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Illustration by Lily Clark, 15, Immaculate Heart HS

Some members of our teen kept track of what they bought for a week. These experiences show how tempting it is to spend, but if you’re smart with your money, you can save and still have fun.

I felt guilty buying a tea

One of the most important topics in today’s economy is how to save money and spend less. It’s even more difficult when you’re a teenager and your only source of income comes from your parents. I usually don’t spend a lot of money because my mom is a single mother whose entire income supports our family. I can’t just blow money on daily Starbucks trips or weekly trips to the mall like my friends.

Day 1
My one-week challenge started on a Sunday. It was summer and I wasn’t going anywhere, just staying home to try to finish homework. I spent the day annotating Jane Eyre and suffocating under Frankenstein.

Days 2-6 The rest of the week passed by quickly. I didn’t spend any money, which is a lesson learned—if you stay at home, you’re not tempted to waste your money buying things you want at the moment but don’t need.

Day 7 On the last day, July 4, my friends invited me to watch fireworks at the local park. My friend Ricky drove me and my other friend Daniel around to different stores so he could buy fireworks. He ended up buying a few smoke bombs. As the sun began to set, our stomachs began to complain and we were thirsty. Out of weakness, I bought a Hong Kong milk tea at a Quickly for $2. I regretted it when we ran into my friend Christine at the park. She had Styrofoam takeout boxes and one too many sodas, which she handed to me as we watched the fireworks.
     Sometimes, when I do splurge a little, I feel guilty afterwards. I mentally lecture myself, as I did with the $2 milk tea, on why instead of enduring my thirst a bit longer, I gave in and spent money I knew I couldn’t afford. However, this doesn’t happen often because I take measures to ensure that I don’t buy a $15 shirt I suddenly fall in love with at Hollister and desperately want to buy. I hardly ever carry money with me. When I do, I carry $5 at most so I can’t afford most of the things I want to buy. Also, my mom taught me that there are always bargains or substitutes; Safeway cola tastes just as good as regular Coke but costs less. It’s tough learning ways to save money, but it’s an art that anyone who puts time and effort in can become a master at.
Michelle Ruan, 17, Alhambra HS

Not eating out saves money

I don’t spend that much so keeping track of my spending was easy. I get an allowance of $30 a month and I usually save it for big events or presents. 

Day 1
I worked for two hours at the library sorting and shelving books. Usually I go home and drink juice but I was so thirsty that I bought a can of soda for 75 cents after I was done.

Day 2 I bought gardening gloves for $20 as a present for my dad when I visit him in Korea (I live with my aunt and uncle).

Day 3 During SAT prep class I bought a bag of chips for $1 because I forgot my breakfast and was hungry.

Day 6 On the Fourth of July, I bought a collared shirt for $20.
I spent about $42, which is a lot, but I had to buy a gift for my dad and I wanted to buy a shirt since I hadn’t bought clothes in six months.

I didn’t go anywhere special during the week. I hung out with my friends but we played basketball and hung out at someone’s house playing video games and cooking instant ramen. I rarely eat out, which also made this assignment easy. Since my uncle and aunt rarely go out to eat, they told me that I should eat out only on special occasions. I eat out with my friends only once a month, like when finals are over or when it’s someone’s birthday or when a good movie comes out. Sometimes it seems silly when everyone is eating and I’m not, but it helps me not to spend too much money.
     In the summer I can go a week not spending anything. During the school year, I spend money on cookies or ice cream and forget about it. The next day, I ask myself, “Where’s my $2?” I don’t realize how much I’ve spent until there’s no money in my wallet. Maybe this school year I’ll try not to buy snacks and instead bring food from home.
Ben Bang, 17, Palos Verdes Peninsula HS

Having fun isn’t cheap

Knowing that I was going to have to keep track of my spending, I wanted to spend less money. My parents give me money and I set a budget of $100, considerably more than I usually spend in a week. But I figured that it was summer and I’m entitled to a bit of fun.

Day 1
I needed summer clothes so I went to Old Navy. I could have bought only the one pair of shorts that I needed, but I ended up walking out with three pairs, a new bathing suit and two tops, spending roughly $50. 

Days 2-4 For the rest of the week I tried to be more conscientious about my spending. When I hung out with my friends I chose to do inexpensive things like going to the park or walking through the mall. I spent about $30 on food.

Day 5 Friday cut severely into my budget. My friends and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm. I spent $60 for 10 hours of fun, a hamburger from Johnny Rockets, a funnel cake and Dippin’ Dots. 

I would like to say that I resisted the temptation of impulse spending, but I didn’t. I tried to be reasonable, especially because I knew that I was going to have to record all that I bought. I didn’t want to buy things that were unnecessary, but I went about $40 over my budget. At first I felt guilty, but then I felt that the clothes, memories and fun were worth it.
Breanna Lujan, 17, West Covina HS

I had to borrow from my parents

I barely had any money when I started this week, so it was interesting to see how much I borrowed or was given. It really made me conscious of the fact that it is much better to make my own money instead of borrowing, especially because I am now in debt to my parents and would be in big trouble if they were in the mafia. Thankfully, they are not.

Day 1
I spent 50 cents for the bus each way to school (my parents pay my bus fare for school), and $1.25 for the bus from my house to downtown for Art Walk with two friends. My mother gave me $4. I spent $3 on a vegan hot dog. When I pulled out my money to pay for it, a homeless man saw that I had an extra dollar and asked if he could have it. I gave it to him.

Day 2 I went to school on the bus, but the driver didn’t punch my card, so the ride was free. After school, I rode my bike to my friend’s house and we went to a birthday party on the beach, so the evening was free. My dad picked me up.

Day 3 I spent $2 for an iced coffee on break from my art class.

Day 5 Again the driver didn’t punch my card on the bus to school. My dad picked me up. Came home, spent no money. Went to my job at a bakery, but they didn’t need me, so I didn’t earn any money, either.

Day 6 50 cents bus fare each way to school.

Day 7 I went to see the new Harry Potter movie at 1 a.m. I paid for the ticket with a movie pass and paid $20 for a taxi to get home, since neither my parents nor any of my friends’ parents would pick us up at 4 a.m. when the movie got out. I got an advance on my allowance, plus some extra, from my dad for the taxi.
     I don’t like spending money, but I do like the results of spending it. I felt bad spending $2 on an iced coffee because it’s free at home, but it tasted good and I liked drinking it. I need to find a balance from now on.
Sam Landsberg, 16, Hamilton HS

It was easier not to spend when I was too busy to go out

Day 1
I bought a bottle of water for $1.25 during summer school.

Day 5 I bought some snacks for 75 cents after summer school.

Day 6 I gave $1 for offering at church.

I spent only $3, and it was mostly for snacks and water I bought during my SAT classes. This week was unusual; I usually spend a lot more than that. Since I was so busy with summer school and SAT classes, which were on Saturday, I didn’t have time to go shopping. If I had gone shopping and hung out with my friends, I could have spent at least $50. Since I don’t get an allowance, all I have is the money I got from holidays and from my parents when I won awards. I know I should spend my money more wisely, but it isn’t easy. When I hang out with my friends, we spend our money on movies, food, clothes and shoes. I’m one of the people who spends the least, but still, it feels like I spend a lot because I only spend money, I don’t earn it. And because the economy isn’t in great condition right now, I feel like I shouldn’t be using a lot of money to entertain myself. From now on I’ll try to spend less money. I want to spend money on something I can feel great about, such as donations, because I know snacks will be gone but the donations will be used in good ways. Even if I still spend the same, I can feel proud of myself.
Jennifer Kim, 15, South Pasadena HS

I was surprised how much I spent

During this money challenge I held back on spending on random items because I knew I had to write down what I bought.

Day 1
On the Fourth of July, I resisted paying for $2 to $3 games at the booths that I knew I would never win, and the cotton candy and popcorn being sold weren’t good for my health anyway. But getting my ears pierced for $36.69 was a spur of the moment purchase at the mall when I was shopping with my mom. A bucket of golf balls cost $10 (to practice for when my golf season starts).

Day 3 Bucket of golf balls for $10.

Day 5 We watched a movie at a friend’s house and shared the cost of three pizzas. This cost each of us only $4 and it was much cheaper than going to the movies and buying popcorn.

Day 7 When I go to Chipotle, I normally buy chips and guacamole with my burrito bowl, but this week I decided not to because I usually don’t finish what I buy. When I went to Chipotle with my friends, my friend’s grandmother insisted on paying. I bought my burrito bowl separately, but her grandmother asked how much I paid. I said $6 but it was $6.26 so I recorded 26 cents because her grandmother gave me $6.

I had fun with friends without spending a lot. One day a couple of friends and I spent the afternoon swimming in a backyard pool rather than going to the beach, where we would have to pay for the parking and entrance fees. Even though I have saved up money from what my grandparents have given me from birthdays and holidays, there is not an endless supply. I was surprised that my week totaled $60.95 because I forgot how much the ear piercing cost and the rest of the week, I spent only $24.26. I learned that even though I may be trying to save, small amounts quickly add up.
Emily He, 15, Whitney HS (Cerritos)

Since I am saving for someone else, it was easy for me not to spend

During my week I did not spend any money because I’ve been saving up for a trip to Paris for my mother.
     Six years ago, my uncle became terminally ill with cancer. He told my mother that she had to see Paris someday before she died. He called it the most beautiful city in the world, and said she would love it just as he had. My mother always dreamed of going, but we couldn’t afford it.
     In late June, my aunt called my mother and said she had just gotten back from Paris. For the next few hours my mother was glued to the phone, asking my aunt to describe everything she saw. At the end of their talk, my mother asked my aunt to e-mail the pictures from her visit.
     While we were looking through my aunt’s pictures, I remembered what my uncle had said to my mother and I felt very sad. This was my mother’s dream, sacrificed for my family. I decided that I would save all of my money to pay for a trip to Paris.
     I found a small, red tin with white polka dots and taped a card to it that read, “Mommy’s Paris Fund.” Inside, I put $40.25 I had left over from Chinese New Year and a picture of a beautiful bridge in Paris.
     It hasn’t been easy not to spend. Usually, I spend the money I get for holidays on books or fabric, which I sew into gifts. After I decided to save, I started going to libraries to check out my books.
      As for the fabric, well, I’m still having trouble. I found a creamy peach linen at Joann’s that I really wanted, but I told myself that if I didn’t spend money, I’d be getting my mom that much closer to Paris. I always try to picture what her face will look like gazing over the city from the Eiffel Tower. In my mind, she’s smiling, which is one of the most beautiful things in the world to me.
     A round-trip ticket to Paris costs roughly $2,000. I’m still far from it, but my goal is to have enough money before college. I know that I will never be able to repay my mom for what she has given me—life, a home, love. If this trip brings her even a small amount of happiness, I’ll know it was well worth it not to spend.
shley Ngo, 15, California Academy of Math and Science (Carson)

See also …
Saving for something better. Jean decided a sweet 16 birthday party wasn’t the best way to spend her hard-earned money.

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