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Dear Penny: How Do I Get My 19-Year-Old to Stop Blowing Her Paycheck?

Dear Penny: How Do I Get My 19-Year-Old to Stop Blowing Her Paycheck?

March 02, 2023

Dear Penny, 

My 19-year-old daughter lives at home with her dad and me. She has a job and orders her dinner to be delivered every night, spends good money on vaping, pays to watch streaming apps, orders items online, etc. How do I get her to stop throwing away money and pay her bills — cell phone, student loans, rent, car/insurance, etc.? Please help!


Dear M.,

As someone with no children, I’m not exactly qualified to give parenting advice. But as a former 19-year-old, I get where your daughter is coming from.

Your daughter isn’t paying bills because they’re magically getting paid for her. When you’re an adult, you have to deal with the consequences of not paying your bills: Your cell phone service gets shut off, your landlord kicks you out, your car insurance cancels you and you lose your driver’s license, etc. But when you’re cushioned from these consequences, why would you start paying bills?

A lot of parents don’t expect their kids to contribute financially before they’re 18 or while they’re still in high school. An adulting switch doesn’t just magically flip on in your brain just because you’ve celebrated an 18th birthday or donned a cap and gown, though. Maybe there are some 19-year-olds out there who volunteer to pay bills because it’s what responsible adults do. But I suspect that a lot more young adults (including a young Dear Penny) only start paying bills because their parents force them to.

The first thing you need to do is be clear with your daughter about what expenses you expect her to pay. You can start by telling her she’s responsible for paying rent each month. That doesn’t mean you need to charge her market rent. Even if you charged her $500 a month — which wouldn’t come close to covering rent and utilities if she moved out on her own — she’d get in the habit of paying at least some of her living costs.

You could require her to set up an automatic transfer so her payment goes directly to your bank account. If she misses a payment for some reason, you could tack on a small late fee. Don’t expect your daughter to be perfect right away. But it’s always best when the consequences for an early money misstep come from your parents and won’t stain your credit report for the next seven years.

If you don’t need the money, you could even put that money in a separate bank account for your daughter that she can use when she’s finally ready to fly the coop. Or maybe she could use that money to pay back her student loans.

This could be a good opportunity to help your daughter create her first budget. One traditional budgeting approach is called the 50/20/30 method, in which 50% of your income goes toward basic needs, 20% goes toward financial goals, and the remaining 30% goes toward personal spending. You could base her expected contribution toward household bills on the 50% target.

I’d also suggest finding a bill or two that you could put in your daughter’s name. A good place to start may be kicking her off your cell phone plan, even if it doesn’t save you any money. The stakes of missing a payment are relatively low compared to, say, missing payments for car loans or insurance. But if she fails to make her phone payment and service gets shut off, I promise she’ll figure out a way to pay that bill.

You may also want to talk to your daughter about what her long-term plans are. People often waste their paychecks because they don’t have a goal. Or they don’t believe they can make meaningful progress because their goals seem so far away or out of reach. But if your daughter has something that’s motivating her — like she wants a place of her own — she’ll be less inclined to spend every cent.

I’m not sure how much you talked about money while your daughter was growing up. It’s certainly not too late to teach your daughter financial discipline. However, if you didn’t emphasize the importance of saving and budgeting when she was younger, it’s certainly going to be tougher.

Someone living with their parents at 19 may technically be an adult, but they’re still very much transitioning out of childhood. It’s perfectly reasonable to require your daughter to take some financial responsibility as a condition of living with you. But it’s also smart to put a few safeguards in place while your child is still learning to function as an adult.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.