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No allowance may produce entrepreneurs

  • Published Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010, at 12:03 a.m.

My son recently landed his first job. Jack agreed to rake and bag leaves for a neighbor down the street. The neighbor would supply the bags and pay him $20. Jack had a weekend to get it done.

By Sunday afternoon, my boy glanced around the neighbor's yard and sighed. I had decided to help — he's only 10, I thought, and it's a nice day — so I bagged one pile while Jack raked.

"This is gonna take forever," he grumbled, pointing at the raked section. "Look at that."

Hundreds more leaves had fallen overnight, defiling the pristine carpet of grass. I told him not to fret too much, that he could quickly go over that section again.

Just then, a neighbor strolled over and asked if we wanted to use her plastic lawn claws. We said yes and thanked her. The leaf scoopers instantly sped our pace.

Then the neighbor glanced at a huge sycamore overhead, more than half its leaves still dangling on branches.

"Well," she said, smiling up at the tree, then at Jack. "It looks like you have job security."

I've been thinking lately about economics and education, about the many ways we teach our children about finances — some deliberate, others unplanned. This was one of those lessons.

Canadian entrepreneur Cameron Herold, founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, spoke earlier this year at a conference in Edmonton. His message: Let's raise kids to be entrepreneurs.

Herold argues that most parents and schools are training children — understandably, perhaps inadvertently — to go after good jobs: Be a doctor, we tell them, a lawyer, an accountant, a dentist, a teacher. Do your work. Get a paycheck. And that's OK. For some kids.

But we tend not to nurture kids' entrepreneurial instincts — to see problems, find solutions, think creatively, take risks, learn from mistakes, run your own show, and yes, make money. Maybe lots of it. Even our simplest financial rituals — allowance, for example — may be flawed.

Herold says his children, ages 9 and 7, don't get allowance. Instead, he urges them to look around the house and yard for things that need to be done. If they or their parents find something, they settle on a price.

"They don't have a regular check, but ... they learn the skill of negotiating and the skill of finding opportunity," he said. He also teaches them to save half their earnings, to recognize good and bad customer service, to price and sell unwanted toys and to speak in front of groups. (To watch a video of Herold's 20-minute presentation, go to ted.com and search "Cameron Herold.")

I proposed the no-allowance idea to Jack and to Hannah, my 12-year-old who has regular baby- and dog-sitting gigs. They seemed receptive, no doubt recognizing the vast moneymaking potential of our house and yard. Clothes need laundering, firewood needs stacking, lots of leaves need raking and bagging.

Jack plans to use some of last week's leaf-raking earnings to buy lawn claws and keep his business going. But first, I've decided, he'll need to pay his assistant. I'll give him the family discount.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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