Work Ethic? Make Sure Your Kid Has One

Last Updated Aug 15, 2010 11:22 PM EDT

A friend of mine recently had a problem and I love the way he solved it. Earlier in the summer his college bound daughter started begging him for a new MacBook. But the New York City father wanted her to learn the value of work and the meaning of a dollar. So he made a deal with her: he would buy her the computer if she babysat her younger sister for a set number of hours. The 18-year-old got her laptop and Mom and Dad are enjoying their Saturday night dates.

Want to teach your kid one last lesson before he heads off to college? Then don't simply buy him his school supplies or hand out spending cash for the semester, ask him to work for the money. If babysitting isn't an option for you, here are some other jobs to consider:

Working Off that Laptop
House Painting. If your walls are looking a little tired, ask your kid to apply a fresh coat of paint. Professionals often charge more than $100 a room. (In New York you could expect to pay double that amount.) But unlike electrical work or plumbing, you don't need to hire someone with special skills to do the job. Just give your kid a roller and a can of paint and he's good to go.

Organizing: Anyone with kids probably has too much stuff. All of those childhood mementos that parents save can really pile up and become a huge burden to sort through. Bring in a professional organizer and you can expect to pay upwards of $25 an hour. Ask your 18-year-old to do the job and you won't have to worry about a stranger snooping through your things.

Yard work: Sure, you may already have someone who mows your lawn. But most people I know have landscaping or gardening projects they've been meaning to tackle. Put Junior on the job and he'll not only get the benefit of working with his hands, but he'll also have a great tan for orientation.

Housework: If you're tired of cleaning, ask your kid to take over for a few days. Now, I'm not talking about assigning little chores that you would normally give your seven-year-old a quarter to perform. I'm suggesting a top-to-bottom scrubbing. In my neck of the woods, I pay $20 an hour for this kind of help.

Help with your small business: Most college students can be extremely helpful with clerical duties that few business owners have time to do themselves. Your child could also prove useful if one of your employees is going on vacation and you need someone to step in and handle some of the tasks that don't require an advanced degree. And don't forget, you may even qualify for a tax break.
Any other ideas for how you can teach your child about the value of work before he heads off the college?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Laptop Keyboard image by DeclanTM, courtesy of CC 2.0.
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