Kids Can Start Earning Their Own Money

Worried about the impact on their grades? Read on!

Fifteen years ago my wife and I were lucky enough to hear a speech by Linda and Richard Eyre on “the Family Economy” that advocated giving kids the opportunity–and responsibility–to earn their own money. 

Since then we’ve paid for our beloved kids’ education, food, clothing, health care, transportation and more. But money for going out, snacks, or in-game app purchases, etc? That’s on them. As a result, from the time they were small, they have rarely said, “Mom and Dad, can I have some money?” Instead, they say, “Can I earn some money?”

What chores can little kids do for cash?

When they were small children, that meant doing jobs from “the job board” (pictured): 50 cents for emptying the dishwasher, $3 for cleaning the bathroom, and so on. But as they aged they found that working in the world was more fun (and lucrative) than working for the family. Beyond various odd-jobs dog walking, babysitting and pet sitting gigs, our two oldest kids worked at restaurants during high school (the youngest is still in the odd-jobs phase). The habit stuck–our two college kids both are working part-time jobs as full-time students.

Now that our children are (mostly) grown, I feel like putting them in charge of earning their own spending money was one of the best approaches we made in parenting. Here’s why:

Earning your own money is empowering

We tell our kids, “The world is full of money, so if you want some, go and get it.” This approach has given our kids a lot of confidence–they know what it is like to pound the pavement with a resume, and they know there is always a way to earn a buck. Once you’ve worked as a hostess with hundreds of annoyed customers who want a reservation they can’t get, even as you’re running to clean up the bathroom and keeping track of scores of table seatings, other problems seem smaller. And you learn the value of your own time. My son figured out that he could make more money by volunteering to update the restaurant computer system than he could as a busboy. Upgrading–that’s a good life skill!

Perhaps even more importantly, earning their own money has taught our teens perspective. They can appreciate the value of money and have more sincere gratitude for their own privileges. And I’m so glad that they respect the work of others, especially those who labor hard for low wages to keep food on the table for their families.

But what about grades?

Let me clear up a big myth right here–the myth that students who work don’t have time to study. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that students who work part time actually get better grades on average than students who don’t work at all. (Note, this is only true of students who are working part time–if students work more than 20 hours a week, grades fall off sharply.) 

The truth is that for most teens, hours spent earning money would not be otherwise spent hitting the books, exercising, or learning guitar(!). No, those extra hours would be spent on TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat! So to increase your kids’ confidence and independence, build their skills, increase their level of responsibility, limit their time on social media all while giving them an appreciation for work and money–and to save yourself some of your hard earned dough–put your teens in charge of earning their own pocket money!

If they earn it, it’s THEIR money

We’ve taught our kids to save the first 10% of what they earn, aka “pay yourself first,” but after that we’re not allowed to complain. We have one kid whose priority is his car insurance, another who relentlessly saves, and a third who likes to spend her money on food and fun. And that’s okay–it’s their money! 

This makes it easier for my wife and me not to subsidize things we’re not excited about. Junk food? Sure– just pay for it yourself. Cell phones? We’re not big fans of screen time, so our kids have to buy those on their own, too. As a result, they get them second-hand, and are savvy at checking out seller ratings and features.

What do you really want for your kids?

We all want our kids to be happy! But what will make them happier: entitlement–or perspective? Confidence in their own abilities–or insecurity, because they need to depend on others? And what will make us happier: kids with their hands out–or young partners who take some responsibility?

We stepped back as money-providers, allowing them to step into their own power and capacity. 

If you’re interested in moving in this direction with your own family, I recommend taking some time to investigate what other parents have done, and then do it. Good luck!