money managementAs summer approaches, most of my friends are talking about the camps, classes, and other activities that their kids will be attending this summer. But when I raise the idea of the kids earning summer money—whoa.

This may still be a foreign concept for many parents of grade-school-age kids, but it doesn’t have to be. Summer break is a great time to get your kids started on good money management habits.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating full-on jobs for grade-schoolers. However, you also don’t have to wait until your kids are teenagers and can get real jobs before expecting them to start working for money.

Kids as young as age 7 or 8 can earn a little cash for taking on extra household tasks like cleaning your dining room windows or dusting baseboards. Older kids and tweens can water neighbors’ gardens while they’re on vacation, walk dogs, babysit, help keep younger kids entertained during summer parties, and much more. This is all good training for later, when your kids will actually need these money management skills and will have to work to pay for necessities. And it’s a smart way to add some focus and structure to the seemingly endless days of summer.

But let’s go a step further. How about paying your kids to meet some predetermined summer goals?

I read an interesting blog post from a smart mom who helps her five kids come up with small academic, physical, household, and personal goals they’d like to accomplish over the out-of-school months. The Pothier family uses a simple check-off chart to track the little tasks they must do every day—read 20 minutes, get some exercise, clean something in the house, and work on a personal goal like practicing the piano. I love that each kid gets to choose his or her own personal goal—it keeps all of the children more interested and motivated.

At the end of each week, the kids get paid a nominal amount and also earn “task points” for every task they complete. In addition, the Pothier kids earn a bonus for meeting a specific, agreed-upon goal, like learning three new songs on the piano. At summer’s end, the whole family tallies up the task points earned during the summer. If they hit their agreed-upon collective points goal, they earn a fun family outing, like to an amusement park, or a shared reward, like an expensive new game.

If this sounds like bribery to you, I’d like to offer an alternate perspective. Bribery is paying someone to do something wrong. A reward, in contrast, is paying someone to do something right. Considered that way, giving kids cash to hit goals is a wonderfully positive incentive.

And think about this: Do you, as an adult, go to your job every day out of the goodness of your heart? Nope. You do it in part (mostly!) because you’re getting paid. Paying kids to complete summer tasks and hit goals is like creating miniature at-home jobs for them.

If that’s not enough for you, watch what happens when you tell your kids they’re getting paid to do their summer reading. You get the picture: They’ll go through so many library books you’ll wonder why you didn’t try it sooner!

Teri Cettina is a mom of two daughters and freelance writer who specializes in personal finance and parenting topics. She blogs at Your Family Money. Follow her on Twitter: @TeriCettina