Parents and caregivers are the first financial models kids have. Inevitably, for instance, kids see their moms and dads going to the ATM, paying for groceries or paying bills electronically or via mail. The message kids get is clear: Money is good, and kids should find a way to get it.
The traditional mode of getting money under the American system of commerce is to work. The conundrum for kids is that labor laws typically limit when and how much kids can work, essentially putting a cap on a child’s non-family sources of income. In families where parents cannot afford allowances, this drastically influences a child’s ability to save, invest and investigate other financial possibilities. This doesn’t mean a child can’t learn “on paper,” but because hands-on learning tends to make any type of lesson more memorable, grasping financial concepts and applying them actively can take a little longer.
Even when a child finds work he can legally do for cash, he doesn’t always have the resources to pursue the endeavor typically; time is the biggest resource kids lack for earning money. The modern child, for example, spends much of the day at school, after which extracurricular activities such as sports kick in. When that’s done, kids still have chores and homework to finish. Evening and weekend work options such as babysitting or mowing lawns certainly might be available, but remember—a child’s work schedule often has to line up with the work schedule of parents, particularly if a child doesn’t yet have a driver’s license. When parents work nights or on weekends, coordinating work for kids doesn’t always work out.
So what’s a parent to do? You should want your child to work so he learns that money doesn’t grow on trees (or on you), but regular work for kids can be a logistical nightmare. If your child wants to and can legally work, you do have some options for making it work so your child’s financial literacy can improve.
- Take advantage of technology. Today’s kids are increasingly tech-savvy, with even young kids toting around cell phones. Take advantage of this and suggest your kid find work as an online tutor, blogger or even an eBay seller or Facebook profile creator. You’ll have to take basic precautions about your child’s safety and privacy online, but your child will have very flexible hours and can work anywhere he has Internet access.
- Get your child to volunteer. Volunteer organizations almost always are looking for new helping hands, and although they’re careful to check shifts will be covered, they can offer a lot of flexibility in terms of when your child needs to arrive and depart. Get some verification from the coordinator of the hours your child has worked, and then reward your child with a sum for those hours if the position is not paid. Keep the sum small even if you can afford to pay a bigger amount—this is more economical for you and prevents the focus of the volunteer work from being pushed aside. Bonuses: Volunteer work looks great on a resume when your child is looking for his first paid gig, your kid learns to think about others rather than just himself, and you get to learn about your child by the types of organizations for which he chooses to volunteer.
- Encourage your child’s creative side. Kids can make money working as artists, baking or even making and selling jewelry. This type of work takes some good marketing, but your child will be able to do it at home whenever he has time.
- Delegate additional chores. Every home needs laundry washed, floors swept and trash taken out. If you’ve given your child a set of chores already but still find yourself doing the bulk of the family’s load, let your child negotiate some of your quick but regular tasks as individual paid jobs. Although you certainly can offer your child some flexibility for completion deadlines here, be clear about the standards you want and emphasize that payment only happens when the chores are done up to par.
Bonus: You have more free time…