Managing Money with Teenage Stepkids
Q. "My partner will not limit the amount of money she gives her 14-year-old son for his social outings. She regrets not participating in activities in high school, and she doesn't want him to be left out of anything, no matter what it costs. He is too young to get a job, but he does nothing around the house to earn even an allowance. I asked her at what point will she put a cap on his spending and she replied "none." This can not be healthy for the kid or our relationship. Please give me some advice on how to handle this!"
A. You are right, children need to learn some financial responsibility and have limits on their spending. This fact is particularly true with respect to social events, clothing, and gadgets that go over and above what's necessary. With unlimited finances, a child doesn't learn how to mange money, make financial decisions, or live within a budget. Every child needs to learn how to make spending choices and then live with and learn from the real life consequences of those decisions.
Some parents give their children an allowance to learn to manage and budget money. Others offer opportunities to earn cash by mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage, or caring for younger brothers and sisters. It doesn't serve children well to live with the belief that there are unlimited funds for whatever they desire.
That being said, it's important to realize that as the partner of this child's mother, you hold little power or control in the situation. You can offer your opinion, perspective, and point of view. But unless she's asking you to provide money for this child, there's little you can do.
Your role here is difficult. You're this young man's stepparent and this is a difficult role. On the one hand you're an insider, as you see the relationship between this teen and his mom up close and personal. But when it comes to taking action about things you deem inappropriate, you're an outsider.
Intruding harms your relationship with your partner and the child. It's best not to interfere if you want these relationships to continue. The mother and son have been adhering to this financial arrangement for a long time and it's unlikely either will change just because you disagree with what's going on between them.
Whenever this boy holds out his hand and the mom fills it with dollars, bite your tongue, turn the other way, and take a few deep breaths. Then when you're with this young man, and the moment seems right, tell him how you budget, invest, and save money. You can show him how you make purchasing and entertainment choices with your dollars. Being a good role model and explaining your thought processes is a powerful way to influence his behavior.
For now, as long as his mother gives him whatever he wants, what you say won't have much impact. When he's financially independent, however, he may remember some of your ideas and put them to good use.
For more information on family money matters, you might pick up a copy of Money Doesn't Grow on Trees: A Parent's Guide to Raising Financially Responsible Children, by Neale S. Godfrey and Carolina Edwards (Fireside, 1994).