High School Expenses and Jobs

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People have often told Tawra, “Wait until your kids get older and are teens in high school because that is when the expense really starts.” What the people who said this didn’t realize was that I write more than half of the things about saving with kids. I have had teens and know that this doesn’t have to be the case.

When my kids were in high school everything cost me less, except for food (because I fed their friends a lot). In fact, everything else cost me almost nothing. How was that?

It’s so simple – I made them pay for it themselves. By the time kids are 16, they really need to be working at least a part time job. This will not only help with school expenses but also with expenses like their car insurance, which mine had to help pay.

It was amazing how many things they decided they really didn’t want that badly when they had to pay for them themselves- things like buying a yearbook every year, buying school pictures and going on optional field trips.

Pare things down. A child doesn’t need a yearbook every year. Maybe just get them one for their senior year. When Tawra got her class ring she didn’t get a “class” ring but a nice gemstone ring that she could wear forever. 

If you have trained your kids to be wise with their money, by the time they get to high school they will be smart enough to know that most of these things aren’t that important. Think about it: how often do you get your yearbook out and look at it. I haven’t looked at mine since I graduated. I had a class ring but I have no idea where it is and I don’t miss it. It went by the wayside as soon as I got my engagement ring.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t ever help them when I had the money. Often, I would do things like this: If they really wanted something badly, instead of a Christmas present I would get the item for them as a Christmas gift. (Note from Tawra: Like giving me the cash she would have spent on gifts to help pay for my trip to Germany.)

All activities need to be controlled just as much in high school as in the other grades. There were several trips Tawra could have taken with her class. Instead of going on all of them, she chose to go to Washington, D.C. with her singing group. She chose this over her class trip or something else. You’re teaching them to be adults. Part of growing up is learning to set priorities.

Did she lose out on anything? Not really. She had already been to Germany by herself and the week after she graduated she went to Europe to be an exchange student, after traveling around Europe for the summer. She also received a scholarship to go to the University of Sweden. All of these things cost me very little. Why? Remember the extra food I talked about earlier? While Tawra was in high school, half of the exchange students were at our house all the time and, after graduation, they all invited her to come stay with them. She had no motel or food bills at all and she bought most of the other things she needed herself using her savings.

As far as everyday activities go, my kids didn’t hang out at malls or other places where they had to spend money. They hung out at home with their friends. They did go to a movie or something once in a while but between homework and jobs they didn’t have as much time to waste cruising malls or going other places to spend money.

A teenager needs to get a job and the sooner the better. Even filling out a job application can be traumatizing so it is better for teenagers to learn these things when they are at home and you are there to help them. It’s your job as a parent to help them learn responsibility so that when they get older, they’ll be able to handle life themselves.

Even younger kids like 13 and 14 year olds can do things like volunteer someplace. This gets them used to experiencing what it is like to be in a workplace environment, even if they don’t get paid. Tawra volunteered at the hospital when she was 14 and at 15 they asked her if she would like to work in the flower shop and get paid.

At first, my son worked for me in my manufacturing business (Tawra did too) and as soon as he was old enough, he worked at places like Ace Hardware. This was such a good job because he learned more “handyman” things that would help him in later years. This would be a good first job for a young boy who doesn’t have a dad to go to.

My brother’s son volunteered to work at another business just sweeping and doing basic chores and later, that business hired him. The business gets to know the child’s work ethic and is often willing to hire them when they are old enough. The kids get to learn all the elements of a real work place before having the pressure of supporting themselves. This also helps them decide if this is the type of field they may want to study for and work in later in life.

Most of all, it is in the parents’ attitude. If you have let them manipulate you for years making you feel guilty when you don’t give them everything they want for whatever reason (you didn’t have much when you were young, you feel guilty because you don’t spend time with them, you were traumatized in high school, etc.) then they will manipulate you in high school, too.

Once again, it goes back to mastering your emotions. If you think not getting all these things will warp your children for life, they will think that too and they probably will be warped, but if you have the attitude that, “We will do what we can, but you will not die if you can’t do it all,” they will probably grow up being more stable and level-headed.


From Tawra: Now that we have teenagers, they understand that it’s their responsibility to pay for things they want beyond basic needs, so they pay for any electronic devices, most eating out unless it’s a family event and other optional items.

We allow them to buy some things, like computers and phones, only once they reach a certain age. We’re not enthusiastic about kids being inseparable from phones, so we don’t allow them to buy phones until they’re driving and/or have a job.

Also, they’re responsible for car expenses and insurance, but we pay part of the gas and insurance for one son because he drives himself and his sister to school, which we would have to do if he wasn’t driving. We also pay some expenses, like gas, to account for trips we ask them to make going on errands for us.

We don’t make them pay for reasonable clothes and laundry but they do wash their own clothes.


photo by: carbonnyc


  1. Debbie says

    Nice post. I totally agree with you about not giving kids everything. My girls are only 6 and 8 but they are much more appreciative of the things they do get because I don’t cater to their every whim and whiny request. I’m hoping that will extend into their teen years. They are already ‘working’ around the house to make money to buy what they can’t wait for Xmas or Birthdays to get. They treasure their purchases more this way than if I bought them for them. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Grizzly Bear Mom says

    Good bless you for this column. It’s our job to teach cHildren that life has costs. Personanlly I think its their job to LEARN while in H.S., to not have a car, etc. but after graduation they should be contributing and not live for free.

  3. Jill says

    Thanks for writing this article. It supports our growing belief that we are preparing our kids to be adults little by little now. We just have a hard time making day to day decisions that support that goal. I appreciate your ideas. :-)

  4. getforfree says

    My oldest child is only 10 now. I recently started giving them allowance, but they have to earn it. They accumulate points for the week and they get paid for their points on Sunday. They can earn points for keeping their room clean, chores, going to sleep on time, doing homework, clean up younger child’s mess, being nice to others, and the list can go on and on. They each have a little box or a jar where they keep their money, so when they want to buy a candy, toy or other thing that they want they will think twice before they let go of their hard earned money. By the time they are in high school, they can save up for their cell phones, cars and anything they want, but by that time they will know how to manage their money. I also plan to give the older kids a checkbook registers where they can record their earnings and spending, so they can keep track of it and later see what they spent their money on, and maybe then create a budget for different categories like saving, giving (birthdays), fun, long-term savings for big items and so on. That will not only teach them to manage their money, but will help them with their math.
    Some people might say they don’t have extra 10-15 dollars a week for every child, but it’s less than you would spend on the extra things anyways. If you add up all the things you pay for your kids, like field trips, kids camps and trips, toys, gifts for when they have to attend their friends birthdays, it costs less this way, and no more nagging and asking for stuff at the store. And, maybe when they have to spend their own money on gifts, they will decide to skip some rips, and not attend so many friends’ birthdays and not buy any toys.

    I am also thinking to have them buy their own clothes when they are in high school, so they will learn how to do it before they move out.

    The most important thin is to teach them from a very young age. My 3-year old is already clipping “coupons” from junk mail and sorts them by categories, like pasta, cereal, fruits and veggies, drinks, bathroom products and so on. Well they are just pictures from grocery store ad, not real coupons, but because they have lines around the pictures, she thinks they are. She can’t read yet, but she knows by the picture of a product if it’s a cereal, toilet paper, pasta, shampoo and other things. I think, asks me what is it in the picture, and then she remembers what it is.

    • says

      Teaching the kids when they are young reminded me of the first time I sent my kids on their bike to the store to buy a loaf of bread all by themselves. They seemed to be taking a long time and I was starting to wonder what had happened to them when they came charging home all excited. What took them so long was they were carefully studying every loaf of breads price to see what was the cheapest and best deal. They then came upon the bakery clearance rack and found a marked down loaf. They were beside themselves with joy at the good deal they had found. I had to laugh at them. Not many kids so young would get that excited over a loaf of bread. : )

  5. Kris says

    Nice article! I agree wholeheartedly. My parents paid for the first 2 years of college for me (I had a summer job from the time I was 15) and I was a responsible person but when I was responsible for ALL of my costs in my junior year, I learned to be downright frugal! My college education also took on greater value when I had to pay for it myself. Frankly, I think parents do a disservice to their children when they don’t require them to learn to manage their money. What will the kids/adults do when mom & dad are no longer around to foot the bill?

  6. Rachel H says

    Last year a couple we know bought their 16 yr. old daughter a brand new Toyota Camry. I was thinking, we do well to buy ourselves a new car, but for a teenager who has no job? Our oldest two kids saved money and we helped with the first car. Our youngest was passed down a 1991 Ford Taurus that my husband used to drive. Then when we bought a new car last year we passed down our 2003 Buick to him. Well, we had flooding July 4th and he ran off in a ditch. He was fine but the car was toast! We will help him with a new car eventually, right now he is riding a moped he bought with his own money. I just can’t see giving a teenager a brand new car. I think they should work to earn this. Also a cell phone, unless you think they need it for a safety reason, like driving a long distance or driving at night.

  7. Maidmirawyn says

    Great article! Thatnks for the dose of sanity.

    My family was lower middle class when I was growing up (and then my dad was laid off when I was a senior). I babysat neighborhood kids from the time I was thirteen, and got a job as soon as marching season was over when I was sixteen. I grew up knowing money didn’t grow on trees, so it was no big deal to me; if I wanted things, I had to buy them. My mom bought me some clothes at the beginning of the year and at Christmas, but I bought the rest. (And most of them came from Marshall’s, Burlington Coat Factory, or JC Penney Outlet, either way.) I wore hand-me-downs, if they fit and were in good shape, and sometimes hit up consignment or thrift stores. My prom dresses both years were purchased the year before in the clearance section: $25 and $30! My grandmothers both bought me clothes for Christmas, and I was happy to have them!

    We ate real food, cooked at home. I was able to do marching band for three years in the Flag Corps. I was blessed, because I graduated before they switched from frugal but pretty home-sewn costumes to the crazy-expensive ones. (And we were darn cute in the sewn costumes!) My band trips were paid for by me, with my mom and my grandparents giving me Christmas money early. I bought my class ring, choosing an inexpensive one, and my yearbooks after eighth grade. I never (okay, rarely) thought it was unfair, even though some of my friends were from rich families.

    I also paid for ALL my college, because by then we were really broke, living at home and commuting downtown. It took a little longer than usual. But I have my degree, and a job in my field . . . and my aging mom isn’t stuck with debt, and my student loan was only $10K; I paid the rest as I went. Nine years later, that’s almost paid off, too. And I a good bargain hunter, well-trained, like my mom and both grandmothers!

    Hopefully, I’ll have a kid soon, to pass it along. :)

  8. Pam says

    I have to disagree about having a job during the school year. My kids did dual enrollment so they were in school an extra 2 hours per day and then had the homework to go with it. In addition, part of the Bright Futures program in FL was to do 75 hours of community service in their senior year. They were active in church youth group and doing things around the church as well. There were days when after homework, they went to bed around midnight and had to be at school 20 miles away at 7:30 the next morning. We gave them an allowance, but we paid for their cars, gas, insurance, clothes, etc. We also paid for their church trips during the summer etc. If they wanted fancier phones or electronics, they had to use their allowance or do odd jobs to earn the money, but we got them the basics. They all grew up to be responsible adults. My daughter left her graduation party to interview for her first job. That was 2010 and she is still at the same position, and has been promoted to manager. She and her brother are currently in college full time, working full time, and doing well. They pay for their classes, we pay for their books. I wasn’t allowed to work during high school (school was my job according to my dad) and my siblings and I all turned out fine. All families have different ideals, but this definitely worked for us. Very proud of all 3 of my kids.

    • says

      Every family situation is different and I am mostly talking about parents going into debt to pay for things they can’t afford. But I guess I am confused because you said that they couldn’t work and go to school because they didn’t have the time or energy but they were working and going to collage full time. A years different doesn’t make a whole lot of difference I wouldn’t think. I also would think it would be easier going to high school and working part time then going to college and working full time.

  9. Susan says

    In high school with dual enrollment meant the students were in class every day for many hours. When you go to college you are not in class every day for every class. Sometimes with a hybrid class you only go to “face to face” class once a month–the rest of your class is online–in study or work groups etc. Some students today do their entire college education online–with accredited schools and get great educations including internships etc. Many times if a student has a good job and the company they work for is willing, they can arrange an internship around their regular job. It depends on what the internship is set up for and what the student is to experience. Many colleges and universities today have Adult Learning Programs that are designed only for working adults–they include BA’s, BS’s and Master’s programs depending on the degree and subject matter. College educations aren’t just for 18-22 year olds.

  10. says

    I have read each reply about high school expenses and teenagers. We were not rich but my husband and I both worked. However, we did not allow our children to have a job. Their job was to study their school work and make the best grades they possible could. The participated in many school activities, community events and church activities. We did not buy them a car or cell phone while they were in high school. They used our old cars to go to school because they were both athletics. They started driving to school when they were in 11th grade, before that they road the bus to school and we picked them up after practice. We later took part in a community carpool with parents who had children doing the same thing. We always talked about each others day which included class activities, practice after school, and if they had any problems with their academic studies which started from primary school. If they had any problems we worked with them every day. My son played football and practice was for more difficult for him to study in the evening so we made a morning schedule for him to get up at 4am to study, which made his work a little easier. My daughter played volleyball and softball, however she had more time to study. Everywhere we went with them books was always part of our trip and a quiz was given to them from us about the places we went and what they saw on the way to our destination. We always traveled together, we did just about everything together. They had many friends and they were always welcome to our home providing they followed the house rules: no foul language, drinking of alcohol, smoking, and even being too active with each other. Granted some teens did not like it, but that was our house rules and if they did not like it they could go home. We talked to our children about the use of all illegal substances and what would happen to them if they would try to experiment with any of them because of peer pressure. We also talked about how they would become successful in life if they did those things which would make them stronger people. No we did not give them allowances, we bought their clothes, fed them, allowed them to share with their friends and family by making something with their hands, them it would be more personal. No we were not a perfect family but we were a strong faithful family. Both of my children went to college and graduated with honors. They are both working in the field of their choice. Their friends still come home when they come home with their families and we still hang out together. We still take family trips. I am just trying to say that parents should lay out the family rules early in the lives of their children, beginning in primary school. Do not be afraid to talk about anything to your children; let them know what you expect of them and you love them very much and nothing will ever come between us it does not matter when things go wrong or it does not happen the way they would like it to be, but let them know you are there for them and you will help them through the rough time and enjoy the good times with them. Be parents, not friends, love them but do not hurt them. Make them understand that I will provide your needs not your wants. Cell phones are not needed until they go to college, there is a phone wherever they are and a car is not a toy it must be used and cared for just as anything else. Insurance is not cheap so they must be careful and they are to go where we tell them they can go in the car and make sure it is in shape to get home safely before leaving school, if there is a problem call us from school and we will be there or we will make arrangements for them to get home safely after practice. Take one day at a time because that is all you can do; try not to be pressured into another day before this one has ended and we have discussed events of the day and what the next day may bring. They were not sheltered, nor pampered and I know they wish they could have done more things however, there is only 24 hours in one day and half of that day is taken and the rest of it is for rest. Weekends were for chores and fun. Enjoy life while you are young because as you grow older many things in life changes into parenthood and jobs with fewer breaks even illness may pop up too.

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