If you’re like one of my many conservative friends you are probably saying to yourself right now that “allowances do nothing more than teach a kid about receiving handouts”. You may even be one of those awesome human beings that intends to use your child’s allowance as a way to teach them about taxaction by docking it to cover the dogs or their little brother or something. You’re absolutely adorable, just saying.
Regardless of your ideals, for the last eight years we’ve experimented with allowances with our daughter. How much should we give her? What can she spend it on? What does she have to do to earn the money? There’s a lot out there on the subject and very mixed thoughts on how an allowance should be approached. Here’s some things I have come up with and learned along this journey.
Why should your child receive an allowance?
Notice I didn’t say “earn”. The truth is, your child isn’t earning anything. You are giving them money because they are at an age where they can’t necessarily get a job and earn money for themselves. Sure you can exchange money for chores but that’s not the point (more on that below). The point is to empower them to be a bit more independent and also teach them how money works and to instill the value associated with it.
How much should I give my child?
Seems most people settle on between 50¢ and a dollar per year of age per week. Running the math on that for our eight year old, eight bucks a week seemed a bit excessive to me. That ends up being over 400$ a year! You also have to consider how that will scale up with age and also having multiple children. At the end of the day you need to come up with a number that you can afford every single week. No docking your kid’s allowance because you can’t afford to cover them, that’s not the lesson you want to be teaching.
Should I encourage them to save or spend?
This is where the amount you give the child per week can work to your advantage. At four bucks a week for our daughter, she can buy something small every week or she could save up and buy something larger. There is no way for her to buy something large with only a week’s allowance so she is then forced to save up. We don’t even have to harp on it, it’s just math.
We actually don’t encourage spending or saving. It’s been explained to her that it’s her money and she can do with it as she pleases. Real quick, for the asshole that’s saying to himself right now “so she can go buy meth if she wants?”, think about how absolutely ignorant you sound right now. No. Seriously. Think about it.
Sorry about that, so if she wants to blow it every week, fine. But don’t be shocked when you can’t afford something nicer or larger. We’re giving her the opportunity to make decisions on her own with a trivial amount of money.
Stop buying stuff for your kid
By the time you are giving your child an allowance you have to commit to not spending money on certain things for your child. No more “just because” surprises or giving in to temptation at the toy aisle. If there is something your child wants, they can buy it with their money.
This also gives an opportunity to reinforce the responsibility of carrying a purse or wallet with their money in it. Didn’t bring your money? Too bad so sad, perhaps you’ll remember it next time. Another lesson sneaks itself in.
Don’t tie chores to an allowance
This may seem counter-intuitive at first but hear me out on this one. Chores, at least for a kid, are something they have to do. They have to contribute to the household by taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn or whatever. If you start to couple the chores to the allowance, more like a job, you can run into a situation where your child simply opts out of doing the chores when they don’t need any more money.
Let’s get real here, your child doesn’t need the money you are giving them. In fact at first, they are probably not going to remember that it’s allowance day and won’t be nearly as excited about it as you are. It’s really easy for them to fall into the trap of realizing that they can get by without the allowance in an attempt to not do chores. You provide food and shelter, the rest is just a bonus. Know how I know? I know because I pulled that shit on my parents.
I know some of you are scoffing about this one because it is perpetuating a sense of entitlement because working hard and getting paid isn’t being ingrained in your child. I get it, and I understand your point. But that’s also why we at least try to…
Give takeaways every week
Even though we don’t tie chores directly to the allowance we always take a moment every week to review performance and potentially give some takeaways on what could be improved the next week. It’s usually little things something like your “attitude could have been better when we asked you to clean up your room”. We also give positive takeaways as well to help reinforce the good behavior that we would like to see more of.
We are still experimenting with a very loose demerit system. If there was a major offense the previous week we may knock off 50¢ for the week. It’s all pretty subjective right now but has definitely shown promise in regard to getting our daughter to correct bad behavior the following week.
Like anything else with parenting, the key is consistency. Pick a day and time for doling out allowance every week and stick with it. I’m a fan of Friday evening before dinner. We take the time to talk about the week and all of that and then money exchanges hands.
We also take a few moments to count how much money she has saved up and what she may be saving up for. Depending on the week we may consolidate the bills a bit so she’s not running around with a bunch of singles looking like she works at the strip club ;)
Remember, this is not your child’s college fund
Don’t ever confuse giving your child an allowance for being a savings vessel for your child’s future. Sure they may opt to save up for bigger and better things, but you can’t bank on that. It’s still your responsibility to put some money aside or open up a pre-paid college fund or something for their future.
Give your child an allowance and teaching them about money today is just a means to try to ensure they won’t squander anything you may give them in the future.