Learning what your time is worth as a teenager

I remember babysitting when I was 13. There were 2 kids next door that I would watch frequently. They weren’t angels, but they weren’t hellions either. I thought it was great that I was getting about $5/hour. When I came home with $40 I dreamed of what I could buy with it. There was also a family with 3 kids who lived a few doors down. These kids were a handful, and I was only paid $3/hour. I was never satisfied with $1 per hour per kid, but it never occurred to me that I could, and perhaps should, ask for more. Families rarely asked me how much I charged to babysit, and I wasn’t comfortable suggesting an hourly rate when they did. Instead of asking this family for what I felt was a reasonable wage, I walked away frustrated every time that I was being paid less than what I felt I was worth. Before long, I stopped babysitting for that family.

Let’s dive into how much baby-sitters are worth a little more. Today, families we know pay $10-$12/hour for 1-2 kids. This is pretty consistent with the 2017 national average. Taking inflation into account, the $3/hour I made in 1995 is only $4.97/hour for 3 kids today! Minimum wage in 1995 was $4.25 ($7.04 in 2018). I wasn’t even worth minimum wage to this family, and I felt taken advantage of.

I wonder if Mr. PW set his cost for mowing lawns, or raised the price once he was well-known and successful. Charles Schwab showed that teens believe males will make more early in their career and at peak-earning income. What were factors in my discomfort talking about money? Was it gender stereotypes or my upbringing or something else? Rather than speculate about Mr. PW’s financial adventure mowing lawns, I asked him.

This kid knows exactly what she’s worth, and isn’t shy to let us know!

Mr. PW here. Believe it or not, I used to babysit too when I was a teenager. I pretty consistently pulled in 20 or 30 bucks for 3 hours with a toddler and a 6-7 year old, so I made out a lot better than Mrs. PW. I similarly shied away from any kind of discussion about how much to charge. I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I found out how much I’d get paid when the dad handed me some crisp bills at the end of a night, and that was that. I guess I could have been a little more assertive as a 14-year-old.

I spent a lot more time and effort on my lawnmowing – excuse me, “Lawn Care” service. I worked hard on making fliers with our family’s brand new Windows 95-powered computer with an ink jet printer (the stock lawnmower clip art was the awesome finishing touch). I was inspired by another neighborhood kid who seemed to always be out mowing lawns and raking in the money. He happened to drop his flier off at our door advertising $10 lawnmowing, so I decided to undercut him and charge $9. When I was a teenager, my family lived on a military base, which was terrific for business because the military mandates that you maintain your lawn to certain standards. The whole neighborhood was a very regular series of hundreds of geometrically identical yards. A captive audience and technically easy lawn mowing. Because the business was more or less guaranteed (everyone was forced to mow their lawn regularly, and many people wanted to outsource this), I could be very deliberate in my pricing scheme. A typical lawn took me 45-60 minutes, so I guess I routinely cleared $10/hr – not so terrible for a teenager. I still made a fair profit off my fairly cheap pricing scheme, and could knock out half a dozen yards in an afternoon. I think I kept a rotating stable of at least a dozen yards, mowed either weekly or biweekly, which made for a pretty consistent revenue stream for a 14-year-old. I was even able to save up enough money to get a self-propelled lawnmower and a gas-powered weedwacker, which really pushed me into the big leagues. I loved how I had control over how much money I made, and how much or little I wanted to work to get that money.


Have you had an experience setting your own wages as a teen, or discussing with your own children (or nieces, nephews, grandchildren)? Please let us know in the comments below.

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