Family Money Troubles

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Family Money Troubles

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Devon, 17, is used to paying her own cell phone and car expenses. But lately it's been harder. The family she babysits for hasn't been calling as much and she couldn't find a job over the summer. Devon's dad says it's a sign of the tough economy. He told her he's feeling the pinch, too, and that he had to dip into her college fund to pay the mortgage.

These days it's hard to avoid news about the economy. Turn on the computer or TV and words like "recession," "foreclosure," and "unemployment" fill the screen. It can seem a bit scary — and some families are hit really hard.

But as discouraging as things may seem now, the good news is that the economy always gets back on track after a while.

How Does a Difficult Economy Affect Families?

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For some people, the slow economy means eating out less or staying home instead of going on vacation. Parents may not have as much money to put toward allowances or college funds. For other families, though, money problems mean bigger changes, such as a parent taking on a second job or the family having to move to a less expensive house.

When a family has money worries, it's easy to get frustrated and upset — and if you feel that way, you're far from alone. Parents also might be more stressed out than usual. They might argue more and worry about how to pay for things.

Naturally, this can put extra stress on you, too, especially because parents' money problems aren't something you have any control over. But although you can't solve family money troubles, you may find that contributing in some way helps you feel better.

What Can You Do to Make Things Easier?

It's comforting when our lives and routines feel the same, so it's natural to feel worried if things change.

Here are some practical and emotional survival tips for dealing with a tough economy:

  • Think like an entrepreneur. Jobs may be hard to find, but the slow economy can open up new opportunities. The couple you babysit for might cut back on evenings out, but they could be interested in hiring you for after-school care. Perhaps it's time to hold a yard sale to get rid of the old toys and baby gear in the basement — or help your parents sell these items online. If you're good at navigating online auction sites, you could charge people a fee to sell their old stuff.
  • Prioritize and plan for what you want. When you want something, write it down. Next to it, write how much you want it on a scale of 1-10. Keep this list going (items may move up or down the scale as you add new ones). Then figure out a plan to earn any must-have rewards.
  • Talk out troubles. If you are worried, find a good time and talk to your parents about it. Let them know you can handle the truth. If your parents are fighting, seem stressed, or are sad or angry all the time, talking can really help. If you can't talk to your parents right now, lean on a friend, teacher, or counselor.
  • Practice the art of patience. Some of your friends might have the latest cell phones, video games, and basketball shoes, but others may be having a tougher time than you. You may not be able to get everything you want, but now is a chance to see if you can master the art of patience without envying friends or feeling negative about your parents.
  • Focus on the positive. Writing down (or drawing) your frustrations in a journal can be a big step toward dealing with them. But also try to write down three things that you are grateful for each day (or illustrate or write songs if you're more of an artist or composer).
  • Help your friends. What if a friend is in a really tight spot? Even if you can't think how to help, try just listening: Tell your friend you know it must be hard and that you'll be there for support no matter what. Most friends welcome the chance just to talk through feelings and know that someone understands.
  • Deal with change, but don't burden yourself. It's good to step in to help friends and family. But it's also good to remind yourself that you're still young and family money troubles are outside your control.

Finding Entertainment on the Cheap

Being creative helps you feel good about yourself at times when life isn't going as you planned. And coming up with free ways to have fun gives your creativity a chance to shine.

Some ways to stay entertained are obvious: Go to the park, ride a bike, take a neighbor's dog for a walk, volunteer, or cook dinner for your friends or family. But why stop there? Think of this as a time to challenge your imagination:

  • Record some music. If you have a computer and microphone, all you need is your talent.
  • Have a karaoke party. The worse the singing, the better the fun.
  • Redecorate your room without spending a dime. Use only stuff you have around the house or found items like shells or old furniture. Discover new uses for old things, like making pillows and lampshades out of old dresses.
  • Learn a new language. Borrow a teach-yourself book or CD from the library.
  • Design your own clothes or jewelry. Check out thrift stores for clothing you can cut up and customize, or use found items to make jewelry.
  • Plan a surprise picnic for your friends. Do the whole blanket and picnic basket bit, then find a park or beach and take in the view (and the people watching).
  • Start your own ghost tour. Check out the creepiest houses in your area and take friends on "haunted house" tours so you can all make up stories about what might have happened there. If you live in a historic town you may be able to research town history and discover enough interesting stories to put together a real tour.
  • Become a caricature artist. If you're good at art, teach yourself how to draw caricatures. Practice on your family, then when you get better, rent yourself out for children's parties.
  • Host movie night. Local libraries often loan out movie projectors and movies for free. Get your friends to bring popcorn, pick an upbeat or funny movie, and enjoy!

Eventually the economy will turn around. When it does, you'll be well equipped to deal with any other challenges and difficulties life throws your way!

Reviewed by: Michelle New, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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