It was the middle of the night. I was 17.

Stealthily, I opened the refrigerator door. There. Just inside the door – a plastic container full of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I didn’t bother with a fork. I cracked the lid and ate.

I hadn’t had a home-cooked meal in . . . well, since two nights earlier when I’d snuck down for some late-night chicken casserole.

My midnight foraging began the summer before my senior year. In order to prepare my four brothers and me for living on our own, Mom and Dad gave us the option of enjoying an "independence year." Once a month, they gave us the amount of money they normally spent on food, clothing and shelter. With our total monthly income, we had to pay rent, buy our own food (or pay for family dinners) and go clothes shopping.

I loved it. My first month, I bought 31 packages of ramen noodles and a jar of peanut butter. I forgot about new clothes, paid rent and then spent the rest of my cash on important things: movies, junk food and hair products.

That was the first few months. From there, I learned it was easier to put money toward family dinners than to forage in the refrigerator after midnight.

After a few months in the same tattered jeans, I learned to actually spend my clothing money on clothing.

And the realization that housing actually costs money created a growing sense of gratitude for the roof over my head and a warm place to sleep.

Today, my own teenager is nearing her senior year. I intend to implement the same plan with her. Then, as Sam makes mistakes, she’ll do it under our roof.

If she’s anything like me, she’ll first spend her money frivolously. And if she does have to learn the hard way, I’ll make sure there’s a plastic container full of meatloaf ready and waiting for her.

Elsa Kok Colopy is the former editor of Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine. She now writes and speaks full time, leading retreats, seminars and workshops. Elsa pens the companion blog, Pure Love, Pure Life. She also pens a second blog, God Has Dimples.

From Focus on Your Child’s Teen Phases, April 2007. Published by Focus on the Family. © 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox