MoneySocial Issues

Teens And Money: Then vs. Now

The way we spend money today is a lot different than how it was spent a couple decades ago. Consumerism has grown, and in western countries we’re buying to make ourselves happier, even though studies have shown that we are actually unhappier than ever before, and stress levels have risen drastically. Of course, currency is different all over the world, and the way someone spends money will depend on where they live. In Canada, the value of a dollar is much different than it was during the ‘80s, and when comparing price from then and now, that can pull things out of proportion. 

I thought I’d seek a more personal standpoint on the differences and similarities in how teens view money. To do this, I interviewed two friends who both grew up in Toronto, but decades apart. The first person I interviewed was a teenager who grew up in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We’ll just call him Wayne.  

Teens And Money: Then vs. Now

Image Source: Beliefnet

How did you make money when you were younger?

Wayne: From age 14 I did babysitting; I had a number of regular families in the neighbourhood that I babysat for. I charged a whopping dollar an hour. There was no such thing as babysitting courses, and in hindsight, it shocks me that people trusted me enough to babysit for their kids. Before that, I remember going to the local supermarket and hanging out there. I’d wait there for old ladies to come out with their groceries, and I would offer to take their bags to their car. I did this every Saturday, and each time I’d get a quarter. I also had a Saturday paper route. It was a real pain, and it didn’t pay so well. My first real part-time job was at a food store called Daiters. I did it when I was 16 and I worked behind the cheese counter. In all honesty, I wasn’t very good at it, and eventually they just didn’t call me back. I made a fair share of money doing all of this.

What did you do with the money?

Wayne: I didn’t need a lot of bus fare for junior high, but in high school I did. I can’t really remember if my parents gave me money for bus fare, but either way it was much cheaper then. I probably spent most of my money on pinball. There was pinball at the bowling alley, and if I didn’t go there I’d go down to a main street. It was a quarter a play at the time, and most of the money came from babysitting. I sometimes wonder how much money I would have had in quarters if I’d saved it. Chocolate bars and candy were pretty cheap compared to now. In grade 10, I’d buy a Wonderbar everyday. It came with a slip of paper with a number on it, and if Wayne Gretzky got that amount of points at the end of the year, you’d win a prize. I bought no clothes, so no money went there. That usually came from my parents or on my birthday. Really, [most] of the money went to pinball. 

How much money do you think you spent in a month?

Wayne: I’m gonna guess 20 to 30 dollars – again, a lot of quarters on pinball. But everything was also a lot cheaper then. I was also really fortunate. The money I got, I just got to spend on things I wanted, not needed. I worked for the money, but it was really just for extras. I was privileged. 

The second friend I interviewed is my age, 15, and her answers were unsurprisingly very different. Let’s call her Luna. 

Teens And Money: Then vs. Now

Image Source: ATD

How do you make money now?

Luna: I don’t. Well, not really. Sometimes my gifts include money. I babysit one person, very rarely. Usually my mom gives me money, and it sounds very privileged when I say it aloud. That’s the truth, though.

What do you do with the money?

Luna: Every Friday I go to the corner store and buy a pint of ice cream. Also, almost every night, the kids on the street go to the corner store, and since they never bring money, I buy them treats and candy. At school, I use a considerable amount of money to buy lunch, but not everyday. And I can’t lie, I spend a bunch of money on clothes and shoes. Not as much as other people, but I do. I’m not big on makeup, but occasionally I buy new mascara. I’m also kind of a pushover, and I think half of the money I bring (to school or the mall) is spent on other people’s lunches, clothes, and random presents. I like giving to other people; I spent about $50 on my friend for a pair a jeans. I lost my phone three times last year, so I had to get three new phones.

How much money do you think you spend in a month?

Luna: I really don’t want to say it, but around $150 to $200 depending on the month. Most of it goes to lunch, and buying my friends stuff. It’s not a ridiculous number, but it sounds like a lot. It’s pretty sad that I spend all that money and I don’t really work for it. It’s hard to talk about money, because I know how lucky I am, and how spoiled it can make me sound. The way we live and consume so endlessly is not sustainable, and I guess you could call it hypocritical having it come from someone – not in the 1%, not even close – but looking globally, still at the top of the heap. I hope we can change that one day. 

Well said.

While the differences between my interviewees were pretty drastic, a whole generation can’t be based on two people. So, naturally, this interview didn’t really give me legit statistics on the contrasts between how teenagers from ‘then’ and ‘now’ spend(t) their money. It did though, give me a sense of how the development in my city, Toronto, and general societal changes directly affect a teenager’s regular day and lifestyle, in terms of money. This, of course, can be owed to time and how one city evolves over that time. 


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