Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Kids' allowances

It's important for kids to learn about money - the value of money, the understanding that it has to be earned, learning to balance out wants and needs and priorities - and the best way to do that is for them to have money of their own.

My kids started to get a weekly allowance when they were four years old. A common recommendation seems to be one dollar a week for each year of their age, so that's what we started with. When we first started it was a system of weekly chores in exchange for compensation. At that age, their chores were things like making beds, getting dressed and putting clothes in the laundry hamper, and using table manners, all without being asked or reminded. I put a dry-erase board on the fridge with columns for check marks each day, and they had to earn a certain number of checks each week to receive the full amount.

As they got older, their responsibilities changed to include setting and clearing the table, putting away coats and shoes and backpacks and lunchbags, doing their homework and a weekly cleaning chore - vacuuming, sweeping or dusting. Their compensation changed, too, an extra dollar each week added every time they had a birthday. That adds up quickly! At six and eight years old, we're paying them nearly sixty dollars a month in allowance altogether. I found that their piggy banks were filling up quickly and they were spending their money as fast as they earned it, so we instituted a forced savings plan for them - we started putting aside one dollar out of their allowance each week for savings to help them understand about saving for the future and saving for big purchases in the same way that we save some of our paycheques each month for things that we need (like a new car or a house repair) and want (like our annual Disney vacation).

Somehow over the last year or so the chart has sort of fallen into disuse and the children's chores and responsibilities have become more inherent and expected - it's simply taken for granted that if you're a part of this family, you will take care of yourself by getting dressed and putting your clothes in the hamper, brushing your teeth, making your bed, putting your school things away and tidying your toys when you're finished playing. You will do your homework, use table manners, clear your plate and do whatever extras your parents ask you to - set the table, watch your baby brother while I use the washroom, sweep the stairs or Swiffer the kitchen floor once a week. And this does work, most of the time.

The concept of what their allowance is has shifted, too. While it used to be a fairly straightforward compensation for work - complete your chores, earn your checkmarks, here's your payment - it is now more than that. Their allowance is tied to their chores, but also to general actions - are you acting like a sharing, contributing member of this family? - and their behaviour. Their allowance can be lost, either in its entirety or a dollar at a time, for misbehaving or not being nice to their brothers or not listening to us or not meeting the expectations we have for them. Because of this, the concept of allowance has shifted from payment earned for tasks completed to money that is automatically theirs to be retained or lost based on their "job performance" as family members each week.

I think this system works well because it removes the implied option of not doing their chores - if they're receiving so much compensation for so many check marks, it implies that they could pick and choose what to do and what not to do and where to make it up elsewhere. With this system, they are learning that they have to participate and contribute simply because they are a part of the family; they are learning that money is something they need to earn, and it's a tangible consequence of action or inaction for them.

Unfortunately, whether it's a byproduct of Baby having joined our family just over a year ago or Mommy being at home all day or general laziness on both my part and the boys', I find that since we've stopped using the chore chart some of their responsibilities are not being met and there don't seem to be any repercussions. Our school mornings are busy and rushed, and four out of five days I end up making the boys' beds later on in the day. It's easier for me to do the house cleaning after the kids are in bed so most weeks I forget to ask them to do their chore because I've already done it. And because I'm not reminding or reprimanding them for these tasks but just taking care of them myself, they're not losing any allowance for not completing their chores.

I do prefer this system of inherent family-wide expectations that we've slipped into with the kids' allowances, but I think it may be time to bring the chore chart back simply to remind us all of what the expectations are. And, frankly, if a child is earning eight dollars a week just for behaving as he should anyway, it's probably not unreasonable to ask him to run the vacuum across the floor once a week.


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Teaching kids about money
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