Teach your teen paycheck savvy

By Linda Stern


(Money Magazine) -- Congrats! Your kid landed a summer job in this tight, tight economy.

Now, of course, he'll have that $7.25 an hour burning a hole in his pocket. That's where you step in: "Parents have a real opportunity to help teens learn to manage that first paycheck," says Mari Adam, a Boca Raton, Fla., financial adviser. "I can't think of a better learning experience." Share some solid financial strategies with your teen now, and your child may even have some cash left over come September.

How do you see your finances one year from now?
  • Investments up and job more secure
  • Investments up, but job shakier
  • Investments down, but job more secure
  • Investments down and job shakier

Have the tax talk

Better explain the harsh realities of gross vs. net before your teen gets any big ideas about what she'll spend her wages on. She may not yet understand that taxes will be withheld from every paycheck. So sit down with your child to go over that first pay stub, explaining how and why taxes are taken out, as well as the difference between income taxes (which most teens are likely to get back when they file tax returns) and FICA taxes (which they won't). "This will be a real shock to them," says Adam.

Take it to the bank

Help your kid open two bank accounts -- one savings, one checking. Spend time together comparing fees and rates online, looking specifically for a no-fee checking account meant for teenagers. You'll have to co-sign the accounts, but it's worth it so your kid can start learning to use an ATM card and keep his balance in the black. (Just don't forget to mention the exorbitant costs of using another bank's ATM.)

Your child may balk at an analog check register but might enjoy tracking expenses online via Mint.com. To motivate him, explain about the $30 overdraft fees the bank will rapidly bestow if he messes up budget calculations. And remind him that at minimum wage, it would take most of a day's work to recoup that expense.

Share the savings secret

Deferred gratification is an important lesson. Your teen may not be inspired to stash cash for retirement but may be swayed to the savings habit with a near-term goal, like an iPod Touch or a limo for homecoming. Help her do the math so that she'll know how much to set aside per paycheck to afford her prize by summer's end. Show her how to have that automatically transferred from checking to savings every pay period. As an incentive, offer to match your child's contributions.

Avoid micromanaging

Blowing that first paycheck on shoes that will be out of style before the next check arrives is a rite of passage, isn't it? It's also a "very good lesson," says Rob Gordon, a Coconut Grove, Fla., financial adviser. So let kids have space to make spending decisions, even if they'll end up with buyer's remorse.

There's nothing like having wasted your own hard- earned cash to make you more careful with your money next time.  To top of page

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