Settling in at secondary school

Settling in at secondary school

Moving to secondary school can be exciting and terrifying in equal measure. The first few days and weeks are especially nerve-wracking, as your child finds their way around their new school, makes new friends, and adapts to the demands of extra homework. 


Once they find their feet, many parents suddenly have to adjust to their child’s newfound independence. Whether they’re walking to-and-from school with a friend, using public transport, or hanging out after school, it can feel like they have turned into a teenager overnight. 


We’ve taken a look at GoHenry data* to determine how young people spend and save their money during their first year of secondary school, compared to their final year at primary school. This gives us extra insight into their changing habits and priorities, so that we can help parents to boost their child’s confidence at this crucial stage, as well as supporting their financial education. 

“Starting secondary school is a huge milestone in a young person’s life, and for most it represents a great leap in independence. Our latest data shows the extent to which young people’s money habits change during Year 7, and reveals that travelling independently and socialising with friends now becomes much more important – and expensive.”

Louise Hill, CEO and co-founder, GoHenry

What to expect when your child starts secondary school 

During the school year beginning in September 2022, Year 7 pupils (aged 11-12) spent a grand total of £33,749,371 using their GoHenry cards. This averages out at £272 per child, and represents a 36% increase on their spending during their last year at primary school. The biggest spenders were based in Scotland (£313 per child) and London (£311 per child), with those who live in London seeing the biggest change in their spending habits: their expenditure increased by 49% compared to the previous year. 


We know from our latest Youth Economy Report that 11 year-olds receive an average of £6.21 per week in pocket money, rising to £8.14 at the age of 12, so this level of expenditure indicates that they’re doing a pretty good job of managing their budget. 


But where are they spending their money?


For the most part, they’re using their GoHenry cards to spend money in-store. Last year 11 year-olds spent a total of £21,084,071 in bricks-and-mortar shops. This accounts for an average expenditure of £186 per child over the course of the school year, which is an increase of 49% compared to their habits in Year 6. Girls are the biggest in-store spenders, with an average annual expenditure of £217, compared to boys’ total of £153. This could include anything from stopping for snacks on the way home from school, to meeting up at local cafes, or the Saturday afternoon shopping trips which have become a rite of passage for pre-teens. 


As the first generation of true ‘cashless natives’, Year 7 pupils are also using their GoHenry cards to spend money online. During the last academic year, this amounted to a total annual expenditure of £10,341,909, which equates to an average annual spend of £138 per child. At this age, boys spend more of their money online than girls (£166, compared to £107 for girls), which is likely to be a result of their increased expenditure on gaming platforms


Top tip: You can use your GoHenry app to set limits on where your child can spend, and how much they can spend per transaction. This is a great way to support their independence while they’re still learning how to budget, especially if you’d like to curb their spending on gaming platforms. To apply limits in your GoHenry app, tap card>limits and set the spending limits and locations of your choice. 



Spending time – and money – with friends

Once children leave primary school, spending time with friends increasingly comes at a financial cost. Afternoon trips to the park are soon replaced with trips to local cafes for bubble tea and milkshakes, while weekends and holidays leave time for cinema trips, bowling, sports events, birthday parties and sleepovers. 


GoHenry data suggests that parents are footing the bill for the majority of young people’s leisure activities, such as sports and cinema. This is because Year 7 pupils’ total annual spend on entertainment added up to £1,061,077, which averages just £22 per GoHenry member who spent on entertainment. This is just 7% more than their expenditure during their last year of primary school – and wouldn’t cover many outings over the course of the year. 


While they may not be footing the bill for entertainment costs, young people do spend significantly more on food and drink when they start secondary school, which suggests that this is an important aspect of their emerging social lives. In the last academic year, Year 7 pupils used their GoHenry cards to spend a total of £4,326,140 on food and drink. This works out at an average of £51 per GoHenry member who spent on food and drink, rising to £75 in London and £65 in Scotland. This is a 62% increase on the amount they spent the year before, rising to 78% in London and 76% in the South East. Girls spent more than boys on food and drink (£54, compared to £47), but it’s clear that increased socialising represents one of the biggest changes in the way that young people spend their money. 


Top tip: If your child tries to use their GoHenry card in a cafe, restaurant or shop that sells alcohol, there’s a chance that their transaction could be declined. If this is likely to be an issue (for example, if your local corner shop or cafe is also an off licence or bar) you can disable this option. Simply tap card>limits and turn off ‘strict merchant block’. 

Travelling solo

For many young people, the start of secondary school is the first time they travel to school without an adult. Whether they’re walking with a friend, boarding the school bus, riding a bike, or using public transport, this represents a big step towards independence. 


As their (and your) confidence grows, they’re also more likely to travel independently after school and at weekends. Perhaps they travel short distances to meet new school friends who live across town, go on shopping trips, or attend sporting events or extra-curricular activities. 


Consequently, GoHenry data shows that the amount young people spend on travel increases dramatically at the age of 11. Last year, Year 7 pupils spent a total of £813,116 on travel and transport using their GoHenry cards, and the average spend per child who spends on travel increased by 96% compared to their last year in primary school. This works out to an average of £30 per child over the course of the school year, which is enough to cover the cost of regular public transport use, particularly as most regions offer cut-price travel for under 18s.  


Young people who live in the East (159%), North West (142%) and North East (137%) recorded the biggest increase in expenditure on travel, with the biggest spenders located in the East (£41 per child over the school year), South East (£38 during the school year) and Yorkshire & The Humber (£35 during the last school year). 


Top tip: If your child is using their GoHenry card to pay for public transport, remind them to check their balance to ensure they have enough available funds to cover their fare and avoid their transaction being declined. If they run low on cash, you can make an instant transfer from your parent balance. 

Their own set of wheels 

By the time they start secondary school, young people are also increasingly motivated to get around independently, which explains why savings towards bikes, scooters and skateboards increased by 19% over the course of the year. In the last academic year, GoHenry savers in Year 7 put away an average amount of £78 per year, rising to £87 among boys (compared to £44 for girls). 


A bike is still the most popular of these savings goals, especially among boys. Last year, GoHenry kids with this saving goal put away an average of £99 per child, rising to £105 among boys. Overall, this represents a 45% increase on the amount saved during their last year in primary school. 


Year 7 pupils who were saving for a scooter put away an average of £61 over the year, with an increase of 25% for girls compared to the previous year. In fact, girls are now saving more than boys towards a scooter (£64, compared to £61). 


Skateboards are a less popular option, with average savings of £47 per child with this goal. On average, boys saved almost twice as much as girls towards skateboards (£61, compared to £34), and saved 37% more towards this goal than they did the year before. 


Top tip: If your child needs some extra motivation to save, you can set up parent-paid interest in your GoHenry app. You can set the annual rate, and they will receive a monthly interest payment in their account. For example, if they have £50 in their savings and you set an annual interest rate of 10%, you would pay them an extra 42p next month. 

The power of parent notifications

If you haven’t already done so, it’s a good idea to turn on parent notifications in your GoHenry app now that your child is leaving home without you on a regular basis. This means you’ll get immediate notifications every time your child uses their card, including whenever a transaction is declined. This means you can act immediately if they need some extra money, either by adding money to their card or adjusting their spending notifications. 


Top tip: Enabling notifications can give you extra peace of mind if your child is late home from school and isn’t picking up their phone. You’ll be able to see when and where they last used their card, which can give you extra reassurance that they’re already on the bus, or have stopped off for a snack. 



*Research based on 1,251K activated, non-cancelled children from 1 September 2022 to 20 July 2023.
Written by Ceri Roberts Published Sep 13, 2023 ● 5 min read