The 30-day bootcamp to get your kid living on a budget

The 30-day Budget-Living Bootcamp

Update 6/1/20: Depending on where you live and the social distancing guidelines in effect, some of these suggestions may not be possible at present. 

You’d think 18 years would be enough time to give your kid the life skills necessary to live within a budget. But who has time to teach a kid to cook, wash their own clothes, and shop for bargains when you have to cook, wash clothes, and shop for bargains?

The thing is, if they don’t know how to care for themselves when you aren’t nearby, they’ll have to pay someone else to do it. And eating out every night, dropping off laundry, or paying retail for clothes and other necessities can drain a young person’s meager savings in a hurry. In which case, brace yourself for that classic mid-semester text: 💵🙏

Here’s what I propose: Put your kid through my 30-day Budget-Living Bootcamp, covering food, clothing, transportation, and more. And crank up that “stern parent voice” throughout, Drill Sergeant. A little tough love now will go a long way toward healthier finances down the road.

Week 1: Quit Takeout Cold Turkey

Here’s the new rule: Don’t cook, don’t eat. While delivery apps have made tasty meals seem to appear out of thin air, what you gain in calories, you lose in cash. At the start of the week, sit down together and plan out a family dinner menu. Think Meat Loaf Monday, Taco Tuesday, Beef Wellington Wednesday. (Yes, alliteration helps.) Be sure they choose simple recipes with limited, inexpensive ingredients, and point out the value of meals that generate leftovers.

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Come up with an amount you’re willing to spend on groceries. Give your kid the agreed upon budget in cash, and hit the supermarket. Remember, your kid is calling the shots and filling the cart. He will have to keep a running tally of costs as he picks up ingredients. Having a limited amount of cash (as opposed to plastic) means he won’t be able to go bust at the cash register. Inevitably, some of the pricier ingredients will have to return to the shelves. Saffron rice? Um, how about plain old rice?

For the rest of the week, Teen Chef cooks every meal—with your guidance in the kitchen. (Sorry. But maybe he’ll be ready to cook solo by Friday.) Here’s where you teach your kid all the cooking tips and tricks you’ve been stockpiling all these years. If you’re feeling generous, offer to do the dishes. Or not.

Week 2: Tone Your Transport

Remember how you used to be the family chauffeur? Well you can hang up your driving cap because Junior is going to have to figure out how to get where she’s going without you—and if she needs to budget and save money, without a car. If her next destination has public transit options (as in most college towns) now is the time to show her the ropes and demand that she uses mass transit for an entire week, to work, to friends’ houses, to the mall. Provided you have access to buses or subways, get your kid a pass and hide the car keys. If you think cycling is a better way for your kid to travel, this is the week for her to throw on a helmet and start peddling. (Bonus: Your kid can burn off last week’s meat loaf!)

Week 3: Shed Unwanted Pounds

Okay, this is going to hurt. At the start of the week, help your kid part with his prized but pointless possessions. (Let’s face it, those 9,000 random Legos aren’t going with him to engineering school.) Resale sites like eBay, Letgo, and Craigslist can be useful (only if your kid is willing to deal with posting, payment, and shipping), but never underestimate the power and profitability of an old-school garage sale. Pro tip to maximize margins: Have your kid make a batch of cold brew coffee for sale to entice and cool down his customers. He’ll need the cash come Week 4.

Talking about money can leave you tongue-tied. My weekly newsletter is full of financial conversation starters.

Week 4: The Spin Cycle Workout

Gone are the days of the personal shopper (you) and drop-off laundry (you again). Start this week with a scared-straight shopping session. Pick one clothing item your kid will need for the fall—maybe that’s a new coat or boots. Now challenge your kid to find the lowest-priced quality item, online or at stores. Be sure she checks resale sites and thrift stores for gently used gems. What’s at stake? The money she made at last week’s garage sale! (Revenge is sweet.) Believe me, when their own money is on the line, that second-hand parka starts looking pretty glam.

Next, it’s a laundry lesson. Whether you wash at home or drop coins in a machine, you know laundry is a pain. Time to share the misery. This week, guess who’s finally learning the difference between colors and whites? While you’re at it, have her compare the costs of DIY wash-and-dry with paying someone else to do it.

Can 30 days really make up for 18 years of zero responsibilities? Probably not—there’s no one-and-done trick to growing into a financially secure adult who knows how to budget. But at least their socks will be clean—and if you’re lucky, that mid-semester text will look a little more like this: 🙏!

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