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My Advice to Teenagers About Money

A mini-talk I might give about earning, spending, and saving.

FreeStockPhotos.com, Public Domain
Source: FreeStockPhotos.com, Public Domain

This series' previous installments offer a mini-talk I'd give to my teenager about career and one about sex. Today, I talk money.

My Dear Child,

We live in a materialistic society. Kids spend $100 on a pair of jeans that looks no better than a $20 pair because it has a designer label. They beg their parents for a "cool" car even though it costs thousands more but rides no better.

Please resist the spending crowd. Not only is that a poor use of money now, get in the habit of being prudent about spending and you'll have a far wider range of career choices. Lucrative careers pay a lot, in part, because they're less pleasurable. For example, you like to write. Very few writers make enough to afford a materialistic lifestyle. But lots of bond traders, plumbers, insurance salespeople, accountants, and corporate lawyers do. I don't think you'd much enjoy such careers. And if someone doesn't like you because of you're not a spender, they're unworthy of you.

Focus on earning rather than spending but don't sell out for money. Find an after-school or summer job that will help prepare you for career and life. Sure, you'll learn about those by working at the yogurt shop...for a few weeks. After that, you won't learn much. Better to work for less money or no money at the elbow of a competent, kind, and ethical professional in a field you might consider. For example, I have a friend who repairs synthesizers. Your aunt Rebecca is an eating disorders counselor. Your uncle is a lobbyist for the National Association for Gifted Children. Might you want to work for one of them?

Get in the habit of saving. Each time you're tempted to buy something, ask yourself if it's wiser to buy it—for example, another pair of shoes—or to invest it. I believe it's wise to invest in stocks of our most respected companies. You can buy stock without commission, for example, Apple, Google, Disney, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson or 3M. Don't try to time the market--even pros can't do that. Just get in the habit of every time you have an extra $100, buy another share or two of stock.

Of course, stocks can go up or down but over the long-term, good companies like those have gone up a lot. It's fun to see yourself make money without having to lift a finger. Keep saving and, unlike your big-spending friends, you'll be more likely live well and have a career you'll enjoy.

Marty Nemko's new book is The Best of Marty Nemko.

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