Can My Son Earn a Computer by Mowing Lawns?

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The following post is by MPFJ staff writer Travis.  Travis is a customer blogger for CareOne Debt Relief Services, and also appears weekly at Enemy of Debt,  Travis candidly shares his personal journey to pay off $109,000 of credit card debt and the tips he’s learned along the way. As a father and husband he provides a unique perspective on balancing debt, finances, and family.
A few days ago, my teenage son revealed to me his largest yet financial goal. 
About a year ago, we purchased a new desktop computer with a large flat screen monitor after our outdated one limped along for years.   Tristan instantly took a liking to it for online gaming with his friends.  The problem is, other people in the family need to use the computer as well and he doesn’t really like sharing it.  I’ve told him over and over that there’s a simple solution to this problem: save your money, and buy your own computer.
He’s finally latched onto the idea of saving up to buy his own computer, however the cost is prohibitive with his current income.   The kind of computer he has in mind will cost him about $1000, and with a weekly allowance of $14 (we give the kids $1 for each year of age) it would take him over a year to save up enough money, and that’s only if he didn’t spend a single cent of his allowance.
To speed up the process, he’s looking for additional sources of income.
One thing that instantly popped in my my mind was mowing the lawn.   I’ve been telling him he was going to get involved in helping out with this for the last two summers, but it just hasn’t happened. I would gladly pay him some cash to save me that time once a week.
I way I see it, I have two options when it comes to payment for this job:

Pay Per Mowing 

Pay him a reasonable rate, and encourage him to go out and find other jobs as well.  Our lawn is a good sized city lot that takes me about ninety minutes to mow.  I believe that $20 would be a fair amount to pay him for each mowing. 
Pros: This path would be a very real world example of making the actual numbers visible to him and leaving it up to him as to whether he wants to look for extra work, if he wants to wait longer to get his own computer, or lower his expectations as to what kind of computer he will buy.
Cons:  He may just give up thinking it will take too long.  That would totally be his choice, but then we would still have a computer collision problem.

Balloon Payment

Make a deal with him that he mows the lawn whenever it needs it, and at the end of the summer he would be rewarded with a computer of his own.
Pros: He would have his own computer guaranteed at the end of the summer as long as he fulfills his end of the deal.  This could be very motivating for him.
Cons: This would likely be more expensive for me, and doesn’t give him the exposure to real numbers in regards to saving up for a goal.
I’m leaning towards the Pay Per Mowing option.  He’s fourteen, and old enough to learn not only about hard work, but also that everything is not just handed to you and sometimes patience is required to get what you want.  It most likely means more clashes with him about computer usage, but I believe he’s ready for this lesson.

How about you all? If you had a teenager, what option would you choose?

Share your experiences by commenting below!

***Photo courtesy of worradmu /


  1. Thanks so much for sharing this post with us Travis!

    I think I would prolly prefer the Pay per Mowing option as well. It seems like if you just gave him the computer at the end of the summer for the mowing the law, there would be a little less motivation. Plus, I think there could be some valuable learnings involved as far as maybe deciding that a $400 computer would be “about as good” as a $1000 computer, and that could save his money for other uses. It will be interesting to see how it goes!

    Also – I was curious if it might be possible to count the lawn mowing income as “earned income,” which he could place in a Roth IRA. I've heard mixed opinions on whether or not income from regular jobs around the house can count as earned income in the eyes of the IRS.
    My recent post Can My Son Earn a Computer by Mowing Lawns?

    • The more I think about this the “Pay per Mow” option looks better and better. Another issue with the balloon payment is how to handle the situation where he misses a mowing (or two or more). What then?

      My recent post I’m NOT Paying More Than You Quoted Me!

  2. I had two teenage sons.

    I would pay per mowing because that is closer to how the work world operates. It will help prepare him for when he gets his first job outside the home. Also, if he can't make money fast enough with your lawn, maybe he will start a little lawn mowing business which would teach him many additional useful skills.
    My recent post Should You Tilt Towards Value?

    • Good point – he's old enough to learn how the real world operates. I'd love to see him get creative and go find some additional work himself. Not only would it make things less expensive for me, but I could also get a better reading on how bad he wants it. 🙂 Thanks for reading rjack!
      My recent post I’m NOT Paying More Than You Quoted Me!

  3. Per mowing, definitely! And for gaming, he really will need a computer that costs $1000 or more.
    My recent post Skip Insurance For Generic Prescription Savings

    • He's mentioned Alienware….which have their lower end desktops starting over $1000. I'm going to try to talk him into something a bit lower – while he does do gaming he doesn't do it hardcore. The computer we bought was less than that – although we did add a better graphics card – and it does him fine. but I agree that a $400 computer is probably not going to work out for him. Good to hear from you Jenny!
      My recent post I’m NOT Paying More Than You Quoted Me!

  4. debtroundup says:

    I would lean toward the Pay Per Mowing. It would teach a good lesson about sticking to it to reach the goal. If you could use some visuals to show him his progress, I think that would help.
    My recent post How Do I Save Money?

    • Great idea, Grayson – maybe like one of those “thermometer” things that you see fundraisers use?
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 05/10

  5. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says:

    I would pay per mowing and point out to him that he is making more in a couple of hours than he is getting in allowance per week, so he should go around the neighborhood and find some more mowing gigs. I would also talk to a few neighbors to see if they would hire him, or find him other things to do around the house to help him get the computer sooner.
    My recent post Friday recap, back “home” and ready to run!

    • I'm all for pushing him to find other jobs to do – maybe he could even advertise in the local newspaper as “for hire!”
      My recent post I Love You Like a Blogger Roundup – 05/10

  6. Mike @ ourdebtstory says:

    Hey Travis.

    I'm not going to go against the majority–I'd go with pay per mow as well. Also, what about letting him “build” a computer? It would be significantly cheaper (especially than anything from Alienware, of course), and this way he could buy the parts as he gets the money and keep working toward the next step in the process (buy a case, then the motherboard and CPU, then RAM, etc.). Good luck!


    • That's a GREAT idea, Mike….in fact he's mentioned once or twice that he thought that would be a fun project for us to do – and I agree. We could get our geek on together! As he grows into those teenage years finding common ground is getting harder and harder….this is a perfect opportunity – thanks SO MUCH for the idea!

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