Our goal as parents is to turn our kids into functioning members of society. That typically includes everything from being equipped to boil pasta to doing laundry to understanding the value of a dollar. And there’s no better time for kids to start learning the money basics than when they get older and their wishes become more costly. Then the question arises: When should you pay, and when should your child foot the bill?

We asked several parents what they make their teenagers pay for and what they still cover. Overall, one theme emerged: Parents shift the extra “wants” to the kid while continuing to cover the household essentials. For instance, parents will pay when the family goes out to dinner, but teens cover the cost of going out with friends.

Curious how your “non-essential” list stacks up? Check out what these parents decided to make their teens pay for.


With a 14-year-old son who works sporadically year-round and more steadily during the summer, Fitzgerald finds the "want versus need” approach cuts down on most miscellaneous asks. “Spoiler alert: He wants most things much less once he sees how much of his hard-earned money they will eat up,” she says.

What she has asked her son to pay for recently:

  • An extra pair of Vans shoes in a reddish-maroon shade. “Since he already had multiple pairs of sneakers for a variety of uses, these were purely a ‘fashion want’ so we felt it was very much an extra that he could pay for.”

  • A pair of Beats headphones. “Since he already has a pair of earbuds and a set of Bose headphones — and only two ears — another listening device seemed beyond extra.”

  • An iPhone upgrade. “He had hoped for an iPhone XR, but given that he has a perfectly usable iPhone SE, it would be on him.”


Since her 15-year-old son is earning money as a computer programmer, Adams figured it was on him to pay for some of his own expenses with “the nice chunk he has saved up.”

“Spoiler alert: He wants most things much less once he sees how much of his hard-earned money they will eat up.”

What she has asked her son to pay for recently:

  • A computer upgrade: While he primarily works on his employer's computer when on the clock, he also loves to work on his own machine, trying out new programs and tinkering with websites. But when he felt he needed an upgrade to take his work up a notch, she thought it made sense for him to cover it. “You know, as a business expense,” Adams explains.

  • Part of a recent trip: When his ballet troupe took a week-long spring break trip to Cuba to take class with the National Ballet, she covered some of it, but made him contribute, too, since “this was a perk, not a necessity.”

  • A Google Home: “He thought he needed this to turn off his lights once he's in bed. That was up to him to cover.”


“My goal is to continue to support my daughter in all she needs, as I prepare her for a life that no longer needs me … financially, that is,” says Meche’tte.

What she has asked her daughter to pay for recently:

  • Cellphone: Meche’tte has set up an affordable family plan that leaves her daughter covering her portion — about $25 a month. She finds that it’s all too easy for teens to take their phones for granted and not worry as much if it’s lost or broken, thinking parents will save the day and provide a new one. “Making her responsible for that bill makes her more aware and careful of how she handles her phone.”

  • Her sneaker collection: With a daughter who is a tennis shoes fanatic, the cost can add up. That’s why she can foot the bill for those Nikes herself, Meche’tte says. And that presents a wonderful budgeting lesson. “Will she realistically be able to purchase a pair of expensive shoes and still have money to do other activities with her paycheck? Probably not,” she notes.

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