<< More than a paycheck

By Se Kim, Senior writer, 17, Pacifica Christian HS (Santa Monica)
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Se says you can save and still spend money wisely.

In ninth grade, I needed a lot more money. My $10 weekly allowance didn’t get me far. I would go to Johnny Rockets, Subway or a nicer restaurant and spend all my allowance on a meal. My friends were getting a lot more than I was so I asked for at least $15. My mom said yes but my dad said, “You should work for it.”

A week later, my dad approached me about getting a job at his clothing distribution business the next summer. I felt like I would be letting him down if I said no. So I said yes, but was reluctant. I didn’t want to wake up early in the morning. Even worse, I was going to be a box boy—making, opening and moving boxes. I hated physical labor. I just hated sweating. My mom said, “It will be a great way to learn the importance of making and managing your money.” I ignored her. It was one of her long lectures on the important things in life that I never listened to.  

Summer began and soon it was my first day at my job. I woke up at 7 and went to work with my dad. I’ve been to my dad’s business countless times, but this time was the worst. I worked hard. I sealed plastic over clothes and moved boxes of clothes from one area to another. The day went by really slow. At the end of the day, my dad gave me $55.

I could finally buy what I wanted

Photo illustration by Sasha Jones, 18, Crossroads School (Santa Monica)

I was so happy to earn money. At the end of the week, I gathered up the $200 I had made and bought myself a GameCube with some games. It was great buying my own GameCube with my own money, but I ended up not really playing it. I was never a game person. I bought it only because all my friends had it.

The next Saturday, I bought an expensive Manchester United soccer ball and two soccer jerseys that cost around $120 all together. I was obsessed with soccer and wanted the latest European jerseys. I spent the rest of my money on food.

Every time I got money, I spent it. It was different when I had an allowance. Because I had a limited amount of money, I always decided whether I really wanted to buy something. Now I was wasting money on whatever I wanted. Spending was almost compulsive. If I liked something, my mind told me to buy it because I had a lot of money with me.

My parents noticed how much I was spending and confronted me. I had made about $400 and had only $40 left. My mom said in Korean, “Se, you need to learn to save some money.” I usually ignore my mom, but this time I actually took in what she said. I had a lot of new stuff but these things weren’t really important to me. I realized that I had worked so hard only to spend my money on stupid, trivial things. So I made a pact with my mom to cut down my spending and start saving.

The next weekend, I went to the local Bank of America. My dad and I applied for a savings account for teens. It was free to open an account and there was no minimum amount required. I could withdraw and deposit money by myself without my dad. My dad said I could keep $20 for my allowance but should save the rest so I deposited $180. For the next couple of weeks, I deposited most of my money in the bank. Saving felt better than spending. Spending gave me short-term happiness, but saving made me more confident as I started to see my account balance go up. Although I wanted more than $20 each week, I had no doubts about what I was doing. I felt happy seeing the money in my account grow.

My savings grew

I had a little less than $1,000 in the bank by the end of the summer. I was proud of myself and happy that I saved so much rather than spent everything.

My dad then asked if I wanted to invest my money. He said, “As a person growing up, you need to know when to invest and make your money grow.” I agreed. It made me excited. Having my money in a bank account and seeing it progressively grow was good, but seeing it double or grow even more would be even better.

My dad invested the money in stocks. Although I can’t touch the money, the value of the stocks did go up a little. We get reports from my dad’s accountant on how the prices of the stocks have changed. I was fascinated to see the money go up and down and eventually level off.

I know this experience will help me as I get older. As I start to make money, I will save, invest and be frugal. I’ll spend money, but try to do so on what I really need, not on what I want. My dad always says, “It’s not how much money you make, but how you spend it.” I made a little, but ended up saving a lot.

Click here to read Christina’s story about how working since 13 has taught her a strong work ethic.

Click here to check out our special issue dedicated to jobs from 2003.

Tips for opening a savings account

Did you know that many banks will let you open a savings account in your name as a minor? Even though you are under 18, you can open a savings account without a parent’s signature. This means you are the only person who will have access to your money. It’s important to check out several banks because different banks will have different interest rates, minimum balance requirements and fees. Call, check online or visit at least three banks before you decide which bank is best for you.

Be sure to choose a bank that:
• Will help you earn the highest interest on your savings
• Does not charge fees for using your account
• Makes it convenient for you to add to your savings

Questions to ask when choosing a bank:
• What is the minimum amount of money I must have in my account at all times?
• Are student or youth accounts available?
• How much interest will my account earn?
• How much will I be charged if I don’t keep the minimum balance, I make a deposit or withdrawal or if I use an ATM?

Source: Money Talks—Should I Be Listening?, University of California Cooperative Extension, www.moneytalks.ucr.edu

Other stories by this writer …

It’s in our hands. Once Se, 16, learned about global warming, he realized that we all can do something about it. (September 2007)

I felt their fear. Having survived an armed robbery, Se, 16, felt a strong connection to the people at Virginia Tech. (May – June 2007)

News you can use. Se, 16, didn’t use to care about current events. But when his teacher inspired him to get informed, he discovered that he likes forming his own opinions about what’s going on in the world. (January – February 2007)