Making Cents: Unique Ways to Teach Kids About Money

Writer  /  Kate Rhoten

Do you have teens? Did they work this summer? My oldest is heading into his sophomore year of high school and mowed a couple of lawns this summer. That’s an opportunity for a teen to start earning cash even before obtaining a true summer job.

We’ve always talked to our sons about working to earn as well as to save and give. However, are there are ways to teach finances even if your child is not able to work yet?

Commissions, Not Allowance
I set expectations for children as a member of our household, chores that are to be done without complaining or earning pay. For example, everyone cleans his own dishes, one child has to put away dishes, and the other sweeps or cleans the table. My boys are responsible for keeping their own rooms and bathroom clean. I don’t vacuum, dust, or clean those rooms; they do.

Beyond that, anything that we ask them to do or they offer up on their own is commissionable. Examples are weeding, spreading mulch, mowing, or clearing out closets and storage spaces. We pay generously for this work because it’s time consuming and usually more physically involved.

Teaching children the correlation between work and pay can’t start too early. Try to figure out what is reasonable based on age, and create a chart. Share this with your child and let him or her know you may give periodic reminders, but that, too, may lessen over time.

Dining-Out Budget
Take the time to carve out a set dollar amount for eating out. Put that cash in an envelope. Add a page from a check register to keep track of the amount spent.

Any time the kids want to go out to eat, pull out the envelope, and let them see how much money is left to spend. Let the kids help determine where the family should eat based on the amount of money and days left in the month. Kids should also learn about tipping. When the envelope is empty, there is no more dining out until the next budget is set.

School Lunch Account
If you have children in middle or high school who like school lunch, use their lunch account to teach them how to make decisions with money. First, determine how much is reasonable to add to the account periodically. Use the daily lunch rate plus the extras that may be offered.

Talk to your child about the amount you are going to put in the account. Discuss choices your student may make and what may happen if your child spends too much and doesn’t have enough left to finish the month. On the other end of the spectrum, let them know if they don’t spend the maximum per day, they may have more money when their favorite lunch is available to get an extra serving.

This is a good foundation for earning and managing money, before the more complicated aspects of money impact children. What have you done to teach your kids about money? Share your ideas with me at my site. I’d love to hear from you.

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