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Birthday Money Advice for Kids


Teaching my children about money, budgets, credit and good financial decisions is important to me. We’ve had money lessons since they were very little. Now that they are all teenagers, the decisions are bigger, the amounts greater and their will power much stronger. In this case, it’s the $1000 iPhone X that is being considered.

All four of them have been responsible for grocery budgets, discussed our family budget and are also very aware of the financial straits I have gotten us into. I would say they are just about the most financially aware kids I have ever known, certainly more knowledgeable then I was at their age.

A Little History

Gymnast is my most money conscious kid. By that I mean he is very aware of how tight money is, but he is also very materialistic. Much moreso than any of my others are or have been.  That combination has been hard on him.

As I have gotten more determined with my money choices and thus a lot less generous in some areas, he has struggled. Yes, I know I set myself up for this, but I cannot change the past.

With that being understood, his phone is broken, destroyed and has been for about 3 weeks now. And his 13th birthday was yesterday.

Gymnast & Hope on his 13th birthday

Gymnast wants a iPhone X

Gymnast number one desire for the last year or so has been to get a iPhone X…yes, those $1000 phones.  Needless to say, he has constantly heard a resounding NO!

But with his birthday and the broken phone…well, his top request iPhone X. He asked for money towards his new phone from everyone.

I mean, this kid has spent hours researching different phones, he can speak intelligently about all the different features and compare any number of phones off the top of his head. This side of his desire has really made me proud. He has really done his research.

For his birthday, he received $582 towards a new phone…$50 of that is from me. All the rest of this money is from family.

In order to get a new phone, he had to agree to pay $100 of that for the broken phone (just a year old phone.) He also had $34 in his personal checking account.

Gymnast now has $516 to spend. And when we got online to check with Verizon, he can now get his year long dream phone for $549+tax. Can you imagine his reaction?

How to Guide Children on Big Money Decisions

My first thought was “Yikes, that is a lot of money for a 13 year old to have to spend.”

While I make them all save 50% of money they earn, I do not do that with birthday money. He is left with complete control over how to spend the money.

Money conversations are different with every child. For some I appeal to their logic, others their emotion and sometimes nothing I say works.

A Different Approach

This time, I decided to try a different approach.

  1. Just the facts
    Knowing that he was going to get a lot of money for his birthday, I sat him down ahead of time and discussed the phone situation. I laid out all the facts – paying for his broken phone, keeping the same number vs getting a new number and monthly bills.
    The most important part of this conversation was timing. We did it at a time and place when a purchase was not an option, so there was no drive, just facts.
  2. All the options
    We discussed the option to get a pre-paid phone, upgrade with our current provider and even waiting for the next phone versions to be released (since latest and greatest is something very important to him.)
    Again, we had this conversation when their was no temptation.
  3. Now to wait
    Gymnast is spending the rest of the month in TX with his grandparents. I told him he could make a decision about the phone the week before he returns home. That is going to give him just at 3 weeks to make a decision.
    He is hoping to earn some money while he is in TX because he knows he is short money to get his dream phone especially when he considers the cost of a case and taxes. And he is will aware that I am not contributing any more money.

Wheels are Spinning

In just 24 hours, I can already see his mind assimilating all the facts and weighing his options. The forced “wait” is already working. He asked that I log him on so he can see the prices of the different phones.  (He’s already decided that keeping his same number and upgrading with our current provider is the way he wants to go, now he just has to choose a phone.)

Last night, from his corner of the couch you could here him muttering to himself:

  • If I get the same phone I had, it’s only 99 cents.
  • I could get an iPhone 8 for half of my money.
  • Mom needs a new phone too.
  • But I really want an iPhone X.

He’s also been told, since returning from camp, that if he wants to return to camp, he will have to provide 1/2 of the money.

I have no idea what he will choose. But from hear on out, I will only answer questions he asks and support his decision. I feel like I’ve done my part in laying out all the facts for him. I will keep you posted on what he decides.




  • Reply Kelsey |

    I would understand if he wants to get an iPhone X. At this point it’s not an impulse buy- but I think you are right to make him mull it over.
    Make him buy a good case and AppleCare so it makes it 2+ years. I’ve been buying AppleCare for my phones and there is not one I haven’t utilized the service on. Whether it be a battery or broken screen – it’s saved me numerous times.

    • Reply Hope |

      I feel very good about this process and empowering him to make this decision. I think the key is going to be the time he must wait. He has plenty of time, knowing he has the option to do what he wants and the knowledge to make a wise decision. Crossing my fingers he makes a wise financial decision. But in the end, I want him to know this was his decision AND then he will have to deal with what comes of it without saying “you made me”.

  • Reply dh |

    Since you mentioned that Gymnast has been bullied, I would worry about him becoming a target for theft with a phone that expensive, at school or elsewhere.

    I also think it’s a parent’s job to help their kids make smart choices. I don’t think a $1000 phone is a smart choice for a 13YO. I would encourage him to get the 8.

    • Reply Hope |

      I do not allow him to take his phone to school. The middle school doesn’t allow them, in general, and like you, I don’t want temptation to be an issue. Nor do I want it to be a distraction.

      I also agree that the iPhone X is not the smart choice…but I also believe that this must be his choice. In the end, he will have to live with the consequences.

  • Reply Shanna |

    I agree with the above. A few other notes, there is a new Iphone coming out in Sept-ish. Will he then be unhappy with what he has? The X has not been a popular phone, many people do not like it so if he waits he can get an even better deal if it is still what he wants. Even with Apple Care/Insurance, there are costs involved in getting repairs/replacements for anything besides defects, does he have the money for that? Can he afford Apple Care/insurance and the copays involved. Was his phone breakage a few weeks ago carelessness or bad luck? I see your point in letting him chose how to spend his money but I think this is not setting a good precedent for responsible money management. Iphone theft is rampant, especially amongst teens, so if it gets stolen then what will you do? He won’t have money for a new one and you can’t afford to replace it. Good luck with this one, you are in a hard spot.

    • Reply Anonymous |

      I don’t think it’s a good idea for a 13-year-old (or anyone for that matter) to be soliciting money from relatives for such an expensive purchase. Was this a Go Fund Me account? People need to come up with their own money for this kind of stuff. My niece had a Go Fund Me for a new computer when she was in college. My thought was “Get a job, dear.”

      • Reply Hope |

        He did not solicit for the phone and no this was not a Go Fund Me page. This was his birthday.
        I don’t know anyone who doesn’t ask what a child what they want for their birthday, nor do I think it’s unreasonable for a teenager to ask for cash to make their own purchases, whatever they may be.
        While I have traditionally pushed for “experience” gifts versus materialistic gifts, this desire does not seem out of line for a child his age in this day and age. That does not mean I think anyone needs a $1000 phone, but I do understand his desire. And more importantly, want to guide him and empower him in making decisions…he will have to live with the consequences whatever they may be.

    • Reply Hope |

      You are right, if something happens to his new phone, whatever phone he chooses, I will not bail him out. He will have to replace or live without a phone…that’s what I did with the twins as well.
      And we have gone over all of the costs, options and alternatives. Now he will have to make the decision and live with whatever comes from it.

  • Reply angie |

    I don’t think you should be encouraging an iPhone x. Way to set your teenager up for rampant consumerism. His last phone didn’t last more than a year. Insane waste of money and horrible way of thinking in terms of the environment. Has he not read any of the reports of apple purposely making phones slow down so you have to buy new ones every two years on the dot? It’s true.

    Also how much are these upgrade costs are being rolled into your $300/month business cell phone bill? We’ve never gotten any details on that bill but now I’m seeing why it can’t be lowered.

    • Reply Hope |

      I am certainly NOT encouraging this purchase, quite the opposite. And I agree that it is a waste of money. I thought I made that clear.
      And he must pay for the phone outright, I do not cover any costs for the phone nor are they “rolled into” my bill. I do pay the monthly service fees for the kids though approx $20 each plus taxes and fees.

  • Reply margann34 |

    I think you have done everything you can to help him make the decision. In this case, since it is his money, he gets to make the decision. We may not always agree with our children’s spending choices but it is part of the learning process.

  • Reply Den |

    Years ago our teenage son saved up and bought a remote controlled airplane. I didn’t think it was a good use of his birthday money, but he loved that thing for about a week and then it broke beyond repair….he still references (15 years later) that it wasn’t a great use of his money. So yes, let him spend his money. Either he will love the phone and enjoy it for years (and get his money’s worth) or it will be a mistake and he will learn from it.

    • Reply Hope |

      Exactly this! I think he is definitely at the age where this will be a lifelong lesson.

  • Reply Been There Done That |

    I don’t think this is a wise decision. That is a very expensive phone for a 13-year-old. I was just reading a comment online about a recent college graduate. He talked about how frugal his parents were and how they always taught him to save, save, save. There were no expensive vacations or clothes. They drove cars that cost less than $1000. But then he discovered the blessing in this. His parents were prepared to pay entirely for his college education, and he graduated debt-free and already has healthy savings. He now thinks his parents are very smart, indeed, and wants to do the same for his future children.

    Even though this is your child’s money, it is never too early to instill good money habits and contentment. This won’t end. Soon he will want the next shiny, new thing. Set a limit on a phone and have him open a bank account with the rest. His future self will be thankful.

    • Reply Hope |

      He’s had a bank account since he was 6. He balances his checkbook and is required to save 50% of everything he earns in his savings account. Managing his money is not new to him. What’s new is the amount of money and his more expensive taste. And I think now is the time to empower him to spend his money that he is allowed to spend. And also let him experience the consequences.
      He is well aware that I will not bail him out if something goes wrong with the phone. He saw that with his twin brothers and more recently when he broke his own phone.
      But believe me, if I knew how to instill contentment…I would do it in a heartbeat. Any guidance on that?

  • Reply margann34 |

    Hope stated in her post that she requires the kids to save 50% of what they earn but that birthday money can be freely spent. Family rules are family rules. She stated that he has researched and shopped around and now has the cash to cover the purchase. All very important skills for a wise consumer. Also, it seems that the price has dropped since it is no longer brand new technology. I think he should buy the phone. Does he NEED it, no. Is it expensive, yes. But he has played by his mother’s rules. To not allow him to purchase the phone will result in resentment and dis-trust because she did not play by the rules. Maybe he will treasure the phone and get good use from it and enjoy it for a year or two. Maybe he will break it or lose it or it will be stolen. Either way, there are valuable lessons to be learned. One caveat I would add is that he must pay for any extra costs associated with the phone.

    • Reply Hope |

      Thank you for your support, margann. I agree. He is well aware that he must cover any “extra” costs and is solely responsible for the purchase and upkeep of the phone. I only pay the $20 monthly service charge for our shared family plan.
      I also believe that this is an important life lesson for him, AND he is old enough to make it with the guidance I have provided and own whatever the results are.

  • Reply Sue |

    It’s his money and his choice – you have laid out all of the options for him and like Den said, if it doesn’t work out for him, he has learned an important lesson. I work at an elementary school and we have 5 year olds with iPhones, so I don’t think that is something out of line for a 13 year old, as long as they are able to pay all the bills associated with it.

  • Reply Been There Done That |

    Yes, but is this the financial message you want to convey to a 13-year-old? That it is just fine to drop that kind of money on a phone? Her son is going to see that things haven’t really changed that much as far as finances go in the house! Remember, more is caught than taught. And I have to agree with the comment above about seeking money from relatives for such an expensive purchase. I would be mortified if my children had done that, growing up!

    • Reply margann34 |

      I think that things HAVE changed. Hope has repeatedly told him that she won’t purchase the phone for him and that he must pay for it himself. I believe that the money he requested from relatives was for his birthday. In my family, it is customary for the relatives to ask the kids what they want for their birthday. It is perfectly acceptable for the kids to request cash. My kids often end up with a couple hundred dollars from their birthday gifts. I would like to point out that it is ok to spend a large amount of money on a purchase as long as one pays cash and meets their needs before their wants. A 13 year old is not responsible for food shelter, etc. It is a reasonable expectation for him to purchase his “wants”.

    • Reply Hope |

      I’m not sure allowing him to spend his own money reflects at all on “finances in the house.” He is well aware that mom is not bailing him out. He was forced to help pay for the phone he broke. And he has lived without a phone since he broke his last one.
      And it is very common in my family for people to ask a child what they want for their birthday. A request for cash is not uncommon in the teenage years.
      For the record, other than his dad and I, no one gave him over $25. (I gave him $50 which is what I spend on every child’s birthday present.)

  • Reply Laura |

    If he has his heart set on this make him wait until the next IPhone comes out in September. Prices on the X will drop even furthur then, and he may be able to get a refurbished one for even cheaper. I personally think having the latest and greatest is a waste of money and would be pushing him harder to get an older model, but like you said it’s his money. Make him buy a good case and pay for any extras that come with it. He may come to regret spending so much on a phone but that’s a good lesson to else too.

    • Reply Hope |

      Yes, we have discussed the options ad-nauseam in my and everyone around Gymnast’s opinion. He has been talking about this phone non-stop for over a year. And the consensus has always been no way. If his phone hadn’t broken over a month ago, and he been so consistent in what he wanted when people asked, this wouldn’t even be an option. But there is something inspiring about his consistency and drive, even if I don’t agree with it at all.
      And I agree, either way this will be a good lesson for him. And he is very aware that mom will not bail him out if something goes wrong with this phone, he will just have to live without or save up for another one.

  • Reply Kili |

    Like others have suggested, I think it will be a lesson either way, either taking good care of a valuable item or losing/breaking etc it.
    I think that’s a very teenage craving, to have pricey stuff. When I grew up I also bought way too expensive jeans because everyone had them. I have never spent so much money on jeans in the past 15 years.

    I think one condition with the iPhone x Should definitely be that there’s a plan on how to pay the monthly bill and maybe the additional insurance others have mentioned

    • Reply Hope |

      I was never the “name brand” kid, but my brothers were. My parents always said we will pay $XXX amount for whatever, and then it was up to us to pay the rest. I rarely wanted more than they were willing to pay.

      As for the monthly costs of the phone, pay for their monthly service ($20) but am not willing to add an additional $15 per month per line for insurance. With the twins, if they lost, broke or had their phone stolen they had to replace it. Both of them are MUCH more careful with their phones now. I am waiting to see how Gymnast does. This is the first phone he’s broken and had to go without for a while, and ultimately had to replace.

  • Reply Megan |

    Hope, I think you’re doing the right thing by encouraging Gymnast to thoroughly consider his purchase before he makes it. Teaching this kind of thinking early on is far more important than whether he ends up buying the phone or not.

    • Reply Hope |

      Thank you, Megan, this is exactly how I feel at this juncture. Although the thought of him blowing this type of money does turn my stomach a little bit. But I know that lessons learned now will last a lifetime.

  • Reply Joe |

    I think that the whole process as described sounds very “responsible”. Some good lessons in there, for sure.
    But at the end of the day it is still a $1000 phone for a 13 year old. Sheesh. I guess I still have a few more years to see whether I’d be able to hold the line with my children…

    • Reply Hope |

      I agree. A $1000 phone for anyone seems insane to me too.
      But I certainly know adults who have the “shiny object” syndrome too. Wish I knew what drove it, would love to break him of it.
      Letting him mess up now while he is not responsible for supporting himself is the best thing I know to do at this phase.

    • Reply Kiki |

      Yes, I have had a $150 Samsung for 3.5 years, and it is still going strong. It may not have all the bells and whistles, but I am perfectly happy with it! I cannot get my head around paying this kind of money for a phone!

      • Reply Hope |

        Me too. I paid $199 for my iPhone 6 Plus and it is still going strong as I approach the 3 year mark too.
        I would not spend this much on a phone either. I use them until they die.

        • Reply Kiki |

          Have you ever noticed that anticipation is half the thrill of a new purchase? Then when we buy it, it’s what is the big deal. Your son may have buyer’s remorse quite quickly if he purchases this phone. He may think that he had quite a lot of money to spend wisely and it’s now all wrapped up this little gizmo. Ahh, the lessons of life.

          • Hope |

            So true. And a lesson we can only learn when we actually go through it. Here’s to hoping he won’t have to learn the hard way, but if he does, I’d rather it be now rather than later with much more important things on the line.

  • Reply drmaddog2020 |

    I am torn on this one. I think if the price were still $1000, my answer would be no way. I don’t have a $1000 phone, neither will you. Its too much money to have wrapped up in something that is so easily broken, stolen, lost, and depreciates so quickly. At $549….I don’t like it but its closer to the range of reasonable. There are things I would not let kids have even if they wanted to use their own money (inappropriate clothing, expensive car, etc). Those things can wait till they are on their own.

    On the other hand, I do think the process he is going through is a good one. I would point out, as others have, that if he waits juuuust a few months, it likely will be even that much cheaper. are there refurbished ones available. point out the risk of it getting stolen. And once its gone, its gone. if its broken, he’s got to figure out how to get it repaired. Maybe he’ll end up making a mature, wise decision for his age and decide to wait or pick something else all together.

    • Reply Hope |

      I have encouraged him to wait and consider the less expensive options.
      I have pointedly asked those we know with this expensive phone, within his hearing, if they notice any significant difference in the iPhone X versus other versions. (They don’t.)
      I have pointed out all the other things he could do with the money.

      I believe I have given him all the tools that I can to make a wise decision, but in the end, I firmly believe that this is a decision he must make on his own. And then must live with the consequences, whatever they may be.

      I have been consistent with saying I was not going to spend any more money on a phone. I gave him the $50 I would spent on a birthday present toward a phone, but that is all. I always feel good about having him pay $100 towards the phone he broke before he could purchase a new one.

  • Reply Andrea |

    I don’t understand how he’s getting the phone for $549 with no additional monthly fees. The phone still retails for $999–so isn’t the $549 price what you pay when you sign on to a 2-year contract or something similar? Is the $20 a month fee really enough to cover that subsidy?

  • Reply JayP |

    My only question is about the rest of the expense. So if the phone is $549 does that mean that the other $450 is being billed each month? Or is Verizon eating the $450? Make sure to include the total costs, not just the upfront ones. Maybe the trade in is what is bringing down the cost.

    • Reply JayP |

      PS – If you want an out on this – I would only let him get it if the price includes no contract – plus tax and the activation fee. If its $549 and 2 year agreement, then no. I would explain that Mom is the one who will end up paying the extra $450 through the next 2 yearsl. You really can’t afford to be obligated to a 2 year agreement. If he breaks it on day 1 then you still are obligated for 2 years. If its a straight up trade + $549 and no contract needed then its a lot better.

    • Reply Shanna |

      I agree with JayP. Check the fine print very carefully. They haven’t discounted the X anywhere I have looked. You may be paying that upfront and “leasing” it so it isn’t really your phone which is fine if he can pay the charges for the lease every month but not if he thinks he is buying it outright. You would also owe the balance if he broke it/it got stolen in this scenario as well. This isn’t to dump on you at all, just to caution you to be really clear what they are offering.

      • Reply Kay |

        Yes I think you can only get a 7 at that price outright. That’s a great phone he should just get that one and be done. My teen texts and watches YouTube on hers….what else will he be doing at thirteen. All the phones have great cameras too.

        • Reply JayP |

          I have a 6 and it does just fine. I bought my 13 and 12 year olds an Apple SE(4 inch) last year and they were glad to get them!

  • Reply JayP |

    I have a 6 and it does just fine. I bought my 13 and 12 year olds an Apple SE(4 inch) last year and they were glad to get them!

So, what do you think ?