At the Queens Center Mall, Union Square Park, and a movie theater on the Upper West Side, we asked a diverse group of teenagers to describe the financial arrangements they have with their parents.
Victoria Miller, 18
I use a credit card that my parents pay. If it’s something extravagant, I’ll ask them first. I wouldn’t put alcohol on the card. I’d use the cash they give me. I have friends who’ll buy Manolo Blahniks on their parents’ credit cards. I could do it if I wanted to, but I don’t. I know some kids who are absolutely loaded, and they flaunt it.
Beth Jagello, 18
I get $20 per week. I clean the bathrooms, fold laundry. I get a dollar deducted for each day I don’t do my chores. That happens pretty much all the time. I work at Starbucks for $8.25 an hour, which is, like, two and a half hours of allowance. I guess my allowance is fair. Not like there’s anything I can do about it.
Kat Kovtunova, 17
I get about 40 bucks a week. Compared to my friends, my allowance is a lot higher—on average $20 more. There’s always jealousy. They say, “Hey, let’s go for Chinese food,” then use the ladies’ room when the check comes. If we’re standing in line at the movies, they go scout out seats while I pay. It’s based on the parents mostly, not the effort. My friend has to work her ass off to get like 30 bucks a week, while I just have to watch my brother and maintain my average and I get $40.
Steven Marmolejo, 14
Every day I get $5, except Thursday and Friday because my dad doesn’t work those days. My friends work—they sell clothes. They get $35 every two weeks, but we don’t really talk about money. Sometimes I buy stuff for my mom, lotions and perfumes. I feel a little bad for my parents because they’re always working, fixing the house. My sister is 16; she works in a restaurant at the airport, and she gets $20 a week, too.
Dan Kagan, 17
I get somewhere between $20 and $30 at the beginning of the week from my mom. It’s not a set thing. She’d probably give me more—one thing she’s adamant about is that cheap people are the worst—but I hate taking money from her. I guess growing up in a single-parent home has made me want to be more self-reliant. I live on the Upper East Side—my mom and I share a one-bedroom—and I’ll tell you, man, some of the kids around here are so tragic. They’ll never have any idea what money is. At the same time, I guess if I had that kind of money, I’d spend it like crazy, too.
Jonathan Lebowitz, 14
I’ll get $20 on Fridays for food and movies, and then $10 for the week at school. When I need more, I ask. There’s an approval process. I’ll also get paid to babysit my younger brother. One of my friends gets exactly $250 every month. If he runs out, he has to borrow from his next month’s allowance. I think I’m pretty responsible with money. I try to take the bus because I have a student MetroCard. If I take a cab, I’ll split it with my friends. I don’t waste money. But if there’s something I really want, I won’t be like, “Don’t spend! Don’t spend!” Oh yeah, I’ll get it.
Nikita Rayani, 16
I get $20 a week, but I borrow money from my mom’s purse, too. That usually comes to more than my allowance. I’ll use it to buy gifts for my friends at the mall. I don’t really do anything to earn it. We have a maid.
Eric Buros, 18
At the beginning of each year, my parents put $1,000 into my bank account. If I run out of that money, I’ll work. Computer repair. I also have my parents’ credit card, and if I use it, I pay them back. It’s for when I find myself in bad situations, like when my car tire exploded. I’ve been playing a lot of poker lately. It takes up a lot of time, but I’m kind of addicted, and I’m good at it. I made about $1,500 in one tournament. Honestly, I don’t really care to spend much money. I’d rather chill in Barnes & Noble.
Erin Tous, 14
I can get about $1,000 a month, depending on what I need. I need CDs. Twenty a month. I watch my little brother, empty the dishwasher. I have to dry the shower walls with a towel after I take a shower. We’re not even allowed to go in the living room. My mother is a neat freak.
Julie Otton, 19
I put everything on the credit card, and my parents pay the balance. There’s no limit. Sure, they’ll give me money when I ask for it—they just wrote me a check for $400—but usually I just put it on the card. They don’t even notice; it just all gets mixed in with their own charges. I bought all my Christmas presents on the card, which I don’t think my parents know about. I feel bad when my friends are worried about paying for things that I just don’t worry about. My parents wouldn’t cut me off—I’m a really good kid. I’m learning how to save receipts and be financially responsible.
Tiffany Latorre, 16
Weekdays, I get $7 a day; weekends, I get $20 a day unless I’m going to a club, then I get $50. I like Remy, Exit, any club that has a teen night. I just have to do good in school and babysit my brother sometimes. Most of the time, my mom gets me everything; most of my money goes for cabs. A lot of my friends work, and I’m looking for a job, like at Starbucks.
Brian Nicholas, 16
I get $10 per week, the same as last year. My parents are cheap. I have to take out the garbage, nothing else. I buy food—fast food, usually—and CDs. I like Slipknot. My friends get the same; I don’t know what everyone else gets. I dropped out of school.
The Teenage Economy
In a city obsessed with money, kids are, too. And the choices parents make have powerful effects on the separate, sometimes cruel, world of adolescence.
It’s not just what you give for an allowance, it’s how you give it. A primer.