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Fiscal Fitness : Teaching Your Child the Importance of Earning a Regular Wage Is a Lesson for a Lifetime

August 18, 1996|CHARLES A. JAFFE

Earlier this year, my 4-year-old daughter, Thomson, did some work for me. She had been promised a dollar for completing the task correctly and without a lot of noise.

Having finished the job--which involved helping me get ready for a business trip--Thomson marched downstairs to the office and stuck out her hand. "One buck, please," she said, her small arm fully extended and her palm up.

But I didn't have my wallet, so I offered her the choice of running upstairs to get it or accepting my check. "I'll take a check," she said.

We quickly agreed to send that check to her savings bank, so we filled out a deposit envelope, set it with the mail, and Thomson went off to play.

A little while later, I went upstairs to where my wife Susan and the children were playing. "Thomson told me you didn't have your wallet," Susan said, "so I paid her for you."

No one will ever again be able to convince me that kids don't know about making money at an early age.

But the story also illustrates that they need to learn the nuances. And summer is among the best times for parents to focus on the moneymaking ventures of their children.

A child who starts a moneymaking venture is shaping his or her future money values and so should have adult supervision. The right job experience will help determine how your child perceives and values work in the future, and can do wonders for self-image. There's nothing quite like knowing that others--particularly adults--depend on you.

In addition, a child can learn valuable lessons about banking, saving and investing, as well as record keeping.

When your child has a job, whether it's selling lemonade or working full time at the mall, be sure to discuss the experience. Ask what he liked best and least about the job, how he felt when he was paid, whether he thinks the pay was fair--and if the customer received a good value from him--and what he plans to do with the money. After he spends money, ask if he feels good about how it was spent and whether he thinks the price he paid was fair.

Of course, first he has to make the money. Here are some ways--beyond baby-sitting and slinging fast food--that your kids can earn a little extra dough:

* Stuff envelopes. Essentially, this is what Thomson was doing for me. It's an easy chore that can be done at the dining table. The problem is that it requires an adult with a lot of envelopes to fill--generally that means adults who have a small business or are active in the community in social or sports booster organizations, fund-raising groups or politics. Older children with good handwriting may also offer their services addressing envelopes, pasting on mailing labels and more.

* Distribute fliers. This was one of my favorites as a kid, although I did get a stern lecture from a postman once to be sure I didn't put my handouts in mailboxes. For young kids, it may require adult supervision.

Likely to pay for this service are new neighborhood businesses and political organizations. This year should be a good one for making money this way.

* Pet-sitting. Caring for the animals of friends and neighbors who are away can be a fun and easy way to make money--provided your child can handle the responsibility and is comfortable with the pets involved.

Professional services and kennels charge decent money for this service, but a kid can undercut them and still earn a decent wage.

For jobs likes this, consider taking out a bond that can cover the child--and make sure you aren't liable--if anything happens to the animal or home while the owners are away.

* Yardwork. Cutting the grass may be part of a child's household chores that go into earning an allowance, but that doesn't mean it can't reap some income from neighbors.

* Clipping coupons. This is one of the easiest ideas out there, and it works for kids of almost any age. Start it in your own family. The child can do the cutting and organizing either for a flat fee or a part of the savings.

To do this for neighbors, the child should examine a few weeks' worth of grocery receipts and look through the cupboards to get an idea of which coupons are appropriate. Every week or two the child can collect the neighbor's shoppers, newspaper inserts and circulars and go to work, presenting the customer with an appropriate selection of coupons ready for the next trip to the store.

* Window washing/screen cleaning. The biggest concern for a parent about this job is how the child will clean the exterior of second-story windows. Either find a way that is safe (many windows are now designed for easy cleaning) or negotiate the deal to exclude the danger zones.

* Maintain computer files. I hate backing up computer files and so does my wife. A computer-literate kid could offer this service cheaply and easily, visiting customers once every week or two and making back-up copies and storing them safely. Obviously, it doesn't work with sensitive documents, but it's perfectly appropriate for routine stuff.

If you and your children have some ingenuity, it's never too late for lessons that last a lifetime.

Charles A. Jaffe is personal finance columnist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached by e-mail at or at the Boston Globe, Box 2378, Boston, MA 02107-2378.

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