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How I Learned to Budget as a Teenager

  July 10

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When I was 16 years old, I went away to a boarding school. It wasn’t what you’d typically think of when you hear the words “boarding school.” My parents didn’t send me away for bad behavior or because they didn’t want me in the house.

It was actually a school called the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts where kids could go to be around other high achievers and take college style classes. Basically, think of a bunch of super nerd kids getting together, living in dorms, and living their best lives. It was a great experience for me.

Plus, the Louisiana School is actually a public boarding school with free tuition funded by the state. You go through a rigorous admission process to get in, like taking the ACT as a 9th grader, etc., but then once you’re in, it’s free.

Because I went away so young, I became very independent when I was there. I obviously did all my own laundry and cleaning up, but I did a ton of school work every night without having a parent present.

It was a highly unique experience, one that I would do again and again because of all the great lessons it taught me.

The Money Aspect

There was one aspect of going to boarding school young that I forgot about entirely until recently and that was the money aspect.

As I said, tuition was free so I didn’t have to worry about that, but I did need to have spending money, and since my parents were 5 hours away from me, they gave me a pre-paid card.

Every month, on the 1st of the month, they put $100 on my card. I used that to buy pizza, the occasional coffee, and any extra clothes or school supplies that I wanted. I didn’t ask my parents to buy me shoes or a trendy phone or whatever was popular at that moment. I instead used the money they gave me and budgeted it and figured it out.

Because I only had $100 per month, I used it wisely. When it was gone, it was gone until the 1st of the month came around again. It never occurred to me to ask them to give me more or to ask them to reload it sooner.

One time, I did have to call my mom from school and ask if she minded putting extra money on the card because it was the weekend of the Winter Formal Dance. I’d saved the money on my card all month to get both my hair and my nails done for the dance but I realized too late I ran out of money before I could buy my date a corsage.

My mom added money to the card, and that’s the only time in my years of boarding school that I can remember asking her to do that. To this day, I do not ask my parents for money. It’s just how I am.

Learning How to Budget

I didn’t realize until now that my pre-paid card was really the first time I ever had a budget. It was small of course, but since I was a teenager and had no car and no expenses to pay for, the $100 was a perfect, generous amount for me to buy what I wanted to my heart’s content.

Because the money did eventually run out from me not wanting to eat in the cafeteria every night, I did have to plan wisely.

The Best Tool for Teenagers

Because of my experience, I think pre-paid cards are such a great tool for teenagers to learn how to budget. Not only does it teach them how to use a card, but it teaches them to go online and check their balances. It also teaches them to monitor their spending, tell themselves “no” from time to time, and save up when they want something big.

It’s easier than cash, and if they don’t have the money, you can’t spend it, unlike a checking account card which would just overdraft.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of possibilities when it comes to using a pre-paid card. I had such success learning how to budget with them in high school that I’d recommend them to any parent who is trying to teach their kids how to use cards properly and to budget now.

How did you learn how to budget? Did your parents teach you or is it something you learned on your own?


12 responses to “How I Learned to Budget as a Teenager

  1. I had a similar experience learning how to budget but on a much smaller scale. As a child I received an allowance and my parents taught me early on that I could spend the money today or save it and get something better later. Their lessons worked well, and in college when I received a whole semester’s worth of living expenses at a time, I was able to budget easily so that I never ran out of money.

  2. Hmm… I might have to do something similar. I have zillions of things that I could spend money on for my blog, but … I don’t need to. I’ve been thinking about the importance of a good business budget, but hadn’t moved ahead. This is a good kick in the pants.

    My mom worked at our local bank, so when I went off to college, she checked my account balance and added money when it was getting low. I was pretty frugal; I only bought clothes once and it was because I needed warm sweaters. I are at the cafeteria as much as possible and really didn’t go out much at all. I didn’t so much learn to budget, though. I feel like, 15 years later, I’m still figuring that out!

  3. That’s a pretty unique experience as a teenager, it sounds like it really helped you learn some valuable financial lessons and be able to stay on track with pre-set budget 🙂 Keeping this in mind for when Little Miss is older to help teach her the value of a dollar!

  4. I learned how to budget in middle school – it was great! My parents taught me by giving me say $200 for the semester for clothes and shoes. So I learned to shop sales, and figure out what I really wanted – and also pick clothes/shoes that would match other things I owned. It was a great learning lesson!

  5. Wow! That sounds like a very interesting experience. I think I would’ve loved a more independent high school experience like that. I didn’t really know such a thing existed though.

  6. You were a much wiser teenager than I was. I received a $60-per month allowance (probably at least equivalent to the $100 you received many years later), and I spent it too quickly almost every month. I would whine and complain for an advance until I got it … and then the cycle would repeat itself. Ugh! The idea of the card that runs out when it runs out is great. Parents just have to have the backbone to say “No” when their kids regularly run out of funds too early in the month. (Very curious about the boarding school you went to. I’ve never heard of one like it.)

  7. My parents gave me the basics on checking and bank accounts but we never really discussed budgets. It wasn’t until I was much older that I educated myself on the topic. We are better preparing our 3 children.

  8. I was on a boarding school in college. The experience was great, though it was really hard to get by and live because parents weren’t there or present! It taught me so many things from budgeting to spending money as I had a limited budget on food, laundry, and other expenses. One thing I was proud of was that I got a side hustle back then. I worked as a wedding photographer in weekend and as a taekwondo instructor.

  9. I wish I had learned earlier how to budget! While I had a job beginning as early as 12 (mother’s helping for $2/hr — yikes!), I was never really conscious about spending. Now that I have my own child on the way, I’m loving ideas like these prepaid cards that can teach responsibility, but also provide a net so that my teen doesn’t rack up overdraft fees of credit card debt!

  10. I still haven’t really learned how to set up a budget and then sticking to it. But I learned at an early age not to use money that i don’t have yet, so I would never by anything on a creditcard. /love ida

  11. Learning how to budget isn’t a piece of cake. In my case, I learned how to budget well and spend wisely when I finally had my own job. I think learning how to budget requires some sort of maturity and responsibility.

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