Monday, August 24, 2009

Should Children Have Allowances?

Should Children Have Allowances?Dear Michelle,

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,

Ah. Allowances.

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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Michemily said...

Michelle, I wholeheartedly agree with every single word. Now I'm just waiting to see if you'll post your opinion on paying for your children's educations. In that area, I also believe the child needs to dig in and figure it out himself. Sure, there were times where I thought, "Wouldn't that be nice if my parents could help me out here?" but I know that would have been the easy way out and working on yourself and learning never came so easily. I can proudly say I put myself through college and a master's degree. I've learned how to be an adult by being one. :)

Lucy said...

If this subject were the subject of a jury trial, it would be a hung jury. I couldn't make a decision. I see reasons for doing it......and more reasons for not doing it. I wasn't raised with an allowance. I'm actually surprised they didn't charge me for living there. But as a parent, it didn't get done with my own kids. It just doesn't ring right with me.

Jennifer said...

I think you managed this mine field fairly well, but that could be because I agree with you. We never had an allowance either and were expected to do our cleaning as part of the family. In exchange though, my parents provided a yearly school clothing budget and money for our extracurricular activities. Once I got a job, at 16 years old, some of that backed off, but they still paid for school activities.

Janelle said...

Amen to all of it! (Toward the end, I was going to say that I think paying them for "extra chores" is okay, but then you got into that. I was thinking things likes scrubbing the floors, cleaning the blinds, etc.)

Lis Garrett said...

My kids have a list of chores they're expected to do, and they earn money for each one they complete (a dime here, a dime there). If they want a new toy, they have to do their jobs and earn the money for it. My kids are more likely to do their chores, and do them well, if they see some sort of value in them . . . aside from them being good for the family.

I was given an allowance for completing chores, and I appreciated my work being noticed by others. If I didn't do a good job or I chose not to do the chore at all, I didn't get my money.

Kathy G said...

I gave my boys an allowance, but it was far less than their friends got. (If memory serves me correctly we paid a quarter per year of age-about 15 years ago.) I stopped giving out money when they reached 16 and could get a paying job.

If they required maid service-leaving a bed unmade or not hanging up their towel in the bathroom--I left my "bill" and deducted a small amount for each thing from the next payment.

Sons #1 and #2 quickly learned to complete their tasks; Son #3 never got the hang of it!

Scribbit said...

Michemily--actually I did:

link but it was a while ago so you probably didn't see it.

And Jennifer, you're right--I should have gone into that more I suppose, though I always worry that I'm going on for too long. I pay the older two kids a bit of money (like $100 or $150) each fall to cover their clothes for the year. Like new underwear, a jacket, socks, pants, etc. ANything beyond that they have to pay and it worked really well this year. The others get their clothes covered as it is. Any school stuff like field trips, whatever I cover. Though school sports, no. Spencer is in basketball this year but then it's free for jr. high.

Carrie said...

Thank you for sharing this - I think it's a neat point, that nobody else will just give your child money, so an allowance doesn't really teach them about real life. :)

I have a related question - we don't have a lot of money, but some of our extended family does, and they often give our son (who is now 20 months old) large sums of money for birthday, Christmas, etc. My husband and I disagree on whether this money should be put into the family finances and used for things we need as a family, or whether it should be used all for him (for diapers, clothes, toys, etc) or saved for his college education - something that will benefit HIM, and not just our family in general. Do you have any thoughts on this, or have you had to deal with this in your family?

Melanie J said...

I definitely have a different point of view on this. My son gets an allowance and it's not tied to anything. Granted, it's only $3 a week, but it's his. After reading several articles about teaching money management, my husband and I agreed this was the way to go. He's already learned the principles of paying tithing and saving and that blowing it on donuts and coming up short for the new Lego set are a fact of life. If he wants additional money for something big then he has the option of doing additional chores for a set amount per chore. And he gets paid for his report card (he earns for A's and B's, gets nothing for C's and owes us for anything below that--though that hasn't happened yet). I liken it to a bonus at work for an exceptional performance. I definitely think it's been a healthy tool in our home for teaching financial responsibility.

~3 Sides of Crazy~ said...

I love the way you tackled this subject.

There are so many exceptions to this subject. I grew up receiving an allowance, BUT I also grew up in a family where both parents commuted very long distances to work every day. From the age of 10 on I received an allowance, but not for the regular daily chores like feeding the dog or emptying the trash. My allowance was because I took over the daily family food preparation and house cleaning and minor yard work for my parents. I was the only one home every afternoon from 3 to 7PM so having those tasks done and dinner on the table was a true help for them.

As for the education question, I paid mine (working 3 jobs to do it) because my parents didn't have the means and I feel it was something I appreciated all the more because I truly earned it. Had it been paid for I may have done because it was easy, but this way I know I truly wanted that University degree.

Headless Mom said...

We have been giving our boys an excruciatingly (is that a word?) tiny allowance, but lately I've been second guessing myself for many of these reasons. I think I'll have my husband read this so we can come up with another method...

Thanks for the great arguments and ideas!

Kris said...

My children have "quarter attitude jars" where they get a quarter put in, not for a chore/job well done but their attitude around doing said chores/jobs. We don't dole out the quarters either (1 per real job) The clincher? If they have very poor attitudes ("I don't WAAAAAANT to load the dishwasher! This SUCKS! I HAAAAATTTEEEE doing chores") then out comes a quarter from their jar (back to mom!), they are dismissed from their job and can try something different when they have a better attitude. At the end of the week if there are any quarters left in their jar, they get to keep them.

I do not agree about not paying for jobs simply because they are household/family jobs. But that's just me. How else am I suppose to teach them the skills they need/groom them to do them instictively when they are older?

Our take on this? No one is going to give you a job in this world if you have a sucky attitude (plus it makes our home/family a more pleasant place to be). Even if you are the best at what you do in life, if you've got a crap attitude likely you'll be dismissed. It works VERY well. I have 4 boys. (3 of chore age)

That's my take.

An Ordinary Mom said...

I think you tackled this tricky subject rather well.

And I like the other comments that are rolling in, too. Above all I think what is most important is that we teach our kids the value of work and that we teach them how to earn and use money wisely.

The Dunns said...

Great post and lots of food for thought! Our 3 boys are getting to chore age and my husband and I have been talking about how we will handle that. We have slightly different views, so it will interesting to see how we work it out.

Right now, all 3 boys love doing "jobs" and can spend all day asking "What's my next job" till it drives me crazy. I want to encourage that enjoyment of helping around the house and not turn chores into punishment or "work" or something to dread. I think we will keep discipline and money lessons far away from chores in our family.

Sheri said...

I'll admit that we tried an allowance a few years ago. It was tied to specific jobs beyond keeping their rooms picked up. It was a huge flop. If they had something they wanted to buy, they did their chores. Otherwise, they didn't do the extra work. Fail!

My husband has been taking them with him to mow yards for some elderly neighbors for the past three years. Of course, at first he did most of the actually mowing, but they helped and learned. Now they do all the work and he's the driver. They get to keep most of the money, he only keeps enough to pay for the gas, oil and possible repairs. It has been a great learning experience for them. They deposit money in their savings account, they have pooled their money to purchase a wii, among other things.

Just so people don't think we work them to death, they have had at most 4 yards to mow, but normally 2-3. So they still hav plenty of free time, although my youngest son is a saver, and he would love to work even more and take it straight to the bank.

Amateur Steph said...

Thanks Michelle. I needed to sit down and think this subject through, since my daughter is just getting to age 5, and you've given me a good start.
I agree with your thoughts on allowance, but I have found that "paying" my daughter a marble for each chore she does right now is helping her to learn to do them. We turn 4 marbles into one quarter that she can save and require her to pay tithing as well as put some in savings. I think that as she gets more adept at making her bed, brushing her teeth, etc. and grows older they will be expected, not paid. But I'm not sure how I will make that transition.

Kim said...

I'm definitely with you on this one. My girls do not receive an allowance. They have regular chores, but they're now at the age (11 and 9) where they ask for extra work to earn spending money.

Scribbit said...

Sheri--you cracked me up with that worry we'd think you were running a sweat shop :)

I think it sounds great--I've done something similar with the boys. It took Spencer 2 summers of training to get to the point where he could do a good job mowing our grass but now he's out earning money on his own. He mowed three lawns on Saturday and was cheering as he stuffed the bills in his wallet.

chelle said...

We do not have allowance either. Although she does earn 50 cents for cleaning her room. It was the only way I could figure to get her to do it without fighting.

Thea said...

Right now we have a chore chart for Jake for stuff that he just has to do (make the bed, clear the dishwasher, etc.). If he does his chore, he gets a sticker. Then he has a tiered reward system for how many stickers he gets.

On top of that, he has the opportunity to do 3 pay jobs a week. If he doesn't do them, he gets no money that week. If he does do them, we pay up at the end of the week...and show him how to divy up his monies between spending, saving, bank, and donate.

So far, it's been working great.

april said...

Wow, what are the chances that another April asked you the same question I did after reading the helicopter post? That's amazing. :D

Scribbit said...

ACK! Sorry April--I couldn't remember which it was and emailed her to see if it was but never heard back. I took a gamble and lost :)

april said...

Oh, so it was just me? I just thought it was an incredible coincidence! I don't care if she gets the credit. :)

Scribbit said...

Yes, it was you--I had the email that I'd saved but not the address or URL, just the text of the question and the name April. I'm afraid I couldn't remember which of the several Aprils I know but I thought I'd guessed wisely there. Oops :)

John and Laura said...

great perspective. thanks!

Aleta said...

My girls (6,5,3 years)have their normal everyday chores... but usually one to two times a week we do a mass cleaning and laundry put away that they help a lot with. For that I give 'chore store' dollars ($1 for the DAY). These are fake dollars that they can save for the 'chore store' I go to the dollar section and buy little things and then charge them $1-5 for the item. About once a month we break out the chore store and they owe me $1 for tithing and can choose to spend or save the rest.

This works well, teaching them to save money, etc. My oldest said she would prefer real money to shop with - so I told her, okay, you know the dinner you're eating (we happened to be at Burger King). That cost $5! What you earned the WHOLE MONTH! She quickly chose to stick with the chore store dollars.

And of course I buy all their clothes, etc. When they want something special, we make them wait for Christmas or Birthdays.

Hazel said...

You philosophy sounds almost exactly like the one my mom took with us, and the one I will take with my children. Whenever one of my siblings or I would ask for allowance for chores she would tell us "when the money fairy comes and pays me for cleaning my house, Ill kick a little money your way".
I did encounter a lady at work the other day who had a pretty neat idea about her kids money; her daughter, probably about 12,had broken her phone and was looking at what it was going to cost her to buy another one. She has a college savings account that her mom puts money in and the daughter is allowed to borrow from, but has to pay back with interest before she is allowed to borrow again. So this girl had a pen and paper and was figuring out not only the phone price, but the interest she would have to pay back, just like a real loan. I thought this was a really clever idea and even though I wont do allowance, this I might consider.

Chele said...

Finally, someone that thinks like me! (or a lot now that I read all the comments!) I did grow up with an allowance only if all chores were done. But the difference is my parents had the money to do it. We do not. So we have adopted the philosophy years ago that if you want to live here free, you do your share. Thanks for this Michelle! :)

Edi said...

We give our kids an allowance - it is not tied to anything. There are certain jobs they do around the house - but they do it b/c they are part of the family.

We are in the group that gives $ to teach them to manage it. Perhaps when they are old enough to make money some other way (part-time job?) we'd no longer give it to them - not there yet - so don't know.

Dad (who happens to be a CPA and a financial advisor) gives them interest on the amount of money they have left at the end of the month. The money they receive is to buy a) junk food or eat out if not parent's idea b) toys, special activities (if their idea and they really want to do it - including paying a portion of the yearly family swim pass or joining a club)...c) purchase presents for family members d) big ticket items like a laptop or ??? (all spending is still with parental approval - though since it is their money and they are generally careful with it - we'll allow the purchase unless it is totally crazy and then we'll work with them to figure out if it's really the wisest choice...dd wanted a certain pet & she was willing to pay all costs associated with it - when she did research and figured out the costs for the year - we saw it would be way too much money. We guided her towards a more reasonably priced pet.)

Some parents already pay for all of the above - so we are paying for it but in a way that we believe will teach them to spend (or save) their money wisely. We have told them the $ they have is not something for them to tell others about or brag about. It took the boy a lot longer to understand interest and the benefit he gains by not frittering his money but now that he understands he is a lot more careful.

Anjali said...

Thank you for saying what I have always wanted to say on this subject. I didn't get allowances and I don't plan on giving them.

This is why reward charts for good toddler/preschool behavior have always bothered me as well... You should just do what you should do, not because you get a reward for it.

gail said...

Our family has the same allowance rules as Scribbit.

If my kids were going to a theme park with others, I would not give them an abundance of money. I have taken kids before to a theme park, who had $40 (or more!) for the day, and the day ends up being about blowing the cash instead of having fun with the group. Frustrating!

One of my biggest lessons about money was not about allowance, but love. I was running track as a freshman and I had nice running shoes, but for races, spikes worked a lot better. We talked about it as a family and decided to wait to buy another pair of shoes. However, without my knowing it, my dad gave up a cup of coffee a day (back when coffee was 50 cents or so), and saved the money and surprised me with a pair of spikes! Dad never said a word about how he bought them, Mom told me.

We had money growing up. The shoes were not that expensive. But the sacrifice and love meant the world to me. I wore the spikes every year through high school and still have them in a box!

That example was worth any allowance!

Scribbit said...

Gail--what a touching story! You're right, the lesson behind the spikes is so much more important. Reminds me of a family story about how my grandmother sewed Barbie clothes for her daughter's friends to sell to earn enough money to bring my dad back from college at Christmas.

Lara said...

The timing on this article was just perfect for me. Just last night my 14-year-old son had started begging us to reinstitute an allowance and my husband and I just couldn't really decide where we stood on the issue. Your thoughts and ideas perfectly encapsulated many of my own and helped me to be able to articulate them better to my husband. Thank you!

The Source said...

We do things similarly around here. No allowances, no paying them for earning good report cards (ugh! that one kills me)and we don't fork over tuition for college, either. The Oldest is actually making money by going to college because he earned scholarhip money over and above what's needed for a full course load and books. THAT alone has motivated the next one to buckle down even harder in high school! Will we contribute to college expenses for a child who's otherwise worked hard to earn scholarships and financial aid? Sure! But we don't feel that we owe them all four years of college out of our pocket. :) We have retirement to consider!

Our oldest is on his own now financially, except for the roof over his head and the food I put on our table. He buys his own gas, auto insurance, school supplies, clothing, cell phone, and entertainment. The other three...well...they're usually penniless! But they know how to earn it when they want something. It's working well for us.

MaeRae said...

Michelle, I don't know if you are in my window box sometimes but I find that hard to believe since you are all the way across the continent. My family just had their big End Of Summer family meeting. We do this twice a year. Once just after Christmas and once just before school goes back. My boys are 16,13, and 8. Chores are not chores in our house they are "family responsibilities" everyone helps out and the youngest is starting into the weekly rotation of dishes come next week.

My husband and I both work and I have a part time job tutoring as well. My children know that this is necessary for the bills to get paid. They don't ask for allowances, they never have. We have the same way to make money as your family but these are one the MONEY BOARD. It is a wipe board in the kitchen with the tougher jobs that need to be done, like clean the attic. We tend to have the MONEY BOARD items be higher valued then a dollar or so to allow them the opportunity to raise money for things like the iPod or skateboard. But these jobs take time too.

Kudos to you!

Stephanie said...

Excellent post, Michelle.

I especially liked this part: "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."

Our girls are still very young, but - at this point - I don't think we will give them "allowances." The reasons that you mentioned here make perfect sense to me and my husband & I have had many similar conversations.

J at said...

Reading your post, and the comments (OK, some, there are 36 ahead of me), I come out seeing that there are a lot of different ways of dealing with this, as with so many things. We all have our reasons, but to think someone else's reason is going to produce a child who cannot handle money or whatever is limited. There are many paths to money management.

But your arguments for your way are darned good, and you make your point well.

Leah said...

Mmmm AMEN!! I've actually been nearly yelled at for trying to explain what you've just said... to close friends! You've explained it very well.
It made me laugh when I read Janelle's comment because I was thinking the same thing as I was reading the post. :)
Today is the first time I've come across your blog and I've already read a lot and liked a lot... You've got some great information... I'll be back!

Anonymous said...

Your husband was wrong about the allowances. We did give them small allowances (about $5/month)until they got old enough to earn money. It did, however, come with responsibility. When they wanted small things, they had to dip into their personal funds. It reduced the annoyance factor. I'll bet Andrew will remember when you ask him about the "Mad Bag" which held items that had not been put away such as shoes, clothes, toys which they had to redeem with dimes from their allowance. Ouch!!

Organizing Mommy said...

We have done an allowance for a simple reason that I am through with buying my children clothing, shoes, socks, underwear etc. Their allowance is a clothing allowance, which is not very high. They end up having to look for bargains and spend when they NEED things, instead of every week WANTING things. It's amazing that when we started this, our kids were not fond of handmedowns and garage sale clothing. But now they like them. Just a twist on a basic concept.

Alice Wills Gold said...

I am rethinking my allowance philosoophy...and I couldn't even get through all the comments.

My girls get $1 for every year monthly. This month, we were so broke, we took the aprox. combined$30 and used it for ALL of their back to school shopping.

We got shirts at the thrift store, used the old backpacks, lunch boxes and stuff we had around the house. They only had to buy a few other supplies, and lucky for us they all fit into their old tennis shoes.

I think that this kind of frugality was more of a lesson to them than anything. Hopefully in the future they will really appreciate anything new.

Teaching children about money! said...

Our children must EARN their allowance, no freebies!! As a single parent that was *less* than good with money throughout my youth, teaching children about money is CRUCIAL, in my mind. I’m not going to blame parents, schools, etc, but quite simply, I clearly “didn’t get it”, and I am still paying for those mistakes a decade later! And quite frankly, I hate the position I got myself in, everytime I pay off my past debts… I could have used my time/money sooooo much better.