How to Teach Teens About Work and Money

Help teens understand the importance of both work and managing their money while helping them recognize the rewards of doing great work.


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    Make a list of the things your teen should be doing around the house or for school or for self-improvement that they struggle to complete, or that they whine about. This could include things like clean their room, load the dishwasher, take out trash, get good grades in school, practice musical instrument, laundry, etc.
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    Make a simple chart on your computer or hand drawn. Nine columns wide, and 10-12 rows high.
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    Across the top label the columns: Assignment, Sun. Mon. Tue. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat. Total.
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    Under assignments list the chores/work you want them to complete such as: Read 30 minutes, Develop Talent 30 Minutes, Room is Clean & Tidy, Daily Jurisdiction, Good Turn, See It - Do It, All Homework Completed, Sweat for 30 Minutes, Dishwasher Loaded and Turned On, etc.
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    Now in each box across the chart draw a short underline on which the teen can sign their initials when the job is completed. If you don't want the job done each day - don't put an underline in the box.
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    Now count up the number of underlines on the whole chart for the week. If your smart you will have:
    • about 20 underlines for a 10 yr old,
    • 30 or so for a 12 year old,
    • 40 or so for a 14 yr old,
    • 50 for a 16 yr old
    • and up to 60 or so for an 18 yr old.
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    Now this is where it gets interesting. Psychologists and behavioral experts know that "intermittent reinforcement" is the strongest type of incentive for animals as well as humans so here is how the reward works.
    • In 2009 I paid about 20 cents per signature. That means if your 12 year old has 30 jobs in the week and does them all they will receive $6.00 in allowance for their work.
    • But wait, if they do at least 90% or in this example 27 out of the 30 assignments I double their allowance meaning each signature is worth 40 cents with a possible of 12 dollars per week.
    • If they can do 85% then each signature is worth one and a half of normal value, or 30 cents.
    • If they do 80% then each signature is worth one and a quarter of normal value, or 25 cents.
    • Teens, if anything, are notoriously inconsistent they, therefore create their own intermittent reward schedule as they get motivated and get 90% and the bonus that provides, then slack of and have a $2 week and realize how much money they just threw away.
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    Keeping score is a big part of this game. Go into their room at least every other night with the notebook and indicate that you are ready to approve their chart.
    • A deadline of 9:30pm on their chart meaning that if the work is not done by then there is no credit for it on the chart, can be helpful for 10-11 year olds.
    • For instance, "Teeth are Brushed before bedtime" may not get done in time to get credit on the chart but they may still be required to do it. Life is filled with deadlines and penalties for being late. Might as well learn that now.
    • My 14, 16, and 18 year old have a deadline of 10pm, mostly because I don't want to wait around all night for them to get their assignments completed.
    • These nightly visits are my opportunity to talk to each child about their day, their successes and their struggles, encourage them in completing the chart and the good progress they are making. In my estimate this visit most nights is of more value to them, than the money.
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    Hand them a new chart on Saturday, and pay them on Saturday night. I like the money to burn a hole in their mind, and in their pocket, to see if they can manage to have any money left for activities with friends and stuff on the following weekend. It is a struggle they need to master. Delayed gratification is the key to financial success.
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    This payday experience is also a good opportunity to discuss paying a tithe, paying themselves for long-term savings, paying themselves for mid-term savings, and paying themselves for short-term savings, often 10% in each category. Then they can go spend the rest on whatever they just have to have.
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    Presenting this plan to your older teens is a delicate matter and should be handled with great care. It is best to present it as an opportunity for them to get a little extra spending money and get us (their parents) off their back about the several assignments on the chart. If they do it on time we will not bug them, but if they do not, they may still have to do it, we will bug them, and they won't get credit on the chart. At first using the chart can/should be a purely voluntary option for them, but most teens will not turn it down, especially when you explain the doubling feature for doing 90% or more without reminders.
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    The first few weeks will be a learning experience for everyone as you clarify what a Clean & Tidy Room really means, and how much 90% really is.
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    After a couple of months, (or when they start getting good or bad at doing the chart) you can start adding other incentives to the mix such as:
    • Now that you seem to have, (or the opportunity to have) a bit of spending money we need you to take charge of some of your personal needs a bit more... This means that you need to help pay for some things like your special shampoo, toothpaste, your toothbrush that keeps disappearing, that new hairbrush, or curling iron, etc.
    • Remember "help pay" means just that. I like to work on percentages depending on how important I believe the item is. For instance for department store shampoo I will happily pay 90%, but if they have to have premium salon shampoo and conditioner I might struggle to pay %50. Same with clothes. If they have 20 shirts but just have to have another one and it is kind of grungy, ugly or sends a bad message I might offer 0-25%, but if we are school shopping for things they really need I'm in it for 70-90% depending on the situation. Generally for quality school clothes I'm in for 70%. The older teens get the more we should expect them to contribute.
    • Helping them learn the value of money and how the choices them make impacts their spending money is an important life lesson. Buying things on sale or generics where the value is comparable, is vital for their financial success.
    • Keeping track of how much they are making, how much they have saved and how much they have in their wallet, are also vital skills to help them better manage money.
    • Planning ahead for big events like summer camp, proms, going on tour with their performing group, etc. will help them understand how time and money work together.
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    When they start feeling the pinch of scarce money, be encouraging and gently remind them how much money is in the plan IF they do their part. For instance a 12 yr old with 20 jobs per week can make $600 in a year if they are in the %90 range each week. Don't beat them over the head with this fact, but remind them how quickly they can make money if they work at it.


  • I take my notebook and pen with me when I go to talk to my teens because they always have such good ideas and suggestions that I like to write down and think about. I hate it when my teen says, "I told you about that" and I completely forgot....So I write things down.
  • "Room is Clean & Tidy" in my definition includes the whole house, garage, in the cars, and the yard. They need to put away all of their things in the right place in a neat, clean and orderly way. This means that a jacket left in the car, or shoes left by the kitchen table, or a backpack on the floor in the wrong place, indicate that their room is not Clean and Tidy. Just take care of their stuff and this is easy.
  • A "Good Turn" is like what the Boy Scouts would do... you know help an old person across the street... Not really, but yes, maybe... What this really means is to loan a pencil to a classmate, or help a new student find a classroom, or carry some stuff for a teacher or other adult that clearly needs help, stick up for the kid that is getting picked on, or be friendly to that kid that everyone avoids. You get the idea. Be helpful and be observant enough to find these opportunities away from home.
  • Keep the game positive and more on the easy side. Don't make the assignments so difficult that there is little chance for success. But don't cave in to their ranting and complaining when you know that what is on the chart is well within their ability to complete.
  • "Daily Jurisdictions" At our house we have a job wheel that we rotate each week with names in the middle an areas of the house on the outside. The areas might include: Family Room, Kitchen, Living Room, Hall, Bathroom... you get the idea. Each room has a card posted in an inconspicuous place that says what needs to be done for that "Jurisdiction".
  • When listing chores or jobs think about each of these items in positive terms. How do you describe it when it is ideal. For instance: Bedroom is Clean and Orderly. Don't think "Room is not messy" focus on the positive. Another example is: "Table and Counters are wiped clean and dry" instead of "No junk, spills or spots on Counter" Focus on what you want, not what you don't want. You can teach what "Wiped Clean and Dry" means but focus on what you want.
  • A success story we had involved our 15 yr old son who was short on cash, but was also heavily involved in the high school musical, which required rehearsals every night and on Saturdays. He was often at rehearsal until 10pm. Needless to say he was pretty busy trying to fit homework between everything. Well his phone bill came due and he was out of money. --We require they pay $10 per month to subsidize the full phone cost. If he doesn't pay by the 5th of the month, we hold his phone until he comes up with the cash. After 2 months we disconnect the phone.-- He knew this and had agreed, but got distracted and forgot to set aside money. The bill came due and we had to take his phone. It was a sad day. But the next day a miracle occurred. He was up at 5:30am so he could get his chores done because he knew he would be at rehearsal that night until 10pm. Three days in a row he was up at 5:30am. On the days he got home at a reasonable hour he methodically worked through all of his chores and at the end of the week was in the 95% range which allowed him to pay his cell phone bill and have some extra cash on top of that. We reflect back on that experience occasionally when he says he does not have any time. He smiles and remembers how much he was able to fit into his day even with rehearsals.
  • A "See It - Do It" is generally at home and should take 2 minutes or more. There are things that just need to be done. Like sweep up the mess in the kitchen where something spilled and got left, or put away toys left by little kids, or pair up socks, or unplug the toilet, or bring in the trash cans, or take out the kitchen trash, or change a diaper without being asked, vacuum up that mess in the car. The key is, it cannot be something that is already assigned to someone else. I give credit the first time if they do it, but someone else should have. But never again. This encourages them to think about what needs to be done, but hasn't been specifically assigned.

Things You'll Need

  • About 10-15 minutes per child at least every other night and about 15-20 minutes on Saturdays.
  • Paper pencil
  • Calculator on Saturday

Article Info

Categories: Money Management for Young People