From seventh through 11th grade, I delivered the local afternoon newspaper to about 60 houses in my neighborhood. One of my clients liked to tell people she didn't have a paper boy, but a paper girl. That job — and the support of clients for a girl in a traditionally male position — provided me with spending money and taught me how to persevere in adverse conditions (there's nothing like having to deliver papers in the rain, snow, sleet and hot, steamy summer). The entrepreneurial spirit that spurred me to work hard as a young teen also beats in the hearts of kids today.
"While some of the traditional jobs kids used to hold, such as paper routes, are no longer available, there are plenty of opportunities for children to earn money," said Karley Sessoms, co-founder and owner of Next Gen Minipreneurs, which teaches children how to start their own business. "Kids are starting all kinds of businesses ranging from traditional lemonade and/or snack stands to setting up an Etsy shop online and selling homemade products, to creating a YouTube channel and generating revenue through ads."
Entrepreneurship taps into a child's creativity and teaches important and practical skills. "Kids learn customer service, finances, marketing and other practical skills," Sessoms said. "More importantly, they learn life skills they can carry with them as they grow, such as [generating ideas] and problem solving, inspiration, interaction and collaboration, innovation and creativity, and initiative."
Geraldine Erickson of Warrenton, Va., encourages her children to earn money for camps and activities through work and odd jobs. "The important thing is to teach children that hard work is important," Erickson said.
Earning money imparts other key lessons, including:
The value of money. Spending money they have earned vs. money that has been given to them (such as gifts or allowance) teaches kids more about what those bills and coins mean. "When they earn their own spending money, it means more to them," said Angela Vermilion of Aldie, Va., whose daughter Anna runs an odd-job business.
How to meet a need. Many of the things kids do to earn money come from identifying a need and providing a solution. "I encourage my kids to look around at things … in the neighborhood that they can provide to people that others can't," said Jennifer Smith of Bristow, Va. Her two children have started dog-walking and small animal care businesses.
How to make decisions. When children have the potential to earn money, it's easier to let them decide how to spend it. "When my kids ask for a CD or a video game, I let them know they have to pay for it," said Cherie Kronimus of Centreville, Va. That also teaches them to save money to reach a goal.
Self-motivation. Allowing kids to take the lead lets them set their own pace. "I find some children are content with not doing much and others are extremely motivated to work hard and earn the extras in life," Erickson said. One of her daughters is planning to hold a cupcake decorating camp this summer, while a son will run a camp to teach boys how to build forts.
Parents should recognize that kids are capable of understanding the power of money and need to develop a desire to earn it, but the lessons and expectations need to be age-appropriate. "We have a very traditional view of what kids are capable of doing," said Sessoms. "Our target age for our courses is 6 because children that age have the capability to come up with a business idea and start it."
What can your child do to earn money outside the home? Sessoms suggested elementary school age children could start with neighborhood-based service businesses, while middle and high school students could sell products or crafts online or have a larger scope for a service business. Here are some examples of kids and teens who are running their own business.
Babysitter: Amanda, 15, started her babysitting and petsitting business two years ago, using word-of-mouth for referrals and new clients. She makes an average of $150 to $200 per month, mostly through regular clients. Through her babysitting, Amanda saved money for a plane ticket to Florida to visit a friend, and now she is saving for a trip to Israel.
Dog walker: Smith's son started a business when he was 7 by placing an ad in his neighborhood newsletter offering a weekday dog-walking service. As a home-schooler, he had the flexibility to meet a need in his neighborhood. At one time, he had three clients and earned $75 weekly.
Golf ball reseller: Erickson's daughter began her business when she was 6. Since a golf course backed up to their house, she and some friends collected lost balls. Then she cleaned and resold them at a stand near the course, leaving a bucket of balls and a sign when she wasn't available. During her first summer, she earned more than $400, which she used to buy an American Girl doll and accessories.
Music teacher: Ethan, 17, of Powhatan, Va., started teaching guitar lessons from home three years ago. Being home-schooled allows him to tap into the local home-school network for clients, and to offer flexible teaching times. Currently, Ethan has six students and earns about $60 per week. Ethan's older brother, Daniel, 18, has been teaching piano for three years. He finds most clients by word of mouth and has 11 students, earning $110 per week.
Odd jobs: Anna, 14, has been doing various tasks around her Aldie, Va., neighborhood since she was 11, including mother's helper, yard work, petsitting and dog walking. When Anna was 13, she made flyers advertising her services and handed them out to neighbors. She often makes $120 a month.