My teenager loves to budget


Jessiebird here. My 14-year-old daughter has been an avid YNAB user for about a year.

Part of her enthusiasm stems from a deal I made with her: Any money she saves toward her first car, I match. 

I got the idea from talk radio budget guru Dave Ramsey. It sounded like a good way to get her motivated to save up her own money for a car without making her do it all on her own. And it didn’t take her long to see how fast her balance grew with me contributing an equal amount.

Although she’s too young to hold a regular job, between working a bit for my husband over the summer and helping out at a local farm stand in the fall, she did pretty well last year. Every week she’d come home with money in her hand and a sparkle in her eye, gleeful at seeing me fork over an amount equal to whatever she chose for car savings. (Yes, her pupils did briefly turn to dollar signs. Quite unsettling.)

She loved opening up YNAB and weighing her options. Shortly before the county fair in August, for example, she spent two giddy evenings deliberating on how to break down the $80 she had just deposited.

First, she toyed with putting $50 of it toward the fair: $5 to get in, $15 for an unlimited-ride bracelet, $10 for food, $10 for games and $10 for miscellaneous (yes, she did set these up as individual YNAB categories!). Budgeting the remaining $30 toward the car, plus my match, would increase her car category by $60.

On the other hand, if she put only $30 toward the fair — $5 to get in, $15 for a bracelet, $5 for food and $5 for games — she could put $50 into the car fund, plus my match, increasing the car fund by a full $100. 

Decisions, decisions.

I don’t remember the final breakdown. I do remember she divvied up the fair cash with paperclips and post-it notes in her wallet so she could be sure not to blow her food money on games. And I also remember that she came home with quite a bit left over — which she put toward the car (and I matched).

Altogether, she currently has $780 in her car category. It may take her a couple more years to save up what she needs, but that’s fine, given that she doesn’t even a have a learner’s permit yet.

What matters to me is that she already looks at the budget not as a burden but as an exciting opportunity to maximize the money she has. In other words, though she’s two months shy of her 15th birthday, she’s already developed a budgeting mindset that I didn’t come to until I was in my early 40s.

She doesn’t realize yet how far that will take her. But I do.