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“Why That First Paycheck Is Priceless”

Teen jobs are a rite of passage, and a (sometimes painful but incredibly important) way to learn valuable lessons about budgeting, saving money, and not impulsively buying the new iPhone you don’t actually need.

Bunch of crumpled and worn dollar bills on pink background
Bunch of crumpled and worn dollar bills on pink background

The beautiful thing about my kids getting old enough to have jobs? Now they can afford to pay for their own mistakes.

Ever since the kids were little, Laurie and I impressed on them that they would be getting jobs as early as possible. So when she heard about a snow cone shack willing to hire 15-year-olds, Laurie scheduled Isaac a job interview and, within a few weeks, he had his first paycheck. We took him to the bank and helped him open a debit account. And thus began his obsession with spending his paycheck.

“Can I get membership at your gym?” he asked me.

“Son,” I said. “You’re on the football team. Don’t you work out every day?”

“Yeah.”

“Then why do you want a gym membership?”

“So I can work out more.”

“Why don’t you work harder at the weight room at school?”

[Get This Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

He gives me a look like he’s thinking. A stranger might think he’s considering what I said, but I know he’s really thinking this: Should I ask Mom or just wait a week and ask Dad again as if this conversation never happened because maybe he won’t remember? Which is of course what happened the following week. And the week after. Until finally I took him to my gym.

“You’re giving them your debit card. Right?”

“Of course,” he said. “That was my plan.”

I’m sure another part of his plan was to actually use to the gym, which he did a couple of times. But most evenings and weekends when he wasn’t working at the snow cone shack, he was chilling on the couch. I never questioned him about going to the gym because this was my place — the refuge where I could get some alone time. I also never questioned him about the payments because this was something he wanted and was paying for with his money.

Finally, after several months passed, the gym called to tell me Isaac was past due on his monthly dues. I texted him to call the gym and fix his account, and while he had them on the phone that he needed to cancel the membership. I thought he’d push back harder, but once they told him he had to pay $100, he was convinced.
[Read: How to Spend Less When the ADHD Brain Wants More]

“That’s like three shifts!!” he told me.

“And how many times did you go?” I asked him.

“Uh,” he said, “I don’t know,” which means he knows but doesn’t want to tell me.

Up to this point, I was the one busting out the credit card for fines, late fees, overdrawn lunch accounts, etc. As this burden was lifted off my shoulders, I looked forward to the new burden of watching my kids make their own knucklehead decisions, which is far easier than repeatedly saying, “No.”

Isaac wants $300 headphones. Vivianna wants to upgrade her iPhone, which is working just fine. Jayden wants to see how Door Dash works. “Sure kids!” we say. “How much is in your account?”

They might mumble something under their breath, or they might hand us a huge stack of $1 bills. If it’s the latter, we purchase the item for them. Either way, we’re not the bad guys for saying “No.” Nor are we suffering out-of-pocket for saying “Yes.” And the kids learn valuable lessons about budgeting that never sank in until the money was theirs. It’s a win-win!

Teen Jobs: Next Steps


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