The Wallet Years: The Parenting Stage that Almost Breaks You

No one really prepares you for the "empty wallet" stage...

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: The Wallet Years: The Parenting Stage That Almost Breaks You

When my kids were toddlers I really thought I was in the thick of the toughest stage of parenting. I mean, come on, how could it get any worse than that? I couldn’t even go to the bathroom without them wanting to be by my side.

The sleepless nights, the millions of trips to the doctor’s office, the screaming temper tantrums because I didn’t cut their toast in triangles, the exhausting days of them clinging to my legs and never having a single stinking moment to myself. Seriously, no stage of parenting could be harder. (I mean, yeah, it was wonderful but really hard!)

Thankfully, it got a little better after that, but then a little worse, and then a lot better, but then a little worse again, and then, finally, about the time my kids were in late elementary school, things started to settle down and I confidently (ahem, arrogantly) started thinking I had aced the “tough years.”

But I’m here to tell you, that’s not how parenting works.

By definition, the word “parenting” means: The activity of bringing up a child as a parent. But someone who has actually been a parent needs to rewrite that crappy definition. If they put me up to the task, I’d define it more like this…

Parenting: The act of doing your best to raise a child from birth to adulthood who is independent, kind and a contributing member of society while being perpetually exhausted, clueless, frustrated and challenged by your child’s ever-changing stages, behaviors, moods and needs all while trying to enjoy every freaking moment because you know your loveable little sh#ts are growing up way too fast.

Still, even though those early years with my kids threw me for a serious loop, nothing really prepared me for “The Wallet Years.”

Never heard of the wallet years? Well… they’re pretty much how they sound…the years (typically the tween and teen years) when your kids only need you (or want you) for money. Sure, your kids love you, (well, at least you think and hope they do), but they basically tolerate you, ignore you, avoid you or challenge you until they need your credit card – then they’re really nice. 

You’re basically forking out big bucks for people who act like they don’t even like you. (Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. Or… maybe not.)

“Mom, I really want this new hoodie. Can you buy it for me, pleeeease?”

“Mom, my friends and I want to go to Chick-fil-A, can I borrow 10 bucks?” (Umm, yeah, right…” borrow??”)

“Dad, OMG, this new video game came out. If I help you clean the garage, will you pleaaase buy it for me? Please???” 

But that’s only the half of it. Not only are you doling out money left and right, but you’re also simultaneously dealing with your teen’s mood-swinging hormones, pubescent turmoil, and their burning desire to escape the clenches of your protective grip by testing you at every turn. (Parenting toddlers was a walk in the park compared to this…)

Yep… no one, and I mean no one, gives you a heads-up about the wallet years.

Here you are, a parent who’s sacrificed more than your kids will ever know, squeezing every dollar out of your paycheck socking money away thinking you’re doing an “okay” job saving for your kid’s future and then, WHAM, the wallet years hit and you’re staring at the credit card bill wondering how in holy h#ll you’re ever going to pay for all this. 

And, through no fault of our kids, the hits just keep on coming…

Can we talk about the cost of sports for a moment? OMG! It’ll cause full-blown heart palpitations! The fees, equipment, uniforms, extra coaching (‘cuz society puts ridiculously high expectations on our kids to be good at everything), and the travel fees that come with it. 

Oh, and what about when your teen starts driving? Brace yourself BIG TIME when your insurance agent quotes you the price of putting your “high-risk” teenager on your insurance plan. (There goes the family vacation.)

Little do you know the number they quoted isn’t annually, it’s monthly and even though you eventually come to accept it, you find out it gets WAY worse if your teen has a fender bender… or two or three.

And, because your teen is growing like a hundred inches a year, you’re constantly buying them new clothes, off-the-charts expensive athletic shoes (who knew shoes could cost so much??) and a few name-brand doozies like the Nike hoodie, Lulu Lemon leggings or the American Eagle jeans they have to have. 

But, oh, h#ll no… you’re not done yet!

Because on the heels of all those wallet-sucking expenses comes feeding your always-hungry teenagers (and all their friends) who can eat you out of house and home in two days flat all while complaining “there’s nothing to eat in this house,”  springing for a cell phone, orthodontist fees, tutoring if your child is struggling in a subject, and COLLEGE. Holy crap! 

SAT and ACT fees, the cost of college visits and just applying, setting them up in their dorm room, and transferring money into their every month because they’re always broke – AND that doesn’t include the cost of housing, tuition, a meal plan, and extras, like books. 

But wait, the SUPER fun part that really makes your head spin is that you have to budget for your teen’s clumsiness. That’s right! Because I promise you, your teen will drop their cell phone in a toilet, slam it in a door or lose it. They’ll break their arm messing around with friends on a Friday night (like my son did when he snapped his arm in two arm wrestling with a frat brother. How? Just how?) or they’ll trip over something that wasn’t there and chip a tooth. 

But… like you always do, you somehow figure out a way to pay for it.

You lecture the smithereens out of your teen about the value of a dollar and how much you’re spending on them. You sound like a broken record reminding them that you’re not made of money and that money doesn’t grow on trees, and why they need to get up off their tush and get a job to start paying for their own frivolities.

And, then one day, they DO and it makes you so freaking proud to see your kids becoming independent, mature, grateful, and understanding when you say “Nope, sorry dude… we can’t afford it.” 

It’s true… there’s no doubt the wallet years are hard. I swear, they almost break you financially and emotionally… but it’s all part of the journey.

Because even though you’re swimming in a sea of bills, your eyes are fiercely set on the horizon – giving your child new experiences to learn, grow and build confidence, helping them get a strong foothold in this world, teaching them about responsibility and money and independence, and realizing that every single dollar you spent was worth it and that you’d do every bit of it all over again. 

Because as fast as your money is slipping through your fingers, you also realize that these years with your kids are slipping through your fingers, too. And, even though your wallet is painfully empty, well… your heart is immensely full. 

If you enjoyed reading, “The Wallet Years: The Parenting Stage That Almost Breaks You,” check out these other posts!

The Mental Load of Motherhood: The Side Our Family Never Sees

20 Ways Teens are Just Like Toddlers

Whoever Said Boys are Easier to Raise Obviously Didn’t Have Boys

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