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Money and behaviour

Financial risk-taking among adolescents  


From until

Statistics from the National Bank of Belgium show that a growing group of young adults is experiencing financial difficulties. This group accounts for almost 8% of people with registered consumer credit arrears (Statistics Central Individual Credit Register, 2013). However, how young adults handle money, their spending patterns, their knowledge and skills to make appropriate economic decisions have their roots in the previous life stage(s). Therefore, this PWO study examines the financial (risk-taking) behavior of young adults so that it can be better addressed and potentially prevented in the future.


To map the financial behavior of adolescents, CEBUD surveyed 2447 students in the third grade of secondary education. The survey was conducted in 63 Flemish schools among students from all educational levels between May 2013 and January 2014. An additional qualitative study explored alternative methods to raise young people's awareness on responsible financial behavior.


The average adolescent has a lot of money to spend (€2394 per year on average) They spend it mainly on 'fun' expenses such as going out, sweets and snacks or games. 12% of the young people surveyed show a consistent pattern of behavior indicative of financial risk-taking: borrowing money, gambling, betting, spending money they do not have, ... Around 10% of the surveyed adolescents are currently in debt. 2% have problems repaying money they have borrowed. Spending a lot of time going out as a hobby, as well household financial capacity are two important determinants of young people's financial risk taking behavior. This type of behavioral patterns can ultimately lead to financial difficulties.

Young people have limited knowledge of abstract financial terms and concepts. However, they rate their own financial capability quite highly. They consider themselves to be particularly good at resisting temptation and prioritizing, but less good at managing and keeping track. Better financial knowledge and skills protect young people from risky behavior. The (financial) education they receive at home plays an important role in this. Giving young people responsibility for a portion of their own expenditures, such as clothing, provides them with learning opportunities. Clear agreements should also be made within the household about how children can spend their own money.

Earning their own money helps to strengthen some financial skills and is said to make young people think better about their spending. Only when young people are aware of the risks of reckless spending will they change their financial behavior.

Adolescents need accessible, familiar, objective and reliable information channels to increase their financial literacy. If we want to increase financial awareness, this will require that information is tailored to the specific needs and interests they have at that moment. Confronting them with testimonies of young adults in financial difficulties, requiring them to keep track of their own spending, or asking them to live on a limited budget for a while are just some of the suggestions that educators can use to make young people aware of the risks. Adolescents themselves haveonly a limited understanding of the costs of living independently and would like more attention to be paid to strengthening skills related to budgeting, saving, making ends meet and dealing with advertising and other kinds of temptations. They would prefer this to be done through interactive formats and content, starting as much as possible from realistic contexts (e.g. budgeting when organizing a class/school event) and including game elements.

Education, awareness raising and prevention can prevent a lot of future problems. We therefore advocate a support programme or tools for parents with concrete tools to strengthen the financial education of their own children. Formal education can also play its part. Throughout the school career, sufficient attention should be paid to strengthening or teaching financial competences in line with the world of young people.



Ilse Cornelis

PhD in Psychology. Researcher on the topics of Financial Wellbeing and Reference Budgets, REMI.