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'Rewards of hard work': Teens are making more cash with summer jobs, survey finds

More teens are earning their own income over the summer and are saving for college, cars and electronic gadgets, a recent survey revealed.
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Cheryl Johanson Starr’s 16-year-old son Andy works as a teacher’s assistant at a learning center. “He puts in about 10 hours a week for approximately $9 and change per hour,” Starr said of her son’s summer job.

According to a recent survey by American Express Spending & Saving Tracker, Andy is among 36 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 who earn their primary income over the summer — a 19 percent increase over last year. The survey also revealed that the most common summer jobs for teens include food service, babysitting and working at a camp or grocery store, so Andy's position at the learning center makes him a bit of a trendsetter.

“These days he saves for his social life, but next summer he needs to start thinking about college spending,” Starr said. She added that new wheels are on his mind: Andy's older car isn’t the best in the snow. “He knows big things get saved for,” Starr said. "Soon we would love to help him get a better car. We would pay the lion’s share, because we want him to save for college.”

Iced mocha, anyone? The most common summer jobs for teens include food service, babysitting, and working at a camp or grocery store.Amble Design / Shutterstock

Andy is making about $360 a month. According to American Express, on average, teens expect to earn $582 per month — up from $498 in 2014. The Amex survey found the three most popular items teens are saving for: college tuition (27 percent); a car (26 percent); and a smart phone or other device (23 percent).

“He seems to have natural money smarts,” Starr said of her son, “but we try to encourage and remind him about what he is responsible for, like saving to take a cool vacation in two years.”

Elizabeth Lang, a personal finance expert at Wise Bread, said summer employment can help teens on a number of levels.

“Summer jobs are a great opportunity for teens to learn about the workplace as well as earn money,” Lang said. She advised parents to help their children focus not only on making money, but also on other benefits such as helping people, making friends and learning new skills.

Jennifer Killenger of Deerfield Beach, Florida said her 16-year-old daughter Michelle works as a steady babysitter in the summertime making $12 an hour, four days a week.

Michelle, a high school senior, is saving for a new MacBook Pro. She's in good company: The survey found that kids saving for tech items jumped 80 percent from last year, and that teen workers planned to save roughly half (51 percent) of their summer earnings.

“I think it’s great Michelle is working to buy a tool she will utilize for school and entertainment purposes,” Killenger said. “It’s not some rinky-dink thing, so she also knows it will be her responsibility to keep it safe.”

Dog walking is a great chore for young kids to have.Christine Coppa

As for younger kids, the poll found completing chores is the number one determinant behind how much allowance their parents give them. Seven is the average age children begin earning a weekly allowance.

According to survey, 79 percent of parents give their school age kids $35 a week.The child’s age also gets factored in as well.

“We usually go by age for the amount of money we give our children, but our son just got two new, yucky jobs, so he moved up the ranks,” said Diana Fournier of Oak Park, Michigan. “Caleb is 8 and has weekly trash and pooper-scooping duty, so he gets $10 a week — not $8 for his age number.”

The Amex survey showed that 18 percent of tweens take on larger projects such as painting or washing windows, which can explain higher weekly allowances.

“Kids are never too young to learn about ways to earn money and the rewards of hard work,” advised Lang of Wise Bread.

She said it’s OK to let kids spend a little of their hard-earned money, too. “Young kids can print a picture of the toy or experience (like a trip to the water park) they are trying to save for,” Lang said. Grab a clear jar or piggy bank so they can see the money adding up: It's a great visual for the set goal.

But visuals don’t always have to be in the form of money, Lang noted. “Gardening is one of my favorite ways to prove starting small can lead to big things,” she said. "Show your kids the small seeds, and point out daily how they grow into a green tomato plant.”

She said waiting for the tomatoes to turn red can provide an excellent way for your child to exhibit self-control and see the power of hard work and patience.