Financial health contributes to our overall health – paid bills and saved money can alleviate so much of our added stress. For teens just starting to handle money and manage their time, this is especially true. With maintaining grades and school assignments, part time work or volunteering, and planning for college all colliding around the same time, managing money can fall quickly to the bottom of the priority list.

As educators and adults managing our own financial and wellness needs, we know it is vital to set a foundation built on good habits at a young age to avoid common money mistakes. Here are five quick budgeting hacks that will help the teens in your life start adulthood with a strong financial base:  

10 Minutes on Payday

Each payday take 10 minutes and assess the money you have, what you’ve made and what you’re anticipating you’ll need to spend before your next paycheck. Without planning ahead it’s so easy to spend it all.

If you know what you spend each month on the essentials (i.e. gas, groceries insurance, cell phone), deduct that total from your income to know how much leftover you have to save or spend. Seems like such a simple concept, but it’s not easy to make it stick. Creating a budget and holding yourself accountable takes practice, but if you remain consistent it will become second nature over time. 

There are many tools and resources to use when it comes to making a personal budget. I recommend picking a strategy for keeping track of your budget based on your own style. Simply write down your income and expenses, use your bank’s app, tools within online programs like EVERFI, or keep a spreadsheet on your computer or phone.

Impulse Buy No More

Picture this, you’re in Target, you need to buy laundry detergent, but instead, you leave with a t-shirt, art supplies, a silverware set, and Pizza Hut express (don’t judge me). You’ve now spent $50 on unintended expenses and forgot the one thing you actually needed. Perhaps the real lesson here is to avoid shopping altogether…

Seriously though, impulse buys can make your cash go fast. An easy way to combat this in-the-moment shopping issue is to always have a plan in place before arriving at the store. If you come across an item that is too good to pass up, wait a week and see if those feelings are still strong. In addition to pressing the pause button on purchases, here are a few additional tips to help you save when you’re ready to buy:

Shop online – Often you’ll find the same or similar items online for a fraction of the price. Search for a promo code to use at checkout to get an even deeper discount.

Check the last number in the price – Depending on the store you’re shopping at, sometimes you can get a hint if the item will go on sale. For example: at Target if the item’s price ends in an “8” it’s not the lowest price yet, but if it ends in a “4” that’s the best deal you’ll get.

Download coupon apps – Many stores now have reward programs and loyalty apps to sign up for. This will give you access to coupons, additional discounts and points programs.

Speaking of Apps…

Using technology to track your spending, savings, and financial goals is a great way to monitor your money habits. There are tons of great apps that can help you see the whole picture of how you spend your money. Try the Mint app or similar offerings from your local bank that connect to your bank account and analyze your spending. Being able to more easily break down and categorize your purchases is a huge bonus, and these apps often offer suggestions to help encourage saving and curb spending.

Many mobile banking apps have features that round up every dollar you spend to go into your savings. So if you spend $4.28 on a caffeine habit your savings will benefit $.72.

The best part is, most of these apps and add ons are free and do the heavy thinking on your behalf!

Real World Learning Matters

EVERFI empowers teachers to bring critical skills education into their classrooms at no cost. Get activated and join 50,000+ educators across North America!

Setting SMART Goals

If you don’t have a reason to save, where do you start? You need to have a reward at the end for it to be worth it. This is why setting a SMART goal can help you stay motivated until the end. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. For example, If I wanted to save for a spring break vacation, and I know it would cost me $500. I need to save $62.50 for the next 8 weeks in order to meet my goal. The SMART method of goal setting helps to create a very concise plan of what you need to do and how you’re going to do it. SMART goals can be set for short term goals, like buying a pair of shoes, or long term goals, like going to college.

Outsmarting the Catch 22 of Credit

How do you build credit? By using credit. BUT, how can I get approved for credit if I don’t have any credit history? This is a complicated issue many teens face as they attempt to apply for credit and build their credit history. Luckily, parents can cosign for an auto loan, credit card, or lease agreement and their credit can be used as “collateral” as you build yours.

What if you don’t have anyone to cosign? Try a secured credit card. It works just like a regular credit card, but rather than using your credit to get approved, you use cash in your savings account for approval. Here’s how it works: You save up the minimum amount (usually $300-$500) and place the funds in a savings account. The bank will freeze the money and issue you a credit card with a limit for that amount.  When you use the card you’ll receive a bill monthly and make the payment. As you make payments, your history is reported to the major credit agencies. Once you’ve built your credit up to where you would like it to be, apply for an unsecured card and the funds in your savings account will be released.

Secured credit cards are a great way to help boost your credit even if you don’t have any to begin with. Most banks and credit unions will help you sign up for a secured credit card in a branch or online. To learn more you can check out some of the banks who have secured credit card programs here.


Alyssa Wooten is an EVERFI Schools Implementation Manager in Denver, Colorado.  She has worked in K-12 financial literacy education for 10 years. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her daughter, hiking and listening to live music.