If your teen was lucky enough to snag a summer job (quite a feat in this economy), congratulations!
For your child, a rush of pride and possibility comes with their first job. Hello, financial freedom. Goodbye, begging mom and dad for $5 to grab pizza with friends, or $40 for a new video game.
A teen’s first paycheck is an exciting moment for mom and dad, too—and not just because the begging stops (or at least slows down). A summer job is a kid’s first real-world experience with earning their own money. That means it’s a great opening for parents to impart some critical lessons about financial responsibility:
Needs Vs. Wants
Earning your own money teaches you to take care of needs before wants. Having a minimum-wage job doesn’t mean your daughter needs to be instantly responsible for all her bills, but she can certainly start chipping in for things like gas or her cell phone bill.
Save, save, save—even when it feels like you don’t need to. When you have a steady paycheck coming in, it’s easy to believe that things will always be this good. But you never know when you’ll need money for an emergency, like if you get laid off or your car breaks down.
Learning to save money is one of the most important lessons a kid can take into adulthood. Talk with your newly minted worker about putting 10% of each paycheck into her college fund and another 10% into a general savings account.
Hard Work Pays Off
Your kid may think that all she has to do is show up, but there’s more to a job than just getting hired. She can pick up extra shifts, stay a little late if the boss needs her, and hold herself to a high standard, even when doing menial tasks like folding napkins or shredding papers. A strong work ethic makes her the kind of employee that gets a raise, a good recommendation, or an invitation to come back next summer. At the very least, she’ll take pride in her work.
The Tax Man Cometh
A teen’s first paycheck contains a painful surprise — the IRS takes a hefty slice of it. Just because your contract says you make $10 an hour, doesn’t mean you’ll have $80 in your pocket at the end of the day. Consider this an opportunity to talk to kids about everything that taxes pay for: schools, libraries, police, the roads he drives on to get to work, Social Security for when he retires, unemployment insurance in case he’s laid off, and so much more.
Go ahead, live a little. Hey, earning a paycheck isn’t only about delaying gratification. Part of the reason we work is so we can enjoy the fruits of our labors! Encourage your hard-working kid to set aside some of her take-home pay to go out with friends or buy a new pair of shoes–she’s earned it!
Remember how lucky you are. Typical summer jobs—waiter, cashier, lifeguard, camp counselor, etc.—all have their highs and lows. If your kid starts complaining about the good old days of “doing nothing,” remind him how lucky he is even to be employed. With teens facing a 25% unemployment rate for the past few summers, up from 15% in 2007, and many of the adults in their lives laid off since the recession, it’s a good time to instill sensitivity and gratitude.
© 2012 Beth Kobliner, All Rights Reserved
Beth Kobliner is a personal finance commentator and journalist, the author of the New York Times bestseller “Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties,” and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability. Visit her at bethkobliner.com, follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.