How To Help Teens Deal With Spending and Consumerism

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Millions, if not billions, of dollars are spent each year creating a materialistic appetite in teenagers.  Parents have a huge responsibility teaching their kids about issues related to teens and spending

How Advertising To Teens Has Impacted Teens Spending Habits

Back in the day,an advertiser was given the job of marketing a great product.  The product filled a need and the advertiser was given the job of making as many people as possible know that the need had been filled.

But, advertising today is different.

Advertising today first seeks to create a need, and then to fill it.

It doesn’t matter if you are young or old.  I bet you can think back over the last three months to something you bought that you needed that you didn’t even know existed a year ago. 

Unfortunately, teens are often the most targeted group for direct product advertising.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the recent CARD Act will not allow credit card companies to market to college students.

Why Do Companies Target Teens’ Spending Money In Advertising?

  1. Teenagers who come from middle class to upper class families often have disposable income available to them.  Frequently, this disposable income has come by means of an allowance or gift, so the money is ‘less valuable’ because it was not attained by work. 
  2. Teenagers are especially vulnerable to peer pressure.  Fitting in and being accepted often trump every priority for a teenager.  Thus, teens spending is about popularity not quality.
  3. Developmentally, teenagers are impulsive spenders.  They are straddling the fence between adulthood and childhood, and when it comes to stuff, they (like we) often revert back to their childlike “I want it now” impulses. For most teens money is something to spend today not save for tomorrow.
  4. Money is becoming invisible, and thus hard to mentally quantify.  Most money transactions are electronic.  Mom and dad don’t bring home paychecks any more – it is direct deposited.  Checks are not written to pay for bills – it it set up for automatic bank payment.  Groceries are purchased with plastic.  Conceptually, it is harder for teens to recognize that each dollar came as the result of a drop of sweat.  It seems like money invisibly multiplies in bank accounts and is always available when needed or wanted.
  5. Because of all of the above factors – it is effective.  Who else is going to pay $45 for a ripped pair of jeans?  Teens’ spending is a huge market.

How To Teach Teens To Spend Money So They Avoid Consumerism

  1. Pray for wisdom.  Any time you face a difficult challenge, you should never address that problem by your own strength.  Parenting a teen is hard, so you should follow the advice of James 1:5.
  2. Give them exposure to the rest of the world.  My views on materialism have been significantly impacted by my exposure to the third world.  I’ve heard from many teens who talk about how much they were changed by being exposed to poverty.  Another option (and much less expensive) is to get involved in some type of urban ministry in your own town. 
  3. Reinforce the relationship between work and money.  I’ve not been shy about my five reasons why teens should work.  Even if your kids don’t need to work for money, encourage them to work as a volunteer somewhere.
  4. Establish a healthy foundation long before they become teenagers.  The best foundation will be established by your example.  I know this is unhelpful for parents of teens, but for parents of younger children, make decisions now that you know will best prepare your teen for this onslaught of pressure.
  5. Help your teenager establish some spending guidelines.  This could be item specific limitations – don’t spend more than “x” on a pair of jeans.  By limiting teens spending you are blessing them.  Buy shoes for less than “y” dollars.  Make sure your teens know and understand the reasons behind the guidelines.  In addition, you can set guidelines like, don’t buy anything over $25 until you have waited 3 days.  This will help curb impulse shopping.  If you have a spending guideline, share it with your kids.  Here is our credit card spending guideline.  Teens’ spending habits need to be addressed directly.
  6. Encourage them to give.  Some parents require teens to give.  Others encourage them to do it.  What is most important is that you help them develop a healthy giving habit. 
  7. Give your teen some spending flexibility without a blank check.  This is a hard balance.  Parents should respect their teen’s individuality.  They will want to spend more money on certain items than you would feel comfortable.  That is part of becoming an adult.  Try not to control individual purchases, as long as the teen is staying within his or her budget.
  8. Let them hear you say “no”.  Our lust for more only grows when we get everything we want.
  9. Model everything.  If you want your kids to wait three days before buying an item, do the same.  If you want them to go without, you also need to model going with out.  What you do is often a more powerful lesson than what you say.
  10. Compliment and encourage your teen.  Promote their worth.  When kids realize they are valuable for who they are, they will feel less compelled to make purchases in order to feel valuable. 
  11. Have some financial transparency.  Don’t have every money discussion behind closed doors.  While you want to protect your teens from adult worries, you also need to let them know the reality of your financial situation.  Teen money problems often become adult money problems.
  12. Have a formal class on handling money.  Review a good book together.  Ask lots of questions.  Listen closely.  Teach them how to make a budget
  13. Be generous.  Always talk positively about the opportunity to give and the need for developing a generous heart.

What suggestions do you have for protecting teens spending from materialism and consumerism?


  1. Danielle says

    This topic is why media literacy is so important at home and in schools. I took a class about media literacy last semester which really opened my eyes to consumerism within the media and especially how it is directed at kids. For anyone to be media literate they need to be able to critically analyze the messages media send to them. The media send so many negative messages about money, which leads to other bad images of love, happiness, God, etc. There is a really interesting video on the PBS website that everyone should check out. It’s called “The Merchants of Cool”.

  2. says

    I believe one of the solutions is to empower the children to make the right decisions themselves. One can achieve that by teaching them key financial skills very early on in their life, as young as when they enter elementary school.

  3. says

    Great advice! One organization I found that is trying to turn the tide of marketers turning our children into “good little consumers” is the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood (CCFC) — .
    I hope organizations and posts like these can help parents teach our children to find happiness without consumerism.

    Keep up the good work,

  4. says

    One great thing my parents helped me to set up was to require me to put a portion of each paycheck I made when I started working into savings. While my paychecks were pretty measly then, it was nice to start college each year with a good savings to help me pay for both the necessities and non-necessities of life as I navigated into adulthood.
    .-= Danielle´s last blog ..Ridiculous Update =-.

  5. says

    Yep. This is good information. What teens learn about finances in their teens year will filter into their college years and this is such a pivotal time period because decisions are being made that will effect the rest of their life–especially the next 7 years of their credit!

    Thankfully I had some good parents and also an innate drive to learn more about personal finances and make the right decisions. I write about young people and personal finances at

    Thanks for writing this post!
    .-= Meghan Fife´s last blog ..How to Make the Right Buying Decisions =-.

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