans and shirts are NOT cheap. Then there are the different pairs of shoes and boots, the jackets/coats for each type of outing, and one of the biggest offenders of all: bras.
And teen guys are not blameless; although we haven’t had to purchase one yet, I do not look forward to the day when we have to provide ours with a sport jacket. I am still reeling from the Christmas wish lists I have received this year — one of which includes a $280 down parka. Um, I guess that’s why they call it a “wish” list.
2) Toys. You can probably guess where I’m going with this one. Toys for small children were Legos and dolls, and while they weren’t always cheap cheap cheap, at least they weren’t usually three figures.
Now as teens they are asking for electronic gadgets, musical instruments, and a CAR. And I don’t mean Hot Wheels. Trust me when I say that these “toys” are not in the low two, three, or even four figures (in the case of the car).
It’s not like they wouldn’t enjoy things that are less expensive — but what is there out there that would be interesting enough? I was able to round up a list of stocking stuffers for teens that were all around $5 — but the real stuff? Not even close.
3) Homeschool Curriculum. It’s no longer sufficient to buy a few reading books from the thrift store and draw pictures of bugs. Now there is lab equipment (Chemistry isn’t just a nature walk, in case you were wondering), a graphing calculator, foreign language software, and the laptop to use it on. And don’t even mention printer ink. Often it’s a toss-up whether you should buy more or just get a brand new printer!
4) Activities. We aren’t just going to play group once a week any more, y’all. There are music lessons, sports team fees and equipment, art supplies (the real kind), birthday parties (I defy you to find a good birthday gift for a teen for under $20), and all the driving to-and-fro (read: gasoline cost) that accompanies these things.
5) Speaking of driving, can we talk insurance??? When the teenager gets his/her license, there is a whole new LARGE line item added to the budget. Not to mention to your anxiety level — but that’s another type of cost altogether, lol.
6) Food. Bigger people eat more — at home and away. The twelve-year-old recently decided kids’ meals are not sufficient anymore. Sigh. Casseroles don’t last through lunch the next day like they used to. Double sigh.
7) Admission fees. Movie tickets, amusement parks, museums — those teens don’t qualify for the “child” price. Not so bad when it’s just your oldest, but wait just a few short years and NOBODY gets in free. It happens quickly, y’all; I speak from experience.
8) College. This is probably worthy of a blog post unto itself! The cost of college is not just tuition and room and board. Don’t forget books. Then there’s travel back and forth for breaks. And that call in the middle of the semester: “Mom, the infirmary is closed and I have to go to urgent care.” Or “My computer’s hard drive is dead and they want $140 to replace it.” The same kid did both of those, in case you’re wondering. Multiply that by three college students (in our case) and you’re talking serious cash.
The reality is that if you’ve got kids, it’s already too late. You WILL experience this phenomenon in due time.
How should you plan your family finances to handle it?
You’ve got two options:
A) You can assume you’ll have enough money when the time comes. After all, the oldest won’t be a teenager for (insert appropriate number here) more years. That’s plenty of time to be making more income; by then you’ll be able to cover all of their needs AND travel to Hawaii every year. In the meantime, you can spend every penny you make, have several more children, and buy a larger house. No worries.
[NOTE: This is not a good solution. Don’t ask me how I know.]
B) You can start now to live below your means. You can learn how to budget your money and stick to the budget. You can learn how to make do with what you have and not be quick to buy new. You can set aside an emergency fund. You can stay away from credit card debt. You can buy used cars and make them last. You can avoid getting a larger home and be content with the one you have. And you can save, save, save. All of this will put your family finances in a much better position, so that the larger expenses of the teen years will not upset the ship.
OK, I admit I’ve been speaking a little tongue-in-cheek for most of this article. But there is a large grain of truth here. The best way to handle the family finances is to plan ahead.
Raising children is one area where we can be lulled into a false sense of security, because when they are small the outlay is negligible. Be aware that as your children get older, they WILL cost you more money; and start today to adjust your habits to compensate.
If you’re in my boat (See 5 Money Management Mistakes to Avoid for the nitty gritty), it’s not too late. But things may be a bit dicey for awhile. Remember that you won’t complete the journey if you never start. Expect setbacks. But keep pressing on towards bringing the family finances in line.
Your teens may have to do without some things they think they need. They may have to do without some things you would have loved to give them. Don’t look back at regrets; instead, plan ahead for future success. (And yes, I’m preaching to myself, here. I’m in this battle with you, y’all.)
Are your family finances prepared to handle the teen years?