Three Things Your Teen Should Do Instead of Working a Low-Wage Job

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Melissa Batai. Melissa is a freelance writer who covers topics ranging from personal finance to business to organics to food.  She blogs at Mom’s Plans, where she shares her family’s journey to healthier living and paying down debt.

When I was 16, I started working at McDonald’s, which was my first job.  I routinely worked double shifts and 20+ hours a week.  While my school work didn’t suffer too much from the job, I was exhausted.  I didn’t have time for much more than school, homework, and work.

I left McDonald’s after just a few months when I found a better job, but I worked part-time all through high school.  True, the jobs I held taught me responsibility, but I also increased my expenses because I was employed.  I bought a car, I paid my own car insurance, and I went out to eat and to the movies with my friends. . .a lot.  I saved very little of my money.

Looking back, I would have been better off saving the work for the summers and after I went to college.  Instead, I should have used my time in high school in more productive ways that would pay off over the next 10 or 20 years of my life.

Thanks to my experience working low-wage jobs, my husband and I are going to ask our 13-year-old to follow a different path than I did.  Rather than working at dead end jobs available to most teens, my husband and I want him to focus on other activities—volunteering, interning, and applying for scholarships.



Volunteering can be an excellent way to try out a future career your teen may be considering.   My son has considered being a librarian, so next year, when he turns 14, he’ll be eligible to volunteer at the library.  He’s looking forward to this so he can try out a profession that he’s interested in and see if it might be something he wants to pursue further.

In addition to helping teens explore career opportunities, there are many other advantages to volunteering.

Volunteering helps make teens feel part of their community.  Because they’re helping, being productive and seeing the benefits of the work they do, they’re more connected with their community.  In addition, they’ll make valuable connections throughout the community with other volunteers from all walks of life.  When they apply to college and need letters of recommendations, they can ask the members of the community that they met through volunteering to write letters of recommendation.

Finally, volunteering can provide health benefits for teens.  explains the emotions teens can feel when volunteering–“When people help others, they experience feelings of pleasure and well-being known as ‘helper’s high.’  Helper’s high is associated with increased production of endorphins in the brain.  Endorphins are neurotransmitters that also reduce pain and are natural stress killers.” I would have chosen these positive feelings any day over the constant stress I felt while working at McDonald’s.



Internships aren’t just for college students anymore.  If high school teens look, they, too, can find internships, and the benefits are plentiful.

An internship can help your child build her resume.  A company in your teen’s chosen field is much more likely to offer a job to a student who has already spent time and energy working in that field.  The intern experience alone makes her a more valuable person to hire than someone who hasn’t worked in the field before.

Like volunteering, holding an internship can help students with college applications.  Students who intern show that they are serious about the field that they are interested in.  The experience also shows that they are motivated, which is attractive to college admissions counselors.

Finally, an internship can open doors to future jobs in the industry.  An internship can result in valuable business connections.  One never knows how these connections can help your teen in his future career, especially in smaller industries where most people know one another.

In some cases, an internship can even count for high school credit.  Your teen should check with her guidance counselor to see if she’ll have the opportunity to intern during the school day and receive high school credit.

While local businesses may offer internships for high school students, large companies like NASA and the Smithsonian Institute offer internships, too.  Your teen may also be happy to know that some, but not all, internships are paid opportunities.


Applying for Scholarships 

There are many, many college scholarships available, but most students don’t have the time to search for them because the process can be overwhelming, and students are often busy working dead end jobs.  If, instead, a teen devoted five to ten hours a week to searching and applying for scholarships, he would likely earn more money over time than he would at his dead end, minimum wage paying job.

The key is to get the first scholarship.  Once a teen secures that one, other scholarship foundations see her as worthy and are more likely to offer her their scholarship.

While many people know about large scholarships, there are many smaller scholarships that students may want to start with first.  Your teen’s guidance counselor is the best resource to help find scholarship leads.  Then, look for scholarships local to your community such as local organizations like the Rotary Club and your own place of employment.  Many companies offer scholarships to their employees’ children.  If you work at a large company that doesn’t currently offer a scholarship, consider asking them if they’d like to start offering one.

Your teen should also search the web for scholarships.  One new site,, touts that it finds micro scholarships for students in 9th -12th grade.  Students sign up, enter the activities that they regularly participate in, and the site will find scholarships for them.  Activities can range from earning an ‘A’ in a course, to visiting the college campus they are interested in.  The key is, students must choose from a list of 76 colleges that use  Then, when the student decides to attend a particular college, they get the money they earned with that particular college on

While winning a $1,000 scholarship may not seem like it will make much of a difference in your child’s total college cost, if she wins several of those smaller scholarships, the financial impact is significant.  One student, Yelena Bosovik, who applied for 100 scholarships over the course of her high school years and first year of college said, of treating applying for scholarships like a job, “I thought of it this way—if I spent an hour filling out an application and got the funding, it would mean I’d made $250, $1,000 or even $10,000 an hour of free money.  Not bad!” (Huffington Post).

Bosovik attended a small, private college in the Midwest.  The tab for four years of college was $80,000, but thanks to all the scholarships she found, Bosovik graduated with only $4,500 in student loans.

Before you assume your teenager should get a dead-end job, why not consider letting him volunteer or have an internship and spend time looking for scholarships.  Each of these activities can help him get into college, if that is his plan, or get started on his chosen career path.

How about you all? What do you encourage your teens to do?  Do you still find value in the traditional low-wage jobs available to high school students?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of

8 Wedding Gifts That Newlyweds Will Really Use

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency, and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

It’s wedding season, which means that wedding-goers everywhere are beginning the sometimes worrisome work of finding just the right gift at just the right price. Gift registry lists help, but we’ve all seen the wedding gift registry that contains crazy things you know the couple will probably never use. For some help in picking just the right wedding gift, consider these hard-to-fail ideas for wedding gifts the lovely couple will cherish forever.


A Year’s Worth of Streaming

A year’s subscription to Netflix, Hulu Plus, Sling TV or any of the other many streaming options out there would be a great way to help the newlyweds have access to snuggle time in front of the TV without having to worry about making sure the bill is paid on time.

You can present the gift in printed gift certificate form by finding a free online site, and add in print-outs of several options of streaming companies for the couple to choose from.


A Decent Set of Pots and Pans

My husband and I were married twenty-one years ago, and I still, in my mind, thank our friends Scott and Karen for the high-quality set of Farberware pans they gave us on our wedding day. We use them every single day and they’re still in great shape.


A Quality Set of Bed Linens

There’s a big difference between the feel of cheap bed linens and the feel of quality bed linens. We stopped buying the cheap bed linens years ago and opted instead to go for quality high thread count sheets that make going to bed extra comfy. If you don’t know the couple’s bedroom colors, stick with a neutral color such as white or ivory.


Money, Money, Money

It may seem uninventive, but you can bet your bottom dollar that money is a gift that every single couple – regardless of taste or style – will be able to use. If you’re worried about the “boring” factor when giving money, consider using one of these creative ways to give money as a gift.


A High-End Camera

This gift idea is for those looking to spend a good chunk of change. Nearly everyone can fall in love with the ability to use a high-quality camera to capture fond family moments on film (I mean “on memory card”). A photographer friend of mine says you can expect to spend a minimum of a thousand on a high-quality camera, so this gift idea would probably work best for newlyweds who are close relatives or friends, or for those with a hefty bank account balance.


A Quality Blanket

This is another gift idea that we cherish from our own wedding. We got two quality blankets from two different people on our wedding day, and we still use them both on a regular basis after twenty-one years of marriage. Color and design is key in picking out a blanket that the newlyweds will love, so try and go with something that will match their home décor or something neutral like a navy blue or gray.


A Quality Set of Steak Knives

A good set of steak knives will find regular use in the kitchen of anyone who eats, even if they’re a non-meat eater. Even salads and veggies often need to be cut before they’re eaten, and a decent set of eight or so knives will ensure the couple has enough steak knives to cover the needs of guests too.  Personally, we prefer the Cutco brand.


A Tool Kit that has all of the Basics

A tool kit will come in handy for nearly every newlywed couple at some point. People I know who’ve gotten them as wedding gifts count them as one of their favorite gifts. We got my young son (he’s 11) this Stanley Tool Kit for his birthday, and I think my husband uses it more than my son does.

Whatever gift you decide to give the newlywed couples you help celebrate their big day with, may it be a gift that they cherish for years to come.

How about you all? What is your favorite wedding gift to give newlyweds?

Getting Lifestyle Creep Under Control

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

Have you ever wondered why you are still short at the end of the month, in spite of that raise or promotion at work?  You may be suffering from lifestyle creep – that silent condition that instantly devours any disposable income you think you have.

Moving up in the world is commendable.  You start out in adult life with less – less than you were used to at your parent’s house, less income than you expected to have and bigger expenses.  Over the years, though, you notch yourself up on the pay-scale, perhaps celebrating with a new car, or more amenities.  After all, you deserve that for working hard and making good, right?

Yet, contrary to expectations, you are not meeting your goals towards saving up for the down payment on that dream home, trip-of-a-lifetime, or college expenses for your kids.  That’s lifestyle creep.

Once you realize this might be the case, here are some suggestions for dealing with it.


Identify where the creep is occurring.

Make a list of all expenses.

First, look through and list last year’s expenses – checks written, withdrawals (including debits), things bought with cash, credit card bills, interest and payments on all loans.  Include it all – utilities, subscriptions, rentals, trips, medical, dental, insurance, gifting, everything.

This is no fun and will take awhile, but it is absolutely essential to being able to see where the creep happens so you can deal with it.

Next, make a list of future goals and what you now do towards them.  How much do you contribute to savings for retirement, for college expenses, for that new car or house or other big purchase?

Analyze the information you gathered.

Categorize your expenses.  Note, if you are working from a budget, you probably already have them categorized.  If not, this categorization could be the foundation for a budget.  (I  know, the B-word elicits horror and anxiety, but budgets of some sort are desirable).

Then evaluate whether you need each of the things causing the expense.  If so, think through how you might be able to (relatively painlessly) reduce that expense.

Do you use multiple TV/Movies subscription services (for example Netflix AND cable TV AND HULU AND Amazon Prime)?  Do you really need all of them?  Which do you use most often?

Finally, review how you got started with those expenses, was it conscious or spontaneous?  Knowing this will give you insight into how to better control future lifestyle creep.

Take action.

You spent all that time listing your expenses, then evaluating them, now is the time to decide what to act on.  Look for things that will give you the most savings with the least disruption to your lifestyle.

Sometimes, that may even mean spending a bit more money.  For example, if you have determined that your heating or cooling bills are too expensive, you may decide to buy a programmable thermostat to automate setting temperatures in the house up or down when you are not there.

With other items, you may decide to try to alter your (and your family’s) habits.  One example might be to institute a cooling-off period prior to buying anything with disposable income.  For instance, if you are wanting that new TV, forcing you to wait until they go on sale can a) make you realize you don’t really want or need it all that much or b) give you time to do more research as to what kind you want and the best place to get it or c) help the kids learn delayed gratification or d) let you save up for it instead of putting it on the credit card and paying high-interest rates until you pay it off.

Once you’ve trimmed off the fat on your expenses, use that fat to go towards your goals. Set up auto options to take part of your paycheck and put it to work in a savings account or investment.

Then, start doing a better job of tracking expenses as you go.  I know that when I charge something on your card it is harder for me to remember that it is there than it is when I write a check.  Likewise, when I get a bunch of cash out and spend it, it is difficult to remember exactly where that money went.  Set up a system that works for you and your family so that all know where the money is going.

Plan to avoid future lifestyle creep.

This plan should include methods to alter habits creating needless expenses: techniques to contain spontaneous purchases and a schedule to review your lifestyle creep situation at least once a year or so.

The plan could specify dates to review and negotiate ongoing bill creep (like those ever increasing cable TV bills).

It could include time once every couple of years to go through the entire above process again, or to do so whenever the family income increases.

It could even extend to taking that ‘B’ word seriously and create and stick to a budget.

How about you all? How have you handled lifestyle creep?

Share your experiences by commenting below! 

***Photo courtesy of

Small Moves You Can Make That Will Add Up to Big Financial Changes

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Laurie Blank.  Laurie is a wife, mother to 4 and homesteader who blogs about personal finance, self-sufficiency, and life in general over at The Frugal Farmer. Part witty, part introspective and part silly, her goal in blogging is to help others find their way to financial freedom and to a simpler, more peaceful life.

Sometimes making financial improvements in your life can seem overwhelming and leave you with a sense of “Where do I start?”  This can happen in situations such as if you’re dealing with a huge debt load, if your life is far too busy, if you’ve never been educated on money management or for a myriad of other reasons.

But the good news about financial changes is that they don’t have to be big to make a big impact on your money situation. Often it is the small changes that add up to big results. Here are seven small changes you can make in your life that will add up to a big improvement in your overall financial health.


Choose to Save a Percentage of All of Your Income

I look back on the day we started saving a percentage of all of our income as one of THE best financial moves we made. We had never been savers, and so financial emergencies such as a home or car repair would really hit us hard. When we started saving money we were deep in consumer debt, so we committed to putting away just 1% of our take-home pay.

We didn’t feel as if it would add up to much, but it did, and over time we were able to raise it up to 2%, then 3%, etc. We now have a few thousand in an emergency savings fund and sleep much better at night knowing that we’ve got cash to cover emergencies and won’t have to resort to racking up credit card balances again.


Contribute to Your 401(k) at Least Up to Your Employer’s Match

The great thing about employer 401(k) matches is that it is FREE money. In other words, if you are taking advantage of your employer’s 401(k) match program, you automatically gain a 100% return on all matched funds. This will not only help your retirement fund grow faster but will also act as a cushion from any market downfalls – at your employer’s expense.

Don’t leave money on the table by shunning the free 401(k) match funds your employer offers. Sign up today and take it as a bonus for your hard work.  


Read One Personal Finance Book

The one money book that changed my life the most is The Millionaire Next Door. Growing up poor, I always assumed that millionaires had big, fancy houses, nice cars, and designer clothes. To me, being a millionaire came with certain expectations about one’s appearance, and so I equated having “stuff” with being rich.

The Millionaire Next Door set me straight and showed me the real path to millionaire status. If you want to make a big difference in your finances, do something different and read one of the many powerful personal finance books out on the market today.


Set One Financial Goal

Making your financial situation better doesn’t have to entail turning your life upside-down and living like a hermit until you accomplish your financial goals. Instead, set just one financial goal and make a plan to achieve that goal.

For instance, when we decided to cut entertainment expenses (our main one was eating out) down to $75 a month, we saved $200 a month compared to our prior entertainment spending. And it really wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. As a bonus, now that we’re eating out so much less, our restaurant excursions are much more appreciated.

Your goal could be anything from setting up an automated savings plan to foregoing the daily trip to the coffee shop to cutting eating out by fifty percent. The goal is to do something – even if it’s just one thing – to improve your financial situation.


Pay an Extra $50 on Your Mortgage Each Month

Most people easily waste $50 a month and even more. What if you took that $50 a month that you waste on drive-thru trips and daily lattes, and put it toward your mortgage, applying it as an additional principal payment each month? If you had a home with a $250k purchase price, a $200k mortgage and a 3.83% interest rate on a thirty-year loan, paying an extra $50 a month would mean you’d pay off your mortgage almost three years early. Total savings: over $33,000.


Track Your Spending

Tracking our spending was life changing for us in terms of our financial health. It turned out we were spending quite a bit more in areas such as groceries and entertainment than we thought we were. We track our spending using a simple Excel spreadsheet to this day to make sure we are keeping discretionary spending at reasonable levels and to have an at-a-glance view of our financial situation. Total savings compared to our non-tracking years: over $500 a month.


Cancel One Membership

How many memberships do you have that are eating away at your ability to have extra money for reaching financial independence or other financial goals? Cable TV, gym memberships, magazine subscriptions and stuff-of-the-month clubs can add up to big dents in your financial health. Choose to cancel just one of those unnecessary memberships, and put the money toward debt payoff, save it for your next car purchase or invest it in a mutual or retirement fund.

Revamping your financial life doesn’t have to mean living under a rock. Instead, choose one financial change and use the money to meet an important monetary goal. I’d be willing to bet you’ll find the habit contagious.

How about you all?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of

Pros and Cons of Buying Used

The following post is by MPFJ staff writer, Marie. You can read more of Marie’s articles over at her own blog, Family Money Values. Enjoy! 

I love a good garage sale and I frequently shop at my favorite local thrift store.  I have purchased items both new and used over the course of my 68 years.  Yet there are many things I would never dream of buying used. I know some folks wouldn’t be caught dead buying ‘somebody else’s problem’ and others view themselves as ‘very smart shoppers’ because they can find bargains.

My nephew, for instance, won’t even buy a pre-owned home.

My son firmly believes in buying used cars – after all, a new car is worth thousands less once you drive it off the lot.


The Pros.

Used items are usually cheaper by an order of magnitude.

A recent purchase of mine was a short sleeve Cabella’s ladies summer shirt.  I paid $4.  A similar Cabella brand would cost at least $25 or $30.

I found a rataan love seat and footstool one year at a garage sale for $15.  Similar sets new range from $200 – $900.

There are no Taxes or lower taxes on used items.

Most jurisdictions do not require sales taxes on many used items.  Where sales taxes are required, on things such as cars, the taxes can be much lower due to the lower sales price on which the tax is calculated.

You can get older styles if desired.

Sales trends come and go.  If you are looking for Craftsman era furniture, you aren’t likely to find it new.

Quality can be better in some cases.

Furniture, clothing and perhaps even appliances today are manufactured more cheaply than in bygone eras.  I’ve repeatedly been told to hang on to my still working washer/dryer from the 1980’s because the newer ones won’t last as long.

Searching out those special items provides ‘the thrill of the hunt’.

There is a certain excitement about hunting for an older item.  It is sort of like a treasure hunt and finding that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when you do find it.

You are helping the environment by re-using items.

Reducing the use of ‘new’ in society will result in less consumption of dwindling resources.  Buy used helps that situation.


The Cons

You have to expect to deal with a certain amount of germs, bugs, and grunge. 

When you buy used, expect to clean and disinfect or have it done, prior to bringing the item into your life and home.

Wash everything, use disinfectant if it won’t ruin the item.  Set it in the sun and let the rays disinfect and remove odors.  Just don’t buy things that could hide hard to eradicate pests.

There usually are no returns.

Most used sales are final.  Don’t expect to be able to take it back and get your money back.  If you should find it doesn’t suit after you get it home, donate it – you may even get a break on taxes for doing so.

It may be difficult to find something specific.

The flip side of the thrill of the hunt is that you may never find the specific item for which you search.  Be open minded about looking for things when shopping used.  But also be wary of spending too much on spontaneous buys which might not be used.

The items you find may be in less than perfect shape. 

With some things, like cars or houses, you can safely request an opportunity to take the item to a professional for an inspection.  With others, like furniture, you must inspect carefully prior to purchasing used.  You may need to perform repairs or redecoration.

There is the possibility of safety issues.

Be careful of buying an item that might lead to injury or loss of life – a car seat or crib might not conform to today’s safety rulings for instance.

There are typically poor or non-existent try it out/try it on options.

Buying clothing at a yard or garage sale can be difficult as there is typically nowhere to try on an item.  When buying a used major appliance, even if it is plugged in and demonstrated, you may not have the option of seeing all phases of operation to know that the product is working correctly.

You don’t get delivery.

Buying used means you are on your own for getting the good home.  No store delivery for sure!


Buy new or used?

With my above opinions on the pros and cons in mind, here are some things I think it is better to buy new than used:

  • Mattresses or upholstered furniture

These can harbor bed bugs and lingering odors.  Re-upholster is expensive if hired done and very time consuming if you do it.

  • Personal care items (makeup, lotions, shavers, etc)

Just the thought of using someone else’s old makeup turns my stomach – better to do without than to buy used.  Who knows what skin conditions the other girl had?

  • Lingerie, underwear. swimsuits, socks

Wearing anything next to my private parts that other people have worn is just creepy to me.          Even though you might be able to clean and disinfect, I still prefer new on these items.

  • Any clothing that can’t be disinfected

Someone else’s fur coat, hand embroidered silk clothing or anything that can’t be washed, dry cleaned, dried or hung in the sun is off limits to me for buying used.

  • Gifts

Come on, don’t be a miser, spring for new if you are giving as a formal gift to someone else.


Likewise, I favor buying used items in some cases, such as the below:

  • Cars

Buying used cars has almost become a way of life for many.  Why pay dealer costs when the car loses value right away?  Not only is the purchase price less, but the resulting sales taxes and insurance costs are also less.

  • Clothing that can be disinfected.

Although I buy casual clothing, many parents like to look for that prom wear at sales.  With girls formals costing upwards of $200 a dress, it just makes sense to try to find something she likes on sale.

  • Books

Instead of paying $5 – $40 for a book, you can find them for $.50 or $1 at sales.  There are those, however, like my hairdresser, that fear the germs that used books might hold and they are somewhat difficult to disinfect.

  • Movies

If you like to watch movies more than once, buying the discs used saves significantly.

  • Toys

Kids grow out of toys so fast these days.  If you are looking for something to keep the kiddies out of your hair (scooters, bikes, balls, tents and more) – let them start learning about money by allowing them to buy their own toy at the next garage sale you attend.  Be sure they know you will need to clean it up for them before they get to play with it.

  • Baby stuff

Baby clothes, strollers, and much more are popular items to buy used and easily found at any new subdivision neighborhood garage sale.

My list could go on and on, but you get my drift by now.

How about you all? Do you buy used items?

***Photo courtesy of