By Eric Braun and Sandy Donovan, coauthors of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give
It’s important for kids to learn money management skills, not only so they don’t grow up to bumble their financial affairs, but also because money smarts equal life smarts. If you learn to be responsible with your money, you learn to be responsible. Setting financial goals is practice for setting all sorts of other goals. Saving money is a way of delaying gratification, a life skill associated with increased success in school and future careers.
So what can parents do to help kids learn money smarts this summer? One way is to encourage kids to earn money. After all, they’ve got more time on their hands when they’re out of school (tell them not to worry, YouTube will still be there when they’re not working).
Here are a few ways adults can encourage kids to earn a little cash this summer. Depending on the age of your kids, some or all of these may be appropriate, and kids will need a bit—or a bunch—of help.
Offer to Pay for Extra Work at Home
Kids likely have certain responsibilities at home already, such as keeping their rooms clean, feeding the bearded dragon, or vacuuming. Maybe they get an allowance for this work, or maybe it’s just part of what’s expected of family members. Either way, those chores are not a way to earn extra money. Extra money comes from extra work.
There are two kinds of extra chores you can offer kids: one-time chores and ongoing chores. A one-time chore might be pulling weeds in the garden or cleaning out the refrigerator. An ongoing chore might be taking out the trash and recycling or watering plants, which needs to be repeated. Suggest a few ideas to your kids, but also ask them to look around and think of their own ideas. To encourage their initiative, be open to reasonable suggestions.
What should you pay for these chores? Every family will have its own standards that depend on your financial situation and history with paying for chores. If you pay an allowance, estimate the portion of the allowance that corresponds to the value of each of the child’s existing chores, then extrapolate from there. It can be interesting to let kids suggest a price to see how they value the work. You don’t have to go with their suggestion, but it can be a starting point for discussion.
Since learning responsibility is an important part of extra work, make quality and timeliness part of the deal. A late or sloppy job doesn’t deserve the same pay as a top-notch, on-time one.
Help Kids Work for Friends or Neighbors
This is the next level up from doing extra work at home. Here, kids have to take initiative to find nonfamily adults who need help with chores and who are willing to pay for that help. If your kids are fairly young, you can give them ideas—the family next door needs someone to let their puppy out while they’re at work. Older kids can do a little more legwork to find ideas. They might check a neighborhood social media site for help wanted postings or directly ask friends and neighbors if they need help with anything. You can also help kids advertise. Post on that neighborhood social media site or hang a flyer in the neighborhood.
When working for adults outside your home, kids will need some extra coaching from you regarding how to charge for their work and the importance of doing their best job. Remind them to use their best manners and to always show up on time.
Younger kids should probably work for someone you know well. And make sure you meet any strangers your middle schooler works with.
Help Kids Sell Things
Kids can sell things they make or things they own. Things they make might be drinks or food, from the classic lemonade stand to cookies or other treats. Things they make might also be art or other projects. To help with inspiration, take a trip to the library for baking or crafting books. Things they own might be toys they’ve outgrown, old collectors’ cards (Pokemón, sports, etc.), books they no longer want, and so on.
Depending on what your child is selling, it may make sense to hold a sale in the yard or the park (check to see if you need a permit first), or it might be best to sell online. Kids might be able to join a neighborhood garage sale or set up their drink stand along a path where lots of people walk. For a sale, help kids choose a date, time, and place, and help them advertise. They’ll likely need to get some cash to make change, and they’ll need to prepare any food or drink ahead of time. The older the kid, the more they should be doing on their own.
If kids are selling something that would attract a particular audience, like a set of baseball cards or kitty-cat finger puppets they’ve knitted, their best bet to find that audience is via a website such as Craigslist, Etsy, or eBay. Kids will need you to set up their account and post their ad since in most cases you have to be 18. But kids can craft their own ads (possibly with your help). Keep in mind that they’ll have to buy packaging materials and pay for shipping, so these costs should be considered in the price they set. Help your kids respond promptly, politely, and professionally to inquiries, and get those packages in the mail.
In all cases, the key is to help your kids just enough, so they take on as much of the brainstorming, planning, and actual work as they are capable of—which may be a little more than they think they are capable of. Whatever your kids earn this summer, encourage them to use some of that money to treat themselves to an ice cream cone or do something fun with friends—they deserve it for a job well done. Then coach them to stick the rest in a bank account or piggy bank.
Eric Braun writes and edits books for readers of all ages, specializing in academic and social-emotional topics. Books he has worked on have won awards and honors, including the Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award, a Foreword Book of the Year Gold Award, a Benjamin Franklin Award, and many others. A recent McKnight Artist Fellow and an Aspen Summer Words Scholar for his fiction, Eric earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.
Sandy Donovan has written nonfiction books for kids and young adults on topics including economics, history, science, and pop stars. She has worked as a journalist, a workforce policy analyst, and a website developer. She currently works for the U.S. Department of Labor, developing online tools to help people of all ages meet their career, education, and employment goals. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in labor and public policy. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two sons.
Eric and Sandy are coauthors of The Survival Guide for Money Smarts: Earn, Save, Spend, Give.