Ages 17-18

High School Financial Literacy

You’re in the home stretch of raising a happy, well-balanced, and financially responsible young adult! It’s time to knock financial learning out of the park while your kids are still at home, helping to prepare them as much as possible for college and beyond.  While money shouldn’t drive future career considerations, the amount your kids are accustomed to living on should be discussed and considered within the context of potential future earnings.

Key Money Basics for Ages 17-18

  • Managing more personal expenses to prepare as an upcoming graduate.
  • Working part-time to build self esteem, confidence, and experience.
  • Balancing social and college pressures within financial realities.
  • Expanding digital financial knowledge and use to prepare for the future.


Emphasize Self-Esteem

By the late teens, focus shifts to college decisions, with significant peer and institutional pressure in competitive school systems. Be careful of how much parental pressure you add, and stay attuned to your kids.

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  • Expand your kids’ social circle beyond school-based groups, to include religious, sporting, charitable, and other settings. Doing so provides a variety of social outlets during difficult peer pressure years.
  • Place an emphasis on academics, but also a healthy life balance overall.
  • Help your kids to understand that getting into one specific college is not a deal breaker and that there are many diverse paths toward achieving their life goals.
  • Be sure your kids have realistic expectations about what colleges you can afford and what they’ll be responsible for funding.
  • Help them to identify alternative options for schools and financing if you’re not in a position to assist with educational costs.
  • When your kids want something, empathize and discuss their requests. Try to reach a shared middle ground that focuses upon shared values and goals. You can’t win every battle, and you shouldn’t make every request into one.
  • When it’s necessary to say “No,” explain why. Talk about the positive attributes of your decision, how it directly benefits your kids, and about what matters most to you and the family.

Incorporate More 'Life' Expenses

It’s time to transfer more financial responsibilities, giving your teens a sense of realistic life expenses before they graduate. This includes items your kids pay for directly, plus items for which they might reimburse you, such as cell phone charges.

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  • Stick with a monthly allowance and budget, adding greater purchase responsibilities, and considering how much your kids earn from working.
  • Include responsibilities for a broader range of needs and wants.
    • Needs might include clothing, school or sports supplies, toiletries, gas, etc.
    • Wants might include eating out with friends, gym membership, and other social activities.
  • You should still discuss and plan together for saving towards larger spending goals.
  • Expand technology solutions to assist with budget tracking.
  • Talk about your own personal money management successes (and failures), to help your kids make wiser decisions.
  • Your kids are young adults but they still need your input.
    • Avoid telling your kids what to do but remain engaged, with check-ins, establishing ground-rule expectations, and offering advice.
    • Give guidance on making wise purchase decisions. Remind your kids to consider price, value, quality, needs versus wants, what you can afford, and family values when making purchases.
    • Help them monitor spending and purchases, using online apps and banking functions to develop a budget. If spending isn’t aligning with the budget, help to figure out why.
    • Focus on the positives, encouraging progress and actions toward important goals.
  • One of the best ways to teach budgeting lessons is to avoid bailouts.
    • If your kids run out of money, encourage them to work to earn the money they need, or to consider free activities instead.
    • Extending a loan can teach your kids about how to get out of and stay out of debt. Be sure to charge interest by your kids’ late teens.

Adjust Relative to Earnings & Responsibilities

If your kids show adequate financial and personal maturity, increase their allowance to accommodate greater responsibilities. Ideally, your kids have significant financial autonomy by now, within the confines of a budget.

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  • As your kids get older, they’re exposed to more influences, both good and bad. Stay engaged financially, socially, and personally. If you’re concerned about spending patterns, take a firmer approach to managing your children’s finances, while still engaging them in financial decision-making and learning experiences.
  • The amount of allowance you choose to pay at this time should be adequate to cover:
    • All purchases for which your kids are now responsible. This should be a fairly extensive list of items by now, and should include both essential and discretionary spending amounts.
    • Some amount for saving and for giving, depending upon your family values.
  • There’s no precise number when calculating your kids’ allowances. However, it should recognize the following factors:
    • Realistic expectations of what items cost.
    • Careful consideration of how financially responsible your children are by now.
    • Mindfulness about your kids’ future earnings, likely budget, and lifestyle.
    • Your kids’ incomes from their jobs.
    • Family values and beliefs.

Promote Experience & Confidence Through Work

Some form of employment is recommended by now, even if only during the summer. Work experiences provide educational opportunities beyond school and family, helping your kids to manage money and consider long-term career paths.

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  • Employment experience can help your children to:
    • Gain insight into an industry or work setting they might be considering as a future career.
    • Learn important personal skills like time management, work responsibilities, and how to behave in a professional setting.
    • Develop self esteem and confidence.
    • Keep them occupied, limiting opportunities for them to get involved with negative influences.
  • The benefits of work should always be weighed against school and other time commitments.
  • If you don’t believe working is appropriate, consider volunteer positions. Positions are often available in hospitals, museums, animal shelters, and other organizations. Your kids will gain similar experiences and a greater sense of responsibility.
  • A paid position provides the foundation for a conversation about taxes. Discuss the purpose taxes serve and how tax rates gradually increase as earnings rise.
  • One of the wisest allocations of earned income is to contribute to college savings. Your kids gain a vested interest in their education and a greater understanding of exactly how much it costs to attend college.
    • This is a particularly important discussion if you are not planning to, or are unable to, pay for the bulk or all of their college tuition.

Set Longer-Term Saving Goals

This is the prime age to focus on additional savings, particularly from earnings. Ideally, your kids have already learned how to save for short-term goals. Shift the emphasis toward more mid- and long-term goals, like college.

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  • We always recommend encouraging your kids to save for college, even if you’re planning to cover the bulk of expenses.
    • At a minimum, your kids should save towards incidentals, travel, and activity costs.
    • Help your kids to understand the cost of college, and the amount, if any, you are willing to contribute.
  • Discuss college savings with your kids, setting realistic expectations and saving goals for them to achieve.
    • Discuss ways your kids can cover necessary costs by working, saving, applying for scholarships, and exploring different college options.
  • Continue to encourage them to stay focused on saving goals, rather than wants.
  • Encourage committing long-term savings in bank accounts.
  • Depending upon family beliefs and financial circumstances, you may assign or have specific saving goals to achieve e.g., 10%- 30% of their income (allowance, earnings, and/or both).
  • Consider introducing a micro-investing digital platform such as Acorns into their saving regime.

Promote Banking Skills

If your kids have been successful in managing their own bank account for a while, it may be time to allow an ATM card and, depending on their age and level of financial responsibility, a debit card, too. A debit card can be important for online purchases, travel, or in situations where carrying cash could be unsafe.

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  • Encourage use of online tools available at your bank. Engage with your kids and share passwords. This helps you to better monitor balances and spending.

  • Consider establishing a separate account for your kids to save for college or other long-term goals.
  • Have your kids balance their own accounts by tracking deposits and withdrawals using online functions and/or personal finance apps that link directly.
  • Even if you don’t add checks to your children’s accounts, teach them how to write out a check and other banking essentials.

Encourage Giving, Personally & Financially

Many schools have community service requirements for graduation, providing valuable lessons about giving to others. Talk to your kids about experiences that pair well with their career considerations, personal interests, and family values.

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  • If you believe in financial giving, still encourage your kids to give a portion of their allowance and earnings to worthy causes.
  • Contributing a percentage of earned income can be a common goal.

Explain Loans & How to Get Out of Debt

Only agree to a loan if you support the reason for it, and you believe the amount can be repaid. Borrowing isn’t ideal, but it does help teach your kids how to get out of debt, if necessary. Any loan should now include a modest interest rate.

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  • Be sure that any loan can be paid off within six to twelve months.
  • Set up monthly repayment amounts and have your kids pay you in cash. Don’t auto debit the payment from their allowance.
  • Track repayments and provide a summary of their loan balance every month. This should include interest paid to date, interest owed, and the total amount that will have been paid when the loan completes.
    • Use an online calculator system if needed.
  • Let your kids prepay if they are able to or want to.
    • Discuss how some loans can charge an early termination fee.
  • Don’t let your children fall behind with payments.
    • Discuss how debts can become unmanageable if payments aren’t made.
    • Explain what a credit score is and how delinquent debt can impact future borrowing opportunities.

Consider What Your Kids are Experiencing & Expectations

Social experiences, cars, and college are now in focus, likely translating into lots of expenses and perhaps lofty expectations. While you want your kids to have the best experiences, you need to manage expectations about what you and they can afford. 

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  • Remember that the lifestyle your kids enjoy today serves as a baseline of expectations for the future.
  • When you talk about something you want or must have, ask yourself if it’s a real need or a want, and what your kids may be learning from you.
  • Avoid negative comments about others and their life choices.
  • Your actions and comments should always support your values and create realistic expectations for your kids.

Remember, You're Still the Most Important Role Model

If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to have open discussions with your kids about how you relate to money. Share experiences that offer valuable lessons, don’t focus on extremes, and be mindful of the financial example you set.

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  • Try to be a good financial role model, by thinking about the following:
    • How you manage your own finances.
    • How you talk about money with your kids and others.
    • What you say about work.
    • Your individual money personality.
  • However you relate to money, the strongest piece of advice is to avoid extremes. Don’t be too stringent or too free with your spending and relationship with money; both have lasting effects.

If you are well-off, give careful consideration to the wealth effect. This relates to the expectations you are establishing for your kids in terms of lifestyle and privilege, and whether these standards of living will be available to them later in life.

The Digital Future

By the time your teen leaves home, they need the money management skills and digital experience necessary for financial success in the future. Allow your teen an increasing level of financial independence, while maintaining adequate oversights and regular check-ins.

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  • If they don’t already have one, help your teen obtain their own ATM and/or debit card. Provide teaching, encouragement, and oversight as they become more adept with online banking, online purchasing, and other digital financial transactions and resources.
  • We don’t recommend that you grant your teen access to a credit card at this stage, even if you’ve been diligent in laying a foundation of sensible spending and your teen is exhibiting responsible financial habits. The risk of amassing credit card debt far outweighs the potential benefits of air miles or cash back you think you may reap. However, this is a personal parental decision.
    • Your teen will need to be 21 years of age to apply for their own credit card, unless they have proof of steady income that’s acceptable to the financial institution issuing the card.
      • When they’re ready, help them research and select one that meets their needs and has reasonable terms, not simply the first one they get offered.
    • Under 21 years, the options are much more limited and the regulations much more stringent for credit cards:
      • You’ll need to co-sign. You should only co-sign if your teen has an income from which they can make payments. If you decide to co-sign on a credit card, make sure that your teen is aware that their poor money behavior will impact their financial future and your credit score, too.
      • A secured credit card maintains an up-front cash balance that acts as collateral. Used correctly, a secured credit card can help your teen successfully establish their credit score.
    • Work together to set a realistic monthly limit for credit card spending. Decide on the consequences for going over that limit.
    • Reiterate that balances are due in full, on or before the date set by the issuer, and what happens if a payment is missed or not paid off.
  • Introduce financial apps that your teen may need and use at college and beyond. Popular apps for teens and young adults include:
    • Mint and Mvelopes: personal finance apps that allow your teen to connect accounts, create budgets, categorize transactions, and set spending limits.
    • Venmo and PayPal: payment apps for sending and receiving money.
    • Acorns: the online investing site that rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar.
  • Digital budgeting brings new challenges. It can be harder to track money flow across multiple platforms. Emphasize the importance of reviewing transaction reports, bank statements, and email receipts regularly.
  • Talk about the importance of security for online banking and financial transactions, and how your teen can keep their personal and banking info safe e.g., using strong passwords that are unique to each online platform, and are never shared with anyone except you.


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