We moved from a standard once-a-week, clear-up-your-room allowance when I realized the cleanliness lasted about as long as it took me to pull $5 from my wallet. Instead we adopted a fee-per-chore system, complete with a “price list” posted on our fridge. Items include things like folding laundry, shovelling the walk and the strangely coveted “removing dead animal from pool.”
For the record, I don’t make them clean their rooms anymore. Their choice. And clearing the table, putting away their own laundry and helping with groceries are treated as unpaid parts of our family’s routine.
I grew up getting paid allowance, and it was my only source of funds for weekly chocolate bars and comic books. I worked hard for that allowance, and the rewards were literally sweet.
One of the great things about paying your kids for chores around the house is that it clearly defines who is the boss. You can demand that chores are done to a certain standard and you can, in extreme circumstances, fire them from those chores. I have done so. Interestingly, my kids have fought to get those chores reassigned.
Teaching Kids the Value of Money
Besides actually getting the work done without (much) complaint (and really, isn’t that worth something?), there’s another advantage that is much more valuable: You’re teaching your kids financial literacy. My 11-year-old son clearly knows how many times he has to pull weeds to earn a video game.
Learning the value of a dollar—how hard it is to earn it, and whether to save or spend—is a habit we need to establish when they’re young. I think this benefit outweighs the idea that “we’re all a family and we all have to pitch in.” My kids are a solid team and they help each other out—for free.
Dissociating Money with Gifts
Getting them bank accounts is good, but filling those accounts only with money that comes from birthday and special-occasion cheques from grandparents makes it seem like money is always a gift that they never have to earn.
In my area, kids can’t typically earn money any other way until they’re at least 14 and, even then in some cases, may require parental permission. I’d rather my kids earn money making my life at home easier than have to drive them to a fast food job; that can wait until they are 16.
Kathy Buckworth is a mom of four and the author of I Am So The Boss Of You: An 8-Step Guide To Giving Your Family The Business (McClelland & Stewart).
You might think it will be possible to slow down, but physics has a way of taking over. Similarly, using money as a condition, bribe or reward for walking the dog or washing the dishes can get out of control before parents know it.
Connecting Money and Family
Most parents withdraw privileges as punishment when kids neglect their responsibilities—for example, “Your room’s a mess—no texting tonight.”
However, money makes it more complex. Sure, it can be withheld if jobs aren’t done, but that doesn’t always work. One of my daughters saved every cent, counted it constantly and planned her spending religiously. The other could not have cared less. At that point, she didn’t value money the same way her sister did, so withholding her allowance had almost no impact. Also, giving an allowance for chores trains young minds to believe that doing their part within the family has a monetary value. And that’s a very slippery slope indeed.
Expecting Your Kids to Help
What’s the difference between a list of weekly jobs in return for $10 and a request that kids pitch in during times when household tasks put extra pressure on their parents? Spring means cutting grass, fall means raking leaves and winter brings snow to shovel. Are all those events going to be folded into allowance tasks or are kids going to expect additional payment for them?
Adopting Smart Money Habits
Many argue that we end up working for money anyway, so why not get kids used to it early on. What’s forgotten with such an approach is that an allowance is far more than currency to be earned in exchange for labour.
In fact, I’d suggest that the primary function of an allowance is not to experience receiving income for work, but rather to acquire financial knowledge and good money habits. Smart spending and saving for short-, medium- and long-term goals are vital financial skills. These should be learned within the family, just as children learn personal care and cooking basics. Earned income, on the other hand, is a concept that develops naturally as teens take on part-time jobs and, later, careers.
Chores Complicating Parenting
Exchanging chores for an allowance adds another layer of complication and monitoring for parents—and isn’t the list long enough as it is? Additionally, when there are siblings, the issue of workload fairness inevitably rears its head. Is taking out the garbage equal to cleaning up after the family pet?
An allowance should be approached as a rite of passage (“Managing money is part of growing up”) and a privilege (“You’re fortunate Mom and Dad can afford to give you an allowance”). Chores are a responsibility and often a pleasure, especially for young children. Linking the two corrupts the point of each.
Alison Griffiths is a financial author, broadcaster and journalist, and has two daughters and two young grandsons.