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Ask Dave

A Fourth Envelope is Needed

Tim uses the envelope system for his teenagers. He just found out the 14-year-old is using the money for snacks at school instead of what it's budgeted for. How does he curb this behavior?

QUESTION: Tim in Michigan uses the envelope system for his teenagers. They keep the money in their rooms. They just found out the 14-year-old is using the money for snacks at school instead of what it’s budgeted for. How do they curb this behavior?

ANSWER: At what point does he realize that this is a broken contract with his parents? This is a misbehavior. This is something required of him. You don’t just let 14-year-olds run wild on the plains. I don’t think you take it away from him, but I think you come down on his little head. “Dude, this is a deal with us, okay? In other words, you’re making us a promise that what it says on the outside of this envelope is what it is to be used for. If you take money out of the giving envelope, you’ve stolen money like a thief from who you were going to give it to.”

I’m curious as to why you have your 14-year-old running his own clothing budget. Maybe we just have a fourth envelope that says, “Shoes.” You’ve got to decide that and how long is it going to take for him to save for a pair of shoes? You’ve got to run the math on it and decide how much goes to which category.

The trick is I want him to continue to handle it just like I want him to continue to go to class and study. I can’t go study for him. I can’t take a bath for him because he’s not doing it. So I’m not going to take it away from him. I want him to handle it, but I’m going to make him learn these skills because this is good parenting to make sure that your children have basic skills in these areas. You can’t just take it away from him and you’ll just do it for him. That doesn’t build the skill, right? And on the other hand, you can’t just let him run wild on the plains because he’s obviously not got the ability to pull this off by himself yet.

Probably just a fourth envelope would help right now since we’ve got an issue. Then, “Okay, you spend the rest of this on whatever you want to buy—junk food or something—that’s fine. But you can’t spend your shoe money. You can’t spend your saving money. You can’t spend your giving money on junk at school. That has to come out of the spending envelope.” You just break it down that way and give him some guidance. Then he needs to understand that failing to do this—there are going to be consequences. It’s not going to just be he doesn’t have the shoes he wants.

Let me give you a little encouragement. It gets better. Fourteen and 15 years old ... I wanted to shoot ‘em. But we got through it and they actually did pretty good. They were good kids. They turned into good adults just because we stayed on it. We didn’t quit. It does get better.