Making Your Kids Earn It

How can you teach the next generation a strong work ethic? Our clients have achieved great success partly because they understand hard work, but transferring that work ethic to the next generation is difficult. I am sure there are many suggestions on this: sports, chores, part time jobs. Recently my kids gave me a great idea that I thought I would share.

Each year the 8th graders in our local school go on a spring break trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. It’s a big deal, and they plan it about a year in advance. I have two 7th graders, so I was ready for the request to go. One of my daughters, Georgia, is a saver. When the trip sponsors mentioned the price, she shoved the application papers away, thinking that’s too much. My other daughter, Samantha, told her we just need to come up with a plan to earn the money, maybe Dad can help us.

Now, as a side note, we have a saying in our house that I think helps these sorts of things. When the kids were younger and they’d complain about not getting one thing or another, I’d tell them simply, “Life isn’t fair.” I wanted them to understand that life doesn’t keep a balance sheet on everyone and dole out equal portions. So when it’s time for them to get to work, they know better than to try to play the “fair” card.

Here was their proposal: Over the next year, they will do work for $10/hour towards the trip. They will keep track of the hours on their cell phones. Now $10/hour is a bit ridiculous for a 7th grader, but the idea had merit. I was originally thinking I was going to pay for the whole thing anyway, and the bigger picture here is not the money, but the work ethic. So I amended their idea. The hours don’t cover their regular chores, only extra work, but I will also count other work for friends, neighbors, or charities. I never pay them in cash. I only credit them towards the trip they are trying to earn. My kids are now all over the neighborhood, hustling up work, sometimes working for free and sometimes getting paid a little something. They are developing a good reputation for showing up on time and working hard. If the sitter job or pulling weeds pays them, they get to keep the extra earned money.

So how’s it worked so far? We are 1 month in, and they have 19 and 23 hours respectively. My shoes are continually polished, floors are moped, and I have created two new workers to help manage the yard work. It’s been a good excuse to teach them new jobs such as cutting grape plants and they are now thinking more strategically on what jobs they want to do verses thinking all work is hard.

We are not finished yet, and I don’t have all the answers. But as all our clients know, hard work has value. Whether it’s kids or grand kids, a work ethic is not natural, it needs to be taught. Working hard comes with other benefits, like building self-confidence, a solid reputation and self-esteem. This was just one strategy that seemed to be working for us. Now we will see if they can achieve another aspect of great success, seeing something through to the end.

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