Money Smart Kids with Kristan

The Secret to Teaching Kids How to Earn Money

“Hey Dad, it’s only twenty dollars–” Jack’s plaintive voice comes from behind the video game display.

Dad responds with a chuckle. “Funny, your mother left video games off this week’s shopping list.”

Most parents don’t have to be in a store with their child very long to hear … “Daddd…look… it’s on sale”… “Just use your credit card”… “Why don’t you go get more money at the bank, Mommy?”  It’s no wonder many parents resist going to the store with their children – they can avoid the pleading, whiney, chronic requests for things not on the family shopping list.

Familiar comments like this, while seemingly annoying, can become a parent’s best friend. Instead of feeling like the bad guy and having to say “no”…again, parents can turn those dreaded shopping trips into a teaching moment with a different kind of list altogether– a “jobs list.”

A job list is a list of age-appropriate household tasks to give kids opportunities to earn their own money. A job list differs from a chore list.  Jobs are non-essential, optional tasks like weeding, sweeping out the garage or washing the car.  Chores, on the other hand, are essential to day-to-day living; for example, feeding the family pet, taking out the trash, and washing the dishes. In addition, jobs are paid work; chores, or other contributions, are unpaid tasks kids do because they are members of your family.

The last issue of Active Kids discussed the pitfalls in paying kids for completing chores. Many parents think: I get paid for the work I do, why not use household chores to teach the pay-for-work concept to my child? While that may appear to work in theory, in practice, paying kids to complete their chores leaves the door open for manipulation, power struggles, and frustration on both sides of the equation. We don’t pay ourselves for doing our household chores; so don’t pay your children for doing their fair share. Doing chores is just part of being in a family.

A “job list” more accurately describes the payment for work concept. Parents can teach that lesson much better, and with a lot less headache, by using a job list instead of a chore list. If adults have the means, we pay others to do the housework we don’t want to do or time to do, e.g. washing the windows, pulling weeds, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. Those are the perfect items for a job list. There’s no reason to hire the neighbor’s son to clean out the gutters when Jack can earn some money toward that video game he keeps asking Dad for every time he takes him to the store.

In short, we can train and pay our kids to do the jobs we don’t want to do and to do our chores, but we don’t pay them to do their chores.

Thinking of their trip to the store that afternoon, Dad smiles in anticipation. A job list is the best kind of referral a parent can have in the land of materialistic desires. Jack’s perception is right… for now. But in a few hours, that will change as soon as Jack wanders by the video game rack.  This time Dad has a fallback position: refer Jack to the list on the refrigerator as an answer to the “It’s only…” or “It’s on sale…” This will work of course…  only as long as Dad keeps his wallet closed.

Like Jack, every kid in America should have the opportunity to earn his or her own money from a very young age. The issue is not about the amount of money, rather about giving kids the chance to earn what they want through effort, patience and perseverance as preparation for their future.

You will soon see the benefits of a jobs list! Your child will earn money, learn a new skill set, and delay gratification. They will learn the difference between needs and wants, time and money management skills, and develop a work ethic. Best of all, they will develop gratitude and appreciation for what others do for them at home.

So next time you hear, “It’s only twenty dollars..,” think of it as a great opportunity to give your kids the experience to earn what they want, or to live without.

For tips about on-the-job training at home, how much to pay, and job list suggestions by age group, check out “Millionaire Babies or Bankrupt Brats? Love and Logic Solutions to Teaching Kids About Money,” that I co-authored with Jim Fay.

Kristan’s commitment to helping parents raise respectful, responsible and self-reliant kids is reflected in her workshops, books and consulting practice. Check out her website at She loves to hear from her readers. E-mail her with your comments at