I should preface my question by saying I am a minor, but of legal age to work. Last month, I worked for my mom at her summer camp, and made $660 in wages. My check was written and I told my dad that I needed to go to the bank to cash it. My dad refuses to cash the check without agreeing on a percentage that I’m allowed to spend.
He is insisting that I only get 15% of my money to spend as I wish, while the rest goes to savings. I’ve already got $1,000 in savings and I have nothing to spend my money on outside of leisure and personal products. I’m arguing with him that I should be allowed to spend all or at least 50% of my earnings, but he doesn’t want to hear it.
How can I convince my dad to let me have more of my wages and to stop forcing me to save so much money?
Mr. Save it Or Spend It
Dear Save It or Spend It,
Show your father that you want to use your earnings ambitiously.
On the one hand, you earned it. On the other hand, you live in your parents’ house by their rules, and they pay your expenses. So you are in a conundrum. I don’t think it’s a question of one person being right or wrong, merely learning to negotiate, compromise, and listen.
Where, for instance, did your father get the 15%? Did he pick that percentage randomly? My hunch is he decided on a whim and, as such, he may be open to moving the needle. But first you would need to provide compelling arguments to move the needle.
You could tell your father that you believe how you divide your money should more reflect real-world conditions and few people can afford to save 85% of their income. However, under the circumstances you would be open to saving 33%, investing 33% and keeping 33%.
‘Do some groundwork’
Your father will be impressed if you do some groundwork first and come up with a proposal. You can open up an account with a credit union and/or look up some banking apps here that could help you decide. A 529 plan is a tax-free investment vehicle for college expenses.
Nor do I believe you should then go out and spend that 33% on the first thing that grabs your attention. Your father has no doubt learned from experience that the impulse to have what we want when we want it often leads to a need to buy more, and more.
If I were 16 again, what would I do? I’d probably want to do three things: read more, listen more and travel more. The latter is a great, outdoors education. I also wish I had advocated for myself more — not by saying “I want” but by asking more questions about “why” adults do and say certain things.
I also wished I’d known about compound interest. For instance, not only does your original $660 earn interest, but the interest earns interest. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it provides a compelling reason for investing over a long period of time. Read more here.
I shared your letter on the Moneyist Facebook Group. There were lots of suggestions about what you should do — spend it, save it, invest in a Roth IRA because your future self will thank you — but this woman’s story struck me as worth quoting:
Her grandson spent his money on things that would raise his game. “My grandson got his first job last year, at age 16,” she wrote. “He did virtual school and worked. He’s a photographer (taught by his dad). He bought a camera, iPad and a Macbook (student discounts) and the rest of his money was saved.”
The best part about this story? It paid off for him. “He graduated and left for college last week,” she added. “He will be 18 on August 28. No one had to make him save his money. He worked hard in school and received a scholarship for college. Sometimes, you have to let kids find their own way.”
Whether you are 16, 26, 36, 46 or even 56, we are all subject to the same pressure from our peers and messages from society about stuff we need to have in order to feel better about ourselves, and feel like we belong. Whether it’s a certain type of car or designer label.
Companies make products, charge a big markup on that product, and convince you and me and your father why we need this product, what it says about the kind of people we are and how it will make our lives easier and happier. They owe to their board or directors, and shareholders.
Ask your father about his own spending choices. You will have better luck gaining his trust if you think about spending that 33% on an experience rather than stuff: perhaps putting it toward the airfare for a trip abroad when you are 18, something that broadens your life experience.
As good as they feel the first day, a pair of sneakers won’t do that.
By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.
More from Quentin Fottrell: