Something I've been curious about, ever since you wrote that post about your boys and the helicopter toy, is their allowance (or lack there of, from the sounds of it). If you don't mind sharing, would you tell me what the rules are between you and your kids when it comes to money?
I grew up in a family that gave allowances, and since we didn't get grounded, allowances were the first thing to go when we got in trouble. But I also think we were spoiled to get money without having to do anything for it, so I'm looking for different perspectives on allowances to see what I'd like to teach my own kids.
Thanks for taking the time to read this,
This can be touchy because we're talking about two sensitive subjects: parenting and money so there's room to offend quite a few if I mouth off too much but I'm going to try and make this short, concise and painless.
Why give allowances?
First, April's guess is right, I do not now--nor have I ever--given my children allowances and my own parents followed the same line of thought. As I see it, there are two possible reasons parents give allowances to their children: to be able to supply them with "stuff" and to teach them how money works.
Fine, let's talk about those two reasons . . . giving your children "stuff." I believe with all my heart that a parent's job is to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education and morality to a child. I do not, however, feel it is necessary for parents to provide children with fancy jeans, the latest brands in footwear, movie tickets, fast food raids, sports team memorabilia, ice skating lessons, electronics or any of the other excesses that drown our culture. Do I give our kids gifts at Christmas? Sure. Do I like to be able to treat them once in a while with something special? Sure. Do I give them a steady stream of money so they can go out with their friends on weekends? Heh. Nope.
Not only does this make it hard to develop good characters in your children it's also quite expensive. I simply cannot afford to pay my children's pocket money each week even if I thought it was good for them.
So if you're worried that by not giving your child an allowance you're somehow failing as a parent, get over it, because there are so many other things to obsess over that this issue is pretty low on the list. Chances are I'm messing up in so many other ways that this just isn't an issue I'm prepared to worry about.
Second, people give their children allowances to teach them how to properly use money. This one on the surface seems more logical but I'm still having a hard time with it because for me the number one rule that any human being should learn about money is that NO ONE JUST GIVES IT TO YOU.
It's not free, you have to earn it, and having a way to provide for yourself is a privilege and blessing. If you hand money to a child you're completely negating anything they could learn about how the world of money works and instead they will discover pretty quickly--because they're smarter than lab rats--that if they want cheese all they have to do is come and get it from you. In fact with an allowance it's even worse, they don't even have to put in the energy to ask for it, they just expect it to come to them as their payment for remaining alive and continuing to metabolize and if you don't live up to your end of the bargain you've somehow cheated them from their due.
So giving an allowance to teach monetary responsibility breaks down at the most basic level.
Neither my husband nor I ever had allowances and my husband still says that he learned early on that if he wanted something he'd have to go work for it because mom and dad weren't going to give it to him. From about the age of 12 on he learned how to find odd jobs to get the money to buy what he wanted. What greater lesson about fiscal responsibility could you teach a child? I wish our federal government could figure it out so well.
If you require a child to earn his or her own spending money then lessons about budgeting and wisely using one's resources are 500% easier to teach because the resources are that much more precious. The child will be more eager to learn how to be wise with money because it's not someone else's sweat they're playing with, it's theirs.
As far as I can tell, by giving a child an allowance you run the risk of spoiling them, of teaching them ingratitude, gluttony, selfishness, even pride (because how many kids have I seen bragging to their friends about how much money their mom and dad or grandma and grandpa give them?) but by not giving them an allowance the only thing you risk is them not having the same things that their friends have--a thing which simply does not keep me awake at nights. So if you're feeling indecision on the matter why run the risk? Just go with the safe route, err to the side of caution and tell them no allowance.
So what do you do instead?
Now, the latter part of April's original question deals with another aspect of allowances--chores. I won't go into this too much except to say that I won't pay my children for doing things that are expected of them as members of our family. No one pays me to do the laundry or make dinner but I do it because it's my job and I do it out of love--the best kind of motivation.
Likewise no one is going to hand them a paycheck for making their bed or taking out the trash because that's what people who live here are expected to do and because they love the rest of the family. When the kids ask about getting paid for something like cleaning their room I quickly agree to compensate them and then let them know that they can expect the bill for their years of room and board within the week. That usually shuts them up.
Allowances might be used as a form of leverage, as April suggests, but I just can't see that teaching children to do what is right from a fear of losing money is the right approach. It just doesn't sit well with me. Yes, life is full of consequences for poor choices but I can make their lives miserable in so many other ways (to hear them talk you'd think I'd elevated my skills to an art form) that I just don't need money as an additional thumb screw.
So when my kids get old enough to want to earn some money (around five or six) I usually start them out by giving them the rules designed to train them to be productive:
1. Regular chores must be done first. You can't just do work for hire and ignore the other pro bono responsibilities.
2. You only get paid for real service. None of this Cash-for-Clunkers mentality. If you want to earn money then weed my garden, wash my car, clean the garage--something that actually has value to me. Do you really want them thinking that they can earn cash by squeegeeing car windshields at stop lights? Real money means real work.
3. The going rate for odd jobs is really, really low. An hour of weeding might earn you a dollar (assuming it's done right), certainly not enough to retire on so you'll want to learn the ropes and move up very quickly.
By the time they get to be old enough to be really useful they've usually realized that Mom doesn't pay nearly as well as others do and that they can earn decent money by either babysitting or mowing lawns. In fact, right about now I can assure you that the oldest two are more solvent than I.
Of course I could always take out a loan from Spencer. Teach him about interest and all that good stuff . . .
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Monday, August 24, 2009