Anyone who said that babies and toddlers are expensive never met a teenager.  Especially a teenager who is off to university and thinks that they’re decorating for Vogue Interiors and not a tiny dorm room.  But, more on that later.

Teenagers and toddlers have a lot in common.  They both expend a lot of energy when they’re awake and nap extensively to recharge.  Both are frequently defiant, stomp their feet and yell when they’re mad or they don’t get their way.  And both are completely egocentric and unaware of the intricacies of the world around them-unless of course, said world has a direct impact on their precious selves.

Now, back to the conversation about dollars. And sense.  I’ve been experiencing a huge milestone with my daughter.  In a few weeks, she’s off to university, and the preparations are monumental.  I thought setting up a nursery,  planning a Bat-Mitzvah, and dolling up for prom were pricey.  Let me tell you, they had nothing on the dorm prep experience.  Forget books, tuition, or even meal plans-apparently the focus here is on decorating. The. Living. Space.

I don’t want a cute room.  I want it to be elegant. Like not for a baby. 

This was said when I pointed out a very.. umm.. cute 12-piece comforter set that was well-priced at under $100 while she was pointing at a just a duvet cover that was not well-priced at $100.

Of course it’s not for a baby, honey. You’re not planning on having a baby are you?  But..it’s cute. And, it’s only for a dorm room.  

My two mistakes of course were in using the words cute and only in reference to her nascent home decor career.  Diminishing the import of her current life goal was not a good money-saving tactic.

The issue here, though, is much bigger than grandiose decorating ideas (or misplaced priorities when planning the start of one’s university career.)  Really, the question really is when and how to say NO, and balancing the precarious emotional neediness of teenagers with the realities of life and parental pocketbooks.

It’s no secret that teenagers today feel a great sense of entitlement.  Whether it’s the readiness of commercial goods, feelings-based ‘please don’t hate me’ parenting, or guilt over lack of time spent together, Gen Z just feels like life owes them a favour.  So, how does a parent get around this potentialy narcissistic behaviour?  How do we help our teens to understand the give and take of life, the value of things (both financially and emotionally), and most importantly, disappointment.  How do we drill into them that not everything goes their way, or in the words of the Rolling Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

1.  Be firm: Be the parent, from the beginning. Don’t be afraid to say No often.  Teach values. Don’t just give in because it’s easy. Don’t go without, or spend beyond your means, just because it’s easy or you want to make your kid happy. Boy will they get a rude wake-up call when responsible for their own finances.

2.  Teach compromise:  Life is full of give and takes. There are always options. I explained to my daughter that most likely in second year when she’d have an apartment, she would have a double bed.  I encouraged her to find something she liked that was less expensive because she would be getting another new set of linens the next year.  I also pointed out that there were limited funds available, so if she spent so much on one item, there would be less to spend on others.  Reason seemed to work where flat out no’s and motherly frustration didn’t.

3. Help them understand what things cost:  I’m no expert in this area, and I’m sure I’ve broken a lot of the rules with regard to allowance, chores, and the like (aka my kids are spoiled). But, in our house, we discuss the price of items we want, big things are for big occasions, and if you want something, save up for it. I have no problem paying for necessities and wardrobe basics, but if you want extras or designer items, then pony up.  Also, take them to discount stores or big-box outlets and turn saving into an adventurous time to bond.

4.  Provide wisely:  I believe in paying for  cell phones and that way I own the use of them.  I’ve said before that technology access is the single most valuable weapon in a parent’s arsenal.  Having said that, $50 t-shirts and $150 runners are not important drivers in the parent/child power dynamic (meaning that they won’t hate you if you don’t buy them).  For the latter, see #2 & #3.  If they want those shoes, and you’re willing to meet in the middle, have them save up and pay half.

5. Spend Smart:  Safety comes first.  If they’re going out and you can’t pick them up, offer to pay for a taxi. Especially so that they feel like they can call you if someone has been drinking.  If the budget allows, use shopping to teach the importance of spending on quality and that less is more (why buy 5 cheap t’s if you can have 3 good quality ones?) If you ask them to babysit siblings or do other non-required chores, offer them rewards like that cool pair of jeans that they’ve been coveting. Remember, it’s not bribery. It’s an incentive program.

Managing the tightrope called a teenager’s buy-me list is a tricky thing for sure.  But, if you strike just the right balance, you might make across.


  1. I love all your tips. I am going to make my husband read this…I tend to be the one that says ‘no’ and he is usually coaxed into ‘yes’. I’m with you, it shouldn’t always be ‘no’ just ‘yes’ with a little elbow grease from the teens. When in doubt, I have always asked my kids: “Who’s the parent?” – Yup, that wold be me…

  2. This whole topic is so important. I have a daughter in her second year of college and I have to say we were utterly shocked to see how responsible she is being about her money! Great tips! :)


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