Raise your hand if you have a young adult in your life who isn’t ready for the “real” world.
It’s incredibly common for 20-somethings (and even 30-somethings) to be a little more than clueless when it comes to living on their own. Being able to sustain your independence with both your money and lifestyle is a skill that everyone needs to learn, and every parent needs to start teaching while their kids are still young.
The good news is, this is very doable. If you’re currently trying to mold impressionable youngsters into self-sufficient adults, here’s how you can protect them from a very rude awakening when they go it alone.
1. Teach them basic life skills
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a family of blue-collar Americans who relied on their own wits and two bare hands to get by, and they were eager to pass their skills down to their children and grandchildren. Some of those skills took (I make a mean Bundt cake and clean the house with maid-like results), while others are still a work in progress (I call AAA when I have a flat tire; might as well get my money’s worth, right?).
These basic life skills should be required teaching at home because your kids won’t learn them any place else. I’m a huge advocate for integrating this sort of education into the public school curriculum — because honestly, what teenager needs to know calculus over income tax prep? — but as it stands, that responsibility falls to you. (See also: 7 Life Skills Your Kids Won’t Learn in School)
As such, it’s on you to school your offspring on all of life’s dirty little jobs, including but not limited to:
Laundry and other household chores.
Grocery shopping, meal prep, and cooking for themselves.
Integrating coupons and discounts into their everyday purchases.
How credit and debit cards work.
How interest rates affect loans.
The difference between paying in cash versus relying on credit.
How to prepare a resume.
How to interview for a job (and not look like a slob).
How to comprehend basic contracts.
How to drive or use public transportation.
How to make and stick to a budget.
2. Manage their money for their first year of employment
Adults spend their money on frivolous things a lot of the time — so what do you expect kids to do? As soon as they get a job and start bringing home the bacon, they’re rushing straight to their favorite stores for new clothes, taking their boyfriend or girlfriend out on a nice date, and loading up on drive-thru junk food.
We all did it.
You can curb that behavior by sitting your kid down and letting them know that the Bank of Mom and/or Dad will be in charge of their income for the first year of their first job. Offering them this kind of hands-on guidance and advice is a good way to teach teens how to save and spend wisely.
Open two accounts in their name — checking and savings — and put 40 percent of their paycheck into each of those accounts. Give them the leftover 20 percent to do whatever they’d like. When expenses arise for which you don’t feel responsible, like if they receive a speeding ticket or want to go away for the weekend with friends, explain how the money will come from their checking account to pay for it. You may get some resistance at first, especially if they’re used to you forking cash over, but they’ll thank their lucky stars they know how to manage money when they strike out on their own.
3. Charge them rent to live in your home once they turn 18
Your kids are adults the day they turn 18 — a fact that your teenager has probably reminded you of a million times since they started high school — and it’s high time you started treating them accordingly. If they want to be grown-ups with no rules and no curfew but still live under your roof, you have every right to ask for help with the bills.
You don’t have to charge them fair market value, but a couple hundred bucks a month, or even putting them in charge of a particular bill, is reasonable. I’m also a proponent of teens paying their own cellphone bill starting at age 18. They’ll certainly learn to be more responsible with their phones when repairs or replacements are coming out of their own pockets.
4. Help them establish good credit and explain the importance of it
I didn’t know anything about how credit worked before I got my first credit card. Given that naiveté, I went on a shopping spree as soon as the card was in my hands, and I didn’t/couldn’t pay the bill until seven years later. That’s what can happen when a clueless 18-year-old gets their hands on a shiny piece of plastic. And in my case, it royally screwed up my credit for a long time.
Help your kids avoid my mistake by talking to them about how credit works and the importance of being conscious about building and maintaining a good credit score. Educate them on how good credit affects major purchases like cars and houses and even renting apartments. Their livelihood depends on it — unless, of course, you want them to live with you forever. (See also: 4 Questions to Answer Before Giving Your Kid a Credit Card)
5. Provide less for them once they start driving
As your child’s parent or guardian, it’s your legal responsibility to provide for them until they’re able to provide for themselves. But you can start to cut back on the handouts as soon as they’re responsible enough to drive.
Certainly you still need to feed, clothe, and provide housing for your child, but they can start doing more for themselves, too. They can run to the store for their own hair product when they run out, open their own wallets for the video games they covet, and even make their own dentist and doctor appointments. Think of it as an education in independence with training wheels. You’re still around to guide them through the processes, but they should start accepting tasks as their own.
6. Teach them time management skills
My friends make fun of me for how much I micromanage my own time. Anything I have to do goes straight into my calendar, and I keep a daily to-do list at work while creating side lists on an as-needed basis. As a result, my life runs much smoother.
Considering your kids — especially high-schoolers — have busy schedules (for which they likely rely on you to keep on track), it will eventually benefit them for you to teach good time-management skills. Teach them how to add to-dos to their smartphone calendars as soon as they receive them, set up alerts for reminders, and help them form a habit of checking their schedule on a daily basis to keep their lives running smoothly.
7. Step back when they have a problem until your help is absolutely required
A large part of maturing to adulthood is learning how to solve problems on your own, and that means you need to let your children make mistakes from time to time — even when they come to you looking for the easy way out.
“There is a tendency for parents to step in too quickly when their children face a problem,” says Jim Seibold, a marriage and family therapist in Arlington, Texas. “Instead of telling them what to do and how they need to fix it, push them to think through options. Ask them what they think they should do. We can then teach by asking them to think about the consequences of their ideas. For instance: ‘That sounds interesting, what do you think would happen if you tried that?'”
Just as importantly, this approach expresses confidence in your kids. It lets them know that you believe in their ability to think and consider choices, which will be helpful when it’s time for them to move out of the house. That alone can be worth its weight in gold for worrisome moms and dads. (See also: 4 Parenting Mistakes to Avoid When Teaching Kids About Money)
8. Stop giving them everything they want or think they need
I wasn’t deprived of anything growing up, but I wasn’t handed everything I wanted, either. Around age 14, my parents encouraged me to start working part time for the money I needed to go out with my friends or buy the things that teenagers want to buy. I wasn’t over the moon about it at the time, but I also didn’t hate it — I made new friends, had a sense of freedom, and did what I pleased with my money. In hindsight, it helped lay the foundation of my entrepreneurial spirit, which has gotten me everywhere I’ve wanted to be in life thus far.
Seibold instituted a similar practice in his family, asking his kids to purchase their own electronics, cellphones, and any other luxury they wanted.
“They learned to save money they received for birthdays, Christmas, etc., so they could afford these purchases,” he explains. “As parents, we still pay for a lot, but it is important for kids to understand what it means to put off immediate gratification in order to save for something they really want. It may have been ‘easy’ money since it was gifted, but they still had to learn to save.”
9. Establish good nutritional habits from the get-go
Most of us enjoy junk food every now and then (sometimes a little more often than that — guilty!), but nutrition and cooking skills all begin with you as a parent. It’s your job to raise your children on healthy meals and teach them how to make smart food choices so they’re eating a balanced diet. Does that mean you should never order pizza or pull into a drive-thru? No, of course not. But you should be conscious of limiting those instances to help your child establish a healthy relationship with food so they’re best prepared to feed themselves responsibly (and cook instead of relying on takeout).
10. Praise your children, but don’t go overboard
Encourage your children to express themselves, to try their best at whatever they attempt, and to accept failures gracefully. The truth is, somebody has to be the loser; that’s just how life goes. The quicker they learn that they can’t always come out on top, the easier life will be. They need both the confidence to reach for their aspirations and the grit to learn and move forward if things don’t go their way.