How to Prepare Your Teen to Save Money for College

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My daughter is 16. She says that she wants to go to college, and we have told her that we will give her four dollars for every dollar she puts toward her education. This is what my parents did with me. The difference is that I saved my allowance and was excited to get a job to start saving more. My daughter still spends all of her allowance on worthless stuff and when I bring up getting a job, she just rolls her eyes. I talk to her a lot about the importance of college and why she needs to save up for it. She says she will, but doesn’t act like it. What do I do? -Jessica, Indianapolis, Indiana



Kudos on making sure your kid has some skin in the game as far as college is concerned. Looking back, I think if I had paid at least something for my college classes, I may have shown up to more of them.

It sounds like you were the kind of teen who could learn things the easy way and your daughter is someone who might need to learn the hard way. While it can be emotionally difficult to watch our kids have to suffer in order to learn, that may just be the only way they can learn. Better for her to learn the hard way than not to learn at all.

The essential problem here is that you are telling your kid that she will have to pay for part of college, but you are not acting like it. Many kids, especially the “learn the hard way” kind, often ignore our words but notice how we act. It sounds like you learned about the importance of college because someone you loved and respected told you about it. Your kid may just be wired so that the only way she will learn about this is by becoming under-educated and perhaps, because of this, by not having the job and the things she wants to have.

In any case, here’s how I would get out of your daughter’s way so that she could learn about the importance of saving and of college as quickly as possible.

Kid Whisperer: Hey, there. I need to apologize to you. I feel like I have been on your case about saving for college. I think it’s just because college helped me to have a really great life and it was the four most fun years of my life. But still, I’ve been nagging you about this, which must have been annoying. I won’t do that anymore. You and I have talked about three colleges you want go to, so I have information here on the costs of these schools and financial aid info. I’m just going to leave it here for you. You are getting older, and you are going to live your life the way you want. Whether you start saving now or later or not at all is up to you. I’ll love you no matter what you do. Just know that I love you and I wish you the best.

Kid: OK.

Kid Whisperer: Let me know if you have questions about this information, or about college in general, or about jobs if you want to get one, or anything like that. This is your life. I’m here to help if you need it. I’m really excited for you! Oh, to be young again!

After this brief conversation, just allow the universe to do the teaching. The universe itself will teach your kid that the harder she works, the easier her life will become; the more you save, the more you have; and that if you follow through, you can accomplish goals. If she doesn’t work hard, save, and follow through, the universe will teach her that her life will get worse. Either way, the sooner you let the universe start its teaching, the better!