Kids & Money

Dating adds new dimension to teens handling money

What to do about dating expenses is probably an easy call for many teens: Just ask Mom or Dad for a couple of crisp $20 bills. Oh, and would you mind filling up the car too?

But there is another way, and it won’t necessarily hurt your teen’s social life.

Rather than popping for movie tickets, dinner and gas for the car, encourage your 16-year-old to become more financially responsible for date nights. That’s encourage with a capital E.

Sure, on occasion there’s nothing wrong with helping to finance a landmark date, such as Valentine’s Day or spring prom, where the tab for the night can dwarf a monthly car payment. But don’t become the weekend money machine, even if you’re in a financial position to do so.

As kids enter their teen years, their spending tends to escalate, especially when it comes to dating. What makes it tough is when there’s peer pressure to put on a show and spend.

And it can be tough when teens are made to feel they don’t have enough money and can’t compete.

“Teens tend to filter financial information differently than adults,” said Patricia Seaman, senior director of the National Endowment for Financial Education in suburban Denver. “Financially responsible adults tend to respect and admire similar values in their romantic partners, while teens can be easily impressed by shows of extravagance.”

What can you do about this?

If your teen doesn’t have a job, perhaps this is the time to start, or bump up an allowance to cover these entertainment costs. That way, the onus is on your teen, not you, to find ways to stretch his dollars and make decisions on whether the Godiva chocolates and big stuffed animals are really necessary.

With prom around the corner, it’s fine for parents to volunteer in the planning. To determine how much your high school student will need to save, line item possible expenses — dance tickets, flowers, dinner, tux rental, a dress.

I also suggest telling your teen basic financial etiquette rules. Namely, whoever asks, pays. Later dates can be more informal, so no one feels guilty about always paying.

When splitting costs, suggest they work it out in advance rather than have an awkward moment when ordering.

Also, a reminder to say “thank you” is always a good way to show appreciation. And, Seaman noted, urge your high schooler to resist bragging to friends about how much he spends on his girlfriend or receives from her boyfriend. That’s tacky.

Finally, here are some money-saving suggestions I culled from several teens on the dating front lines. Tell your high schooler to:

• Look for deals on Twitter, Groupon and other coupon outlets. A lot of two-for-one discounts get communicated that way. Remember to “follow” favorite local restaurants to hear about their specials.

• Go in groups. Ask about group deals if going to dinner. Some restaurants may charge more for large groups, say with a mandatory tip percentage, but others offer incentives, such as free desserts. Or go in a group where everybody goes Dutch.

• Don’t drink up. Keep an eye on the cost of liquid refreshments, which can be a big chunk of the bill. Also, some restaurants charge for water, so if in doubt, ask.

• Be creative: Look for no-cost or low-cost alternatives, such as attending a school play, a dance performance or sporting event where your activity fees have already covered the price of admission. And volunteer together — can connect you to volunteer groups in your area.

• Shop for bargains. If buying flowers, for example, many grocery stores and florists offer weekend specials — 3 bunches for $9. And there are no fees for delivery.