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How to help your teen start budgeting

In order to win in life, your teen is going to need a solid plan for everything — including their money! If they learn to budget today, they can avoid some common money mistakes and start building a strong financial future ASAP.

They might need a friendly push to get started, so here are a few things that will help get them motivated.

Why budgeting matters

Your teen is probably pumped to get a taste of the real world, whether that means getting their first job or getting out of your house and into a college dorm. But before they get too caught up in dreaming about their new freedom, they need to realize that freedom comes with responsibility.

Trust me, I’ve been where they are now. When I first started living on my own, I didn’t have a clue about how to balance my income and expenses, much less how to think about long-term financial goals. Living without a plan got me in some serious trouble. Luckily, my dad saw what was happening and jumped in with some wisdom. He showed me exactly how to create a plan for my income and expenses.

I know that for your teen, the thought of writing a regular budget sounds like as much fun as an all-nighter cramming for a calculus final. But becoming a budgeter was the best financial decision I ever made. Not only did budgeting take away a lot of stress, it also helped me move toward financial peace and achieve my dreams.

How to budget

Now that the why behind budgeting is clear, let’s jump into the how. Writing out a zero-based budget every month is your teen’s blueprint for financial success. Tell them not to get intimidated. A zero-based budget just means they’re creating a complete plan for all their spending ahead of time. It’s like they’re giving every dollar they earn a job to do.

Here’s a simple budgeting plan you can give them:

Step 1: Have them list all their income sources for the month. They should include paychecks from work or side jobs, plus any extra financial support they get from family. Add it all up. If your teen doesn’t have an income, and needs some extra cash this summer, I have a list of great summer jobs for them to check out at

Step 2: Have them list every expense they’re going to have for the month. Here are some examples of what they might want to include:

¦ School fees

¦ Rent (unless they live at home)

¦ Food (unless you still cook for them. Lucky them!)

¦ Clothing

¦ Gas

¦ Entertainment

¦ Savings

¦ Emergency fund/savings

Step 3: Have them total up their expenses, and subtract that number from their total income. Do they get zero? If they’ve got money left over, great! It can go into savings. If not, that just means they need to find a way to make more money or spend less money on some of their expenses.

And that’s it! It’s actually a lot easier than it sounds.

Here’s my last tip. Tell your teen not to get discouraged if every little thing doesn’t work as planned the first month. That’s totally normal. It might take a few months, but with your help they’ll work out the kinks over time. And as they do, I know they’re going to have the freedom and confidence to take on whatever is coming their way!

Anthony Oneal

Anthony Oneal

Since 2003, Anthony ONeal has helped thousands of students make good decisions with their money, relationships and education to live a well-balanced life. He’s the national best-selling author of “Graduate Survival Guide: 5 Mistakes You Can’t Afford to Make in College,” and travels the country spreading his encouraging message to help teens and young adults transition into the real world. You can follow Anthony on Twitter and Instagram @AnthonyONeal and online at or

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