When I was seven, I wanted a skateboard. My parents told me they would pay half of what I could raise. I needed $25. Magically, the neighbors were going out of town for a week and needed meet to fill their bird bath daily. So after school for a week, I walked next door and put more water in the birdbath. They gave me $15.

My dad and I went to K-mart and I picked out a skateboard with neon green writing. It was $30. I was elated!

But a few days later, my new Nash skateboard lost some of its appeal. A friend said to me, “Nash is trash.” I quickly learned that brands have certain meanings and my skateboard was associated with K-mart and not skate shops.

As a parent, I see it as my responsibility to teach my daughters how to earn, save, manage money. So what works?

Teaching Kids about Money | Start Early

Before kids can understand the meaning of money, they have to be able to ascribe meaning to things that don’t inherently have meaning. This ability usually starts to emerge when a child is three and is easiest to understand when a child is four or older. Implementing star charts or some sort of token for positive behavior can help to build this skill set. For example, we have a “Daddy Doubloon” system for bedtime. If our oldest goes to sleep like she is supposed to, she earns a Daddy Doubloon. She can then spend those for things like extra books, reading time, or larger activities.

Give money a value

Parents often buy kids what they want when they want it. I often hear parents of teenagers say, “They just don’t want to go get a job.” Often those same parents are buying their kids the latest clothes, video games, or iPhone. When parents delay or say “no” to each thing their child wants, they allow their child to feel the painful reality that we have to work for what we want. When children want something and can’t have it, it spurs on a motivation to work and earn.

How to get a Middle Schooler a Job 

In middle school, encourage kids to find ways to earn money with babysitting, yard work, or creating an online Etsy store. We’ve never had a time like this, where kids can start a genuine business. The tools of the internet can help kids appropriate learn to plan, create, market, and sell a craft or product. Earn on, children will need more help, but once they get rolling they’ll just need occasional guidance. Once they earn money, you can have deeper conversations about what percent to save, give, and keep. This builds foundations for adulthood

Summer Jobs

When your son or daughter is old enough for a summer job:

  1. Start with your own network. They don’t need to have the full interview experience (but it wouldn’t hurt). The biggest goal is to get them their fist job.
  2. Set Goals: Next, set some goals together. How much do they need to save for college or a family vacation? How much should they give to people less fortunate or your church? How much can they spend?
  3. Encourage positive money habits: Lastly, encourage positive habits. Maybe match their savings up to a certain amount. Allow them to use your car more. Or have a fun dinner if they save $1,000. The more fun it is, the better.

It’s all preparation

Our jobs are to enjoy our kids and prepare them for adulthood. When we start early, encourage early jobs, and help with getting summer jobs, it teaches them about what life will be like after high school. This early lessons of feeling the pain of not having money, will help them to grow into productive adults.

Traverse City counselor Joe headshotJoe Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a counselor, business consultant, and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. As Traverse City’s premier counseling practice, Mental Wellness Counseling helps kids, families, and couples to identify age-appropriate goals, plan for success, and thrive. Reach them at 231-714-0282 ext. 0.