Summer Job Lessons

The school year is almost over and that means thousands of high school students are about to start new jobs. While many are building their college applications by securing unpaid internships, I have always liked the idea of earning money. My own summer jobs included: day camp counselor, receptionist, referee and clerk. Here are 7 things that I learned along the way.

1. Be on Time: When I was a counselor, the Director was a stickler on getting to the grounds at least an hour before the campers arrived. I remember that my co-counselors and I complained that it seemed a bit extreme, but as I look back, it was an early lesson about time management and following the rules.

2. Master Your Job, then Make it Better: When I was a receptionist in a real estate office, there was an existing system for how brokers picked up keys for houses. It was inefficient, but only after I proved that I could execute it flawlessly, was the boss receptive to changing it.

3. Stand Up to Bullies: As a referee for summer basketball leagues, some of the parents on the sidelines were a bit crazy. Because my own father was that type too, I was not hyper sensitive to the yelling and screaming that occurred. But there was one time when a parent was going on a rant that would not end. After three warnings, I kicked him out of the gym. Later, his wife made him call me to apologize.

4. Don’t Squander Your Money: I had been earning money throughout the years, doing everything from babysitting to raking leaves. But it was not until I started working the summer after my sophomore year of high school that my parents sat me down and explained that I was now expected to pay for some of my own expenses. That led to a conversation about keeping track of money and planning for the future—or at least as much as a teenager can plan!

5. Start Saving: For money that I needed those next few months, I put money in a passbook savings account. Additionally, my grandparents had established an investment account for my college expenses (this was pre-529!), to which I also contributed some of my summer money.

For today’s savers, I still like a boring cash account for short-term money and then consider a Roth IRA account to instill basic investment and retirement savings concepts. As an incentive, some parents match their kids’ contributions.

6. Become a Patriot: When I received my very first paycheck, I said to my father “This is wrong—I made more than that over the past two weeks!” Then Dad said to me, “You are now officially a patriot—a proud, United States taxpayer!” Then he explained the difference between gross pay (before taxes are taken out) and net pay (the amount you take home). He then pointed out all of the taxes that were withheld, including: federal; state and local; and payroll or FICA, which includes Social Security and Medicare.

If you have trouble going through the paycheck with your youngster, I suggest Beth Kobliner’s fabulous pay stub graphic from her book, Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You're Not).

7. Don’t Be a Tax Deadbeat: Many summer jobs do not withhold taxes, so remind your kids to set aside about 15 percent of earnings to cover any potential future tax bill. And if they receive cash tips in addition to base pay, those tips should be included as taxable income.