Safe Spending Tips For Teens From American Express

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According to a recent American Express Survey, more than half of parents (57%) with kids in high school and college give schools below average or failing grades in teaching kids responsible spending, with more than one-third (35%) giving a straight out ‘F’. This is compared to 37% of parents who give schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ for teaching safe sex. My son is fifteen and  in tenth grade, and has a financial literacy class this year. While I think it’s great that schools are teaching real life skills, I also believe that it is a parent’s responsibility to educate their child about budgeting and spending.

My son started realizing about a couple of years ago that, contrary to popular rumors, money does not grow on trees. I think of his understanding of this concept as a work in progress. He gets the basic idea but needs frequent reinforcement and explanation. How do I know? Because he still occasionally asks for money for nothing, as Dire Straits puts it. My son used to get an allowance. A couple of years ago my son had stopped keeping his room neat and wasn’t taking care of the recycling and garbage as promised. RB and I talked and decided the allowance had to be cut for the time being. We didn’t think it was smart or helpful to give him money for doing nothing. My son wasn’t happy, but he seemed to understand.

About a year ago he saw me using my debit card and he asked a question about it. It was the perfect time to explain the difference between debit cards and credit cards. Debit cards are a fantastic and useful tool – I don’t know what I’d do without mine. We don’t have any credit cards. There are time that I wish we did, when we can’t afford something we need (yes need, not want). But for us, we have to work and save in order to buy things we want. This is the lesson that I feel is most important for my son to learn. Nowadays, when my son wants money, he asks for ways to earn it. I added a debit card onto mine, so that when he earns money from us I can just transfer money to his card. He’s learned to save for the things he wants the most, and to think smart when spending his money. He understands the idea of budgeting and is getting better and better at it.

American Express has collaborated with personal finance expert Jean Chatzky and parenting expert Stacy DeBroff to create the Practice Safe Spend campaign, designed to help parents teach their college-bound kids how to practice safe spending. Here are some things to keep in mind when discussing safe spending and budgeting with your teenager.

Protect yourself from a budget blowout: There are college expenses you plan for – food on the meal plan, books – and then there’s everything else. Laundry, late night pizza and other extras add up fast. Decide how much your teen will have for these variables, tell them to track all spending, then check back in a month to see how it’s working out.

Understand that no means no: It happens to parents, too – paying for a killer outfit or electronic gadget with a credit or charge card, only to feel the delayed sticker shock at month’s end. Before your college student arrives on campus, talk about the types of spending temptations they may experience and should avoid while at school.

Understanding spending personalities and when it’s more than a fling. Get to know your teen’s spending and savings tendencies, and use this insight to help them develop a customized smart spending plan that can carry them through college and beyond.

Keep your teens close and their spending closer: A card linked to your account proves ideal for teens in emergency situations. Parents never know when their young adult might need immediate access to additional funds to get themselves out of a jam. For example, their car might break down and they need to pay for a tow. You can give your teen a charge card like the American Express Additional Card with Custom Limits, that allows you to quickly and easily raise their spending limit – granting them access to additional funds – simply by going online.

To read all of the “Practice Safe Spend” tips, please visit

Have you started discussing responsible spending and budgeting with your child? What age do you think is a good one to start talking about these topics?

I wrote this review while participating in a campaign by Mom Central Consulting on behalf of American Express and received a promotional item to thank me for taking the time to participate.


  1. I think 6 and up, the sooner the better. The kids save their money to purchase something they really like, they have made a few dumb choices on purchasing a cheap toy that will fall apart in a day. Now I think they step back and don’t give into any impulse purchases.

  2. Your plan is an inspiration for parents to follow with teen and not cave by giving when asked. Kids have to see the total before the flood not just the one day drop in the bucket.

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