The Human ATM

Teenagers Are Expensive to Maintain

What to do when missed curfews, texting and “Mom can I have the keys?” make you miserable. First off, realize that teenagers are expensive to maintain. Think of them as yachts with messy rooms.

By: Joanne Kimes and R.J. Colleary with Rebecca Rutledge, PhD

This sound familiar? You’re whipping money out of your wallet to hand your teen so often that you’ve given yourself carpal tunnel syndrome? Or maybe you’re thinking about getting a weekend job just to afford your teenager? Or you’ve actually made the phone call (disguising your voice of course) to inquire how much the Red Cross is paying these days for a pint of blood?

Money may or may not be the root of all evil, but it sure can be the root of a lot of parent-teen conflict. When children are, well, children, they generally don’t cost much. A Happy Meal here, a coloring book there, some hand-me-downs from an older sibling or sympathetic friend, and it’s all good. Well, hopefully you enjoyed the good old days, because they’re so over and they’re not coming back. While you’re struggling to accept that, here’s how to deal with it.

You have three issues to face here:

1. Teenagers want things.
2. Teenagers need things.
3. Teenagers expect you to give them the things they want, plus the things they need.

We have all heard the adage that teenagers will “eat you out of house and home.” But if you’re not careful, they might “clothes you” out of house and home and “technology you” out of house and home as well.

“When they were babies, my kids called me ‘DaDa.’
When they got older, they called me ‘Daddy.’ Now that they’re
teenagers, they call me ‘Hi, Can I Have Twenty Dollars?’
–Doug, father of four teenagers

First off, realize that teenagers are expensive to maintain. (Think of them as yachts with messy rooms.) Secondly, make sure they realize it too. The more you can steer your teens toward Appreciation and away from Entitlement, the better your chances of maintaining some non-gray hairs. This is where you dust off your “When I was your age, my allowance was a nickel and I wasn’t allowed to spend it all in one place!” stories. You know you have them. And if you don’t, use the ones your parents told you.

But be prepared for resistance. Your teen remembers childhood too, a time when you met all their needs and probably most of their wants, as well. But now that Happy Meal has evolved into sushi, and that coloring book is now an iPhone, and those hand-me-downs have given way to designer labels. As far as they’re concerned, nothing has really changed. You’re still financing this expedition, right? Right? Right?

Let Them Make Their Own Financial Mistakes
The truth is, money matters create a situation ripe for long-term, big-picture growth. You taught them how to make a bed, you taught them how to ride a bike, and now you need to teach them about money. But beware: the words “supply-side economics” won’t even be out of your mouth before your offspring will utter The Teen Mantra: “Can I have that?”

Here’s a Mom-Teen Exchange Overheard Recently at the Local Mall
Teen: I love these boots, if I don’t get them I’ll just die!
Mom: Fine, you can buy them with your own money.
Teen. Oh well then never mind.

In order to instill any financial knowledge (or, as your Dad told you, “The value of a dollar”), it’s vital to let teenagers spend their own money. Realize that this means they will spend it very, very badly. When they do, do your best Marcel Marceau imitation and say nothing. (But don’t try that “walking against the wind” thing all mimes do because that’s a hard one to pull off.) Give them time to learn the value of saving. They will, especially when they find something they really really really want, which will happen at exactly the same time they are really really really broke. Don’t give them the money. Let them learn the lesson.

So What to Do?
At the end of the proverbial day, it all comes down to this: what are you willing to pay for, and what are you not? While these are individual choices based upon individual circumstances, and no two families will handle this situation the same way, the only non-negotiable point is to make your rules and stick to them.

It’s probably prudent to supply all of the necessities, and some of the luxuries. But reserve the right to define the terms here, since teenagers’ “necessity vs. luxury” lists will often (as in always) differ from your own, and will probably have you scratching your head and believing they must get this questionable thought process genetically from their other parent, because you have way too much sense for them to have gotten it from you.

So now that we’ve established that teenagers will have financial needs, as well as wants (some less unreasonable than others), the bottom line becomes “Where does this money come from?”

When it comes to teenagers earning spending money outside the home, there are two camps. Some families not only allow but encourage their teenagers to find part-time work after school and on weekends as early as they’re able. Other families believe that work will come soon enough in life, and want their teens to concentrate more on school and just being young, footloose, and fancy-free while they still can. Just remember, if their fancy is free, that means someone else is footing the bill for it, and that someone is y-o-u.

There are also differing philosophies within the home. Some families assign regular, steady chores and create allowances. Other families are open to their teenagers doing extra jobs around the house for cash. So when one hears the magic words — in TeenSpeak, those are “I need money” — your Pavlovian response should be “And I need my car washed.” Or “And I need the garage cleaned.” But never “So go rob a bank,” because with your luck this is the time they would actually listen to you.

Keep in mind that a recurring theme to your survival of their adolescence is “separation.” A good start would be for your teen to maintain her own bank account. (But don’t put their college money in there! Or even think about giving them their own credit card!) If you create a consistent, well-communicated system, you should be able to avoid becoming The Human ATM.

Copyright © 2009 Joanne Kimes and R.J. Colleary with Rebecca Rutledge, PhD, authors of Teenagers Suck: What to do when missed curfews, texting, and “Mom can I have the keys?” make you miserable

From Teenagers Suck, Copyright © 2009, Joanne Kimes. Used by permission of Adams Media, an F+W Media, Inc. Co. All rights reserved.

About the Authors:
Joanne Kimes has written for a number of children’s and comedy television shows. This is her eleventh Sucks book. She lives in Studio City, CA. For more information, please visit

R.J. Colleary attended Emerson College and moved to L.A. to become a writer for shows such as Saved by the Bell, The Golden Girls, and Benson. He teaches writing to graduate students at Chapman University and works steadily as a playwright. He has survived two teenagers and is currently surviving one more at home in Sherman Oaks, CA.

Rebecca Rutledge, PhD is a clinical psychologist who specializes in family therapy and individual therapy for children and adolescents. She writes columns for Your Health, Memphis Women’s Journal, and the Shelby Sun Times, and lives in Memphis, TN.

Photo:  daniela,