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Send a Kid to Work

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Yes, children should visit their parents’ work in some form but that is not what I’m talking about here. I am advocating you literally send a kid to work somewhere. Anywhere. Our economy needs the workers and our kids need the financial lessons that come with having a job.

Financial literacy and unemployment are both at record lows. Getting more young people to work can help solve both problems. One of the most pressing problems in our economy today is the lack of available workers. You might think that with this great employment environment financial literacy would be at an all-time high. There are a lot of societal changes we can blame for low financial literacy, but high unemployment isn’t one of them.

As the author of A Girl’s Guide to Personal Finance I have the opportunity to speak to a variety of groups. The most frequent question asked is, “How do you teach your children about money?” Anyone in an education role will tell you, hands-on, “real work” lessons are the best. This is why I advocate for age appropriate jobs as early as possible.

A parent explaining why $250 for a pair of shoes is too much and not be the best use of money, it will never compare to the level of understanding you get when you’ve had to work for 25+ hours to earn the money for them. I am over-simplifying the math but the starting pay at the McDonald’s in my area is $10 an hour so it makes for a simple example. Too often I see basic financial examples over-complicated by discounts, sales tactics, taxes and fees. Yes, these are real and need to be considered but often we get lost in the detail and miss the core lesson—the price of anything can be translated into someone working X hours to pay for it.

I can’t over-emphasize the significance in the difference between understanding the math and the “deep in the gut” understanding of spending hours working to earn the purchasing power yourself. Ask me if I would like to have an expensive handbag and the answer is an easy yes. Ask me if I am willing to work a week of my life to pay for it and the answer is a quick and clear “Heck, NO!” Our kids need this lesson before they start considering car purchases and student loans. Ask the average teenager if they would like to spend four plus years on a college campus and the likely answer is Yes. Ask a working teenager if they are willing to pay $1,000 in student loan payments every month until they are 50 years old and the answer may change. Yet, if they have never had a paying job how can they make or understand the real implications of this decision?

Expecting a young person to make key financial decisions without the benefit of true working knowledge is unfair. The value of those entry level jobs available to high schoolers shouldn’t be measured in dollars or hourly pay. Yes, you can quickly calculate the dollars earned and the approximate take home pay. But, this is one of the few cases where I believe it’s not about the money. The benefit of these jobs is far more about the life lessons that come with it than they are about the money earned.

My daughter’s job at the local grocery store and my son’s job at the pizza place literally cost me money. When you factor in cost of my time and gas to get them to and from their jobs it was financially a losing proposition. But I knew the lessons of managing time, earning money, personal interaction and reporting to someone other than a teacher or parent was worth the cost and would last a lifetime. So please, help out our economy and that of the next generation by sending a kid to work.

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