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Dollars and sense: Financial skills for teens with learning disabilities

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By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.

Money management

  • Establish a basic budget early in the teen years. Have your teen list all of her anticipated expenses, including school lunches, entertainment, clothing, and miscellaneous items (for example, CDs or snacks) and establish a weekly budget to manage her allowance and earnings from any jobs she may have.
  • Encourage her to use a "budget envelopes" book, an inexpensive and handy tool, available in most stationery stores, which has separate envelopes for each specific budget category. She should place enough cash for her various budget categories in each envelope at the beginning of every week and make a commitment to spend the allotted funds only for the stated purposes. This is a very concrete way to develop the concept of budgeting and is a highly recommended first step in the process of learning how to manage money.
  • Toward the end of high school, teens need to learn how to manage a checkbook and pay bills. Opening her own checking account is the best vehicle for learning this skill. Many youths with LD or AD/HD prefer carbon checks, which help ensure that transactions are recorded. After teaching your teen how to write a check, slip an example of a completed check into her checkbook to remind her of how it's done. Provide a crib sheet with correctly spelled numbers to be kept in her checkbook for easy reference when writing checks.
  • Help your teen set up a home office at a desk table where she can keep all the items needed for successful money management and bill paying, including: supplies (paper, pens and pencils, tape, a ruler, paper clips, a stapler, stamps, and a calculator); an accordion file, where important papers may be filed under separate headings, such as "bank statements" or "unpaid bills"; a budget book to record expenditures and realistically estimate future expenses; a calendar, which can be used to note the receipt of monthly bills and to record when each is due (Posthill & Roffman, 1991).

The role of technology in managing money

Teens who are comfortable with technology may find budgeting software like Quicken and online banking services helpful in managing their money. If your teen has access to her checking and savings accounts online, she can check her transactions and balance — and transfer money between accounts — without having to wait for the monthly statement to arrive by mail.

Building a foundation for your teen's financial future

Parents who make a point of teaching their teens with LD or AD/HD consumer skills and money management skills will help them avoid many of the problems that surface for adults in this population. When your teen prepares to leave home after high school, assure her that you will continue to be available for support and advice as she puts her new money management skills to practice.


  • Posthill, S. & Roffman, A. (1991). The impact of a transitional training program for young adults with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 24(3), 619-629.
  • Roffman, A. Herzog, J & Wershba, P. (1994). Helping young adults understand their learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27 (7), 413-4

Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D., an expert on transition issues in special education, is a Professor at Lesley University, where she served as founding director of Threshold, a transition program for young adults with learning disabilities, from 1981 to 1996. She has served on the professional advisory boards of several national LD organizations and maintains a private practice in psychology.