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Do Kids Value It More When They Pay Their Own Way?

At 14, I decided that I really wanted tap lessons. To put it in some context, I’d been dancing since I was 4, did tap for a year when I was 6 but had stuck with ballet since then.

Problem #1: With only 1 year of tap lessons, and those 7 years previously, I’d be stuck in with the 8 and 9 year olds.

Problem #2: My parents couldn’t afford any more dance lessons. In retrospect I’m shocked and grateful and embarrassed that I got as many as I did.

So I talked to my favorite dance teacher, Miss P., and asked her how much private tap lessons would cost. We discovered that if I used the money I earned that summer I could afford 20 minutes of private instruction once a week. (Yep, couldn’t afford 30, but could afford 20.)

While I didn’t become a prodigy and that was my last year of tap lessons, I made excellent progress between that fall and the spring recital. Certainly better than I would have made with the 8-year-olds.

There were a number of factors, but I think the biggest one was that I took the lessons seriously. I wanted to learn and it was my money on the line. I’ve never liked wasting money and I’m very prone to buyer’s remorse.

This was money from my first “real” job working at the ballet studio’s summer dance camp (I was 13 at the time, so technically I wasn’t employed…it was a gift). I feel like some may have also come from the job I started that spring.

So I took the lessons quite seriously. Sometimes Miss P would throw in a few more minutes out of generosity, but I knew that I had to make the most of the short time I had.

As we grow older, we are often earning more and spending more by default. So we forget how serious it is to spend an entire summer’s earnings on one cherished object. But I think it’s a valuable lesson we can teach our kids.

Whether or not her parents can afford it, I think it’s sometimes a good idea to have a teen pay her own way. She has to really want what she’s getting and I think she’s likely to get more out of the experience or object.

2 years later, it was the same story when I needed a new violin. My grandfather chipped in 25%, but the other 75% was from my warehouse job. Again, I loved “Albert” for many years and still do, though I’m not practicing as much as I used to.

I think it’s slightly different when it comes to college. Is it even feasible with tuition prices? I don’t think so. It’s hard for an 18-year-old to afford that much. On the other hand, there’s a lot of scholarship money out there and I “paid” more than half my way by getting scholarships and then keeping up the grades for them (higher than 3.6 to keep the most important one).

That probably made me appreciate college more than someone whose parents didn’t have to worry about money at all. I don’t think I appreciated it less than those with loans (maybe more than some with loans), but possibly less than those who actually pay their entire way. I never met people of the latter type, so I’m not sure.

For things other than college, particularly for those which can be experienced or learned, I think it’s valuable to make the teen pay sometimes. I’m grateful to my parents for all the lessons and things they did pay for. I’m shocked when I think of the cost.

But I’m also grateful that they encouraged me to pursue the things I wanted (tap lessons, violin) on my own dime.

What did you have to pay for yourself as a teen? Do you think you valued it more?


Erika Sato March 15, 2008 at 3:13 pm

Great blog! I’m a new reader and normally don’t comment but wanted to say that as a professional violinist who just paid off almost $50K worth of undergrad and masters student loans from a top conservatory – most definitely. I totally agree. Having to earn things on your own in general forces you to realize just how much you want to pursue them. I’m lucky to be employed full time in a job I love and now appreciate what it took to get here.

Kacie March 15, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Hope you’re rested up!

I think teens should absolutely help pay their own way. Some people I’m very close to didn’t pay a cent toward their college education (even though they could have) and as a result, I don’t think they understood just how expensive it was.

In addition, they didn’t look for ways to save money–instead buying books new at the bookstore, instead of used or online, for example.

Even if they can only contribute a few hundred per semester, I think they should!

WorkingRachel March 15, 2008 at 6:26 pm

I didn’t have a job until I went to college, but I *did* have to pay for toys, clothes, and pretty much everything else except necessities out of my allowance. If we wanted more money, we could do chores for my mom. This definitely made me learn how to make choices and budget my money. It also made me realize that a lot of things weren’t worth it! Spend my entire clothing allowance on a sweater at the Gap? I much preferred going to the thrift store where I could get a bag of clothes for a dollar.

I do agree that college is different… most students would have to work almost full-time to actually earn their entire tuition, so not paying for college is more likely to teach your child about debt than to teach them to appreciate money.

Lazy Man and Money March 15, 2008 at 8:17 pm

My wife paid for own college. How many classes do you think she missed? Pretty close to zero.

mrsmicah March 15, 2008 at 8:23 pm

I can imagine, Lazy Man. I went through college very concerned with getting the best GPA possible so that I could keep going there, because my parents told me it was impossible for me to attend that school without a generous 60% tuition scholarship that required a higher GPA than my smaller ones.

I only ever skipped classes on purpose I was auditing for fun/extra education without the grade. Which is why I audited them, for less pressure and more flexibility.

Hilda March 15, 2008 at 8:53 pm

I bought my very first car without help from anyone the same day I got my license. Granted, it was really old and big and clunky but it was mine. I paid for it in cash, too.

I was never envious of other kids my age with much nicer cars because I know most of them didn’t pay for it out of their own pockets.

Becky@FamilyandFinances March 15, 2008 at 10:40 pm

I also paid for my own first car. I really feel that I was more careful with it and took better care of it this way. I knew that I didn’t have the money to replace it if I got in an accident!

My brother paid his own way through college without any loans. He got a great summer job pouring concrete every summer throughout college. He worked 12 hour days, but he made enough every summer to pay for that year’s tuition. I’m pretty proud of him for that πŸ™‚

plonkee March 16, 2008 at 6:08 am

I don’t know. I paid for my driving lessons myself, and my parents paid for my music lessons. It still took me 18 months to pass my driving test, even though I struggled to get the money to pay for the lessons.

I didn’t (and don’t) value my driving lessons above my music lessons. In fact I’d almost forgotten that I paid for my driving lessons myself.

Susan March 16, 2008 at 3:11 pm

Another tap dancer – woo-hoo! πŸ˜‰ I’ve always been strongest in tap, but you’re way better than I in ballet, that’s for sure! πŸ™‚
I’m going to have to join others in mentioning my first car as the object I bought on my own. Well, I can’t say I bought it with 100% of my own money. My parents gave me a loan. I eventually paid them back with money I got from my job.
I’d definitely say that I had greater appreciation for what I bought because I had to work for it.

Dad March 16, 2008 at 6:59 pm

My wife and I felt it was very important taht you finish your education without facing a big debt which is so common these days. You certainly did pay for much of your education through earning the scholarships and maintaining them. Your grades show that you didn’t let yourself even get close to failing to maintaining the level required by the scholarships. You didn’t go to a party school, but I am dismayed when I hear about these schools and the students that waste their time and their parents’ money partying instead of studying.

Dad March 16, 2008 at 7:00 pm

Oh, I hope you achieved your goal of getting rested! πŸ™‚

Future Millionaire March 17, 2008 at 1:30 pm

I put myself through college and at first I have to admit, I was a snotty kid about it. I always knew I’d have to pay my own way if I wanted a college education, but once I was in college and saw all my friends around receiving help from their parents it made me upset that I wasn’t getting any help. (Yes, I know like I said I was a snotty kid). But as I matured, even when I was still in college, I could see the significance difference in not only my attitude towards college but also towards money. Those friends who’s parents were paying for everything didn’t see the real value of a dollar and I can promise you that even though some of them have larger salaries than I do, I have more savings because I value a dollar.

Anitra March 17, 2008 at 2:31 pm

My parents paid for a lot when I was a kid and a teenager (including the bulk of my college costs). I generally appreciated it, but I do a lot more now that I look back at it as an adult.

Your story actually makes me think of all the clubs and music lessons I did over the years. I definitely worked harder when I had something invested in the club – but I never had my money invested until I took private voice lessons when I was 20. I practiced so much more for that than I ever did for the endless piano lessons I endured as a child; and a big part of it was the money (the other part was knowing I had a goal, a solo recital that I absolutely had to be prepared for).

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