Financial advice for my teen self


Craig Kiggen CFP®, Regional Head: Kwazulu-Natal, Citadel

Money is a wonderful thing and in a world of PlayStation and “in-app purchases” it is so easy to spend money and have very little to show for it. When I think back to my teen years, it is fair to say that I had very little spare cash, if any. And while I was “in the moment” it was even harder to imagine that the few cents that I did have could be stretched far enough to be anything but frivolous with it.

With that in mind, I wish someone had taught me to do three things with my money on a monthly basis:

Give 10% away. In a world where there is so much need even the small amount given to a needy person or cause makes a massive difference. Only as an adult did I learn the true joy you feel when you see someone grateful for even the small amount that is given. By learning this early, you are able to look outwards with your money rather than only thinking about yourself.

Save 10%. Learning to save even a little starts ingraining the mind-set and discipline of saving so that when you are an adult and earning a liveable wage the discipline is entrenched and it is not as hard to begin doing. I have met countless adults who have told me it’s not that they don’t want to save, but that it is just something they have never done before and it “feels so unnatural”.

Enjoy the rest. If we are able to enjoy the fruits of our labours, and learn to be content with the little we have in our early years, it is far easier to manage the money you earn as your career develops and also for you to enjoy it in a guilt-free way because you are not so worried about your future savings.

Be aware of money pitfalls

You will always have friends who have more money than you do. Be careful trying to keep up with them, or trying to keep up with the latest fashions which continually put a strain on your pocket. A note to parents is that they need to set this example because their teens will, as a rule, benchmark themselves against how their parents behave. I know it is not easy to avoid running up too much debt, but parents actually have a high degree of influence on how their teens will behave around money.

Embrace technology, but be sure to understand it too

I appreciate the way millennials use technology to manage almost everything in their lives. When I was growing up we didn’t have access to information in the same way today’s teens do. They are able to see how much is in their bank accounts and how close they are to their savings goals.

As a result, millennials are far more attuned to their current reality than I was. As a teen, I needed to go into a bank to access money and into a store to spend it. Teens today simply log into the necessary app to facilitate transactions or to find information. This access to information brings about many opportunities for teens to consider the benefits of saving, shopping around for specials and identify opportunities to save and invest in exciting new ways.

Teens would be wise to use technology to empower themselves and not just use it as an even easier way to spend money. Use it to keep track of your finances, to help you to budget and to plan and to help you save towards a goal. There is also a vast array of websites and apps that will help to educate you about personal finance and they are certainly worth reading. The more you learn about money management and money behaviour, the better prepared you will be to generate and maintain real wealth.

The world may be a different place from when I was growing up, but the social challenges are similar. There are different nuances which relate to the times we live in, but we all need to learn to work with money at some point, and all too often we begin later than we could have or should have.