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Kids need to set price for their summer jobs

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Dear Readers — In the latest issue of Zillions, the consumer magazine for kids, my 11-year-old son, Peter, and I both zeroed in on a story about summer jobs.

I was interested in reading about mistakes kids make when hiring themselves out to do household jobs and yard work. Peter was interested in how much kids charge. And we both have some advice.

In its National Kids' Jobs Survey, Zillions surveyed more than 500 readers ages 7 to 17 to find the going rates for 14 different jobs. What struck me was that few kids actually talk about money with prospective employers.

Instead, they accepted whatever their employer offered. "I don't want to look pushy," one 12-year-old explained. "I trust that adults will pay me what they believe is right," said a 14-year-old.

Kids shouldn't be so reticent, or so trusting. Learning to speak up and set a price for your efforts is part and parcel of the job.

Parents can help kids come up with a fair rate by telling them what they'd be willing to pay for a certain job, or by giving tips on how to conduct market research — finding out what other children are charging. Kids should always charge less than a professional would for the same service.

My son Peter was appalled that for certain jobs, kids reported charging by the hour — $5 in the case of mowing lawns. "What if a lawn takes less than an hour?" he asked. On the other hand, "You could earn more if you went really slowly."

Peter's advice: Charge by the job, unless your employer is actually buying a block of your time, as in the case of baby-sitting.

Here's a look at the pay scale for some typical jobs, according to the Zillions survey: watering yards, $3 per hour; baby-sitting, $4 per hour; pet care, $3 per hour; washing cars, $5 per car; running errands, $2 per job.

Have a question about kids and finances for Dr. Tightwad? Write to Dr. T at 1729 H St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006. Or send the good doctor an e-mail message (and any other questions for this column) to jbodnar@kiplinger.com.