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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

To Allowance or Not to Allowance

We are coping reasonably well with the loss of our dog. Thank you all so much for your kind words and sympathy. It really means a lot. We have found that distracting ourselves -- with soccer games, ice cream cones, and plans for summer (tomorrow is the last day of school) -- is helping. In the interests of moving forward, I pose the following. I would love your input.

I want my children to have a sense of what money is worth, of how long it takes to save. I want them to value the things they hope to own and to appreciate the hard work it takes to earn and save enough to buy something expensive. You want a skateboard? You have to show me that you are physically skilled enough to ride it by first learning to ride your bike without training wheels. That will earn you half the purchase price. Then you have to save up your own money to pay for the other half. (In the long-term interest of preserving your brains and bones, I will spring for the protective gear.)

This, of course, begs the question of where "your own money" is supposed to come from. Right now, it's all idiosyncratic. They have piggy banks, into which we have made a habit of depositing random change lying around the house. If you find a quarter under the sofa, and you report with glee, "look what I found, Mama!" you will be met with "go put it in your piggy bank, quick! before you lose it!"

Recalling my own first bank account, which we opened when I was about five or six, I decided it was time for the kids to have accounts too. I vividly remember my father teaching me the mysteries of the dusty pink paper sleeves that could turn into rolls of pennies.  We spent considerable time rolling $2 worth, and that was my opening deposit.

So I went to the bank and got coin roll sleeves a few months ago, and the kids and I broke into the piggy banks. It took us about two hours to roll $34 from Son's bank and $25 from Daughter's. We went to the bank and opened the accounts. They did not get the cunning pink folder I had gotten, printed with a tiny grid, on which to record deposits and withdrawals. But, being 21st century children, they can check their accounts online.

In the two months since their accounts were opened, however, the savings process has largely consisted of random found coins dropped gleefully into the piggy banks. When Son checked his last week, he discovered that it contained about $6.

Given that he now has desires for spending...squishies, and skateboards, and Club Penguin memberships...I feel that we need to come up with some kind of system for his gaining pocket money that is more reliable than collecting whatever coins happen to roll under the arm chair and annually depositing birthday money from grandparents.

I remember getting an allowance for a little while as a very young child. $1 per week. Maybe this lasted a few months or a year. But I am certain that I didn't have any money to speak of until I started babysitting at age 11 (fifty cents an hour that first summer, as I was a young and in-training sitter). I want something more systematic than that for my kids. But I also want it to be a process that is not just about handing them money. How is that any different than me just buying them the stuff they want? I want it to be about earning the money they get.

But the question is: what exactly can a four and six year old do to earn money? I can think of three methods.

Option One

One experiment involved a daily incentive system for behavior modification: we went through a horrible phase of whining, so I tied lack of whining to earning financial rewards. 25 cents for a day of no whining at all; 10 cents for a day with only one lapse in self-control.  Within a week, the whining had all but stopped completely.

In some ways, I like this allowance method for small children. We set a goal (say, sleep in your own bed all night long or remember not to respond to antagonism with more antagonism), and each day they have a tangible way to monitor their progress at reaching that goal. Each evening at bedtime, we review the day and discuss WHY they've earned what they've earned, so I feel like they are learning to be more purposeful and self-conscious about their behavior. At their ages, it helps them remember the goal better to have a daily accounting of their successes and failures, rather than a once-a-week review. 

But spun another way, I am bribing them with money for good behavior. Which, of course, sounds ridiculous.

So I feel conflicted about whether this is the best plan or not.

Option Two

I've considered setting a weekly opening allowance, say $2, and then fining them for certain infractions (fighting in the back seat of the car? Lose a nickle...) or charging them for certain privileges (you get 30 minutes of computer time per day; want more? it costs 15 cents per half-hour...). This has the merit of providing a new week-long math problem that supports learning money counting, as well as getting them to think about what they value more--another half-hour on the computer or that big purchase they are saving for.

Down sides to this plan? I'm not sure, since I haven't tried it yet.

Option Three

I know many people tie allowance to family chores. You do your daily/weekly jobs satisfactorily, you get your allowance on Saturday. If you forget to take out the trash, for example, you get docked some amount.

On principle, I think I'd rather not do this. I want them to understand that it's simply part of being in a family that everyone has to help clean up messes, weed the garden, put away dirty dishes, or take out the trash. We have a few weekly and daily chores assigned to each person, and a check chart we use to assess how well we're doing at keeping up with them. I wouldn't object to a long-term goal (say, two whole weeks of getting all your daily check marks = a family ice cream party), but it won't be money. No one pays me to do laundry; it's just part of the job description. I think cleaning up after themselves, and learning how to do things like clean a bathroom or water the plants, should be similarly part of their jobs. (I'm open to counter-arguments on this one, though.)

What do you do in your family? Do your kids get an allowance? Starting at what ages? Is allowance tied to any particular responsibilities on their part?  Are there chores that are just part of family expectations, unrelated to spending money? Are your kids required to save a certain proportion of their allowance, or can they do with it as they will? I'd love to know what works for you.


cynicalgrrl said...

Here's what we do, and our kids are 6 and 12. Warning, it's long:

Allowance starts in kindergarten and comes on Saturday. We have a Google spreadsheet that tracks, because we don't always deal out physical cash to the oldest each week. Youngest gets $3 a week, and he can decide how much he wants to put into the envelope we take to the credit union, but some must go. He usually decides $1 or $2, but he is currently still flush with birthday money so has cash in his wallet. Oldest gets $10 a week, and has three envelopes: charity, bank, friend. $1 a week goes into charity, $2 each into bank and friend (which is for chipping in on birthday presents for friends).

Allowance is your share of the household money. It is not tied to anything, though I may ask if your room is clean before I hand you cash, just as I may ask if you have practiced your flute before I let you use the iPad. However, part of being in our household is doing your share. This starts young, with folding washcloths and napkins, emptying the utensil basket, and swiffering.

So far that is working for us, but our kids are pretty agreeable and our household is fairly regimented. Others may find it too regimented, or be unable to wait for the s-l-o-w pace of getting some chores done in a household more pressed for time.

Mrs F with 4 said...

We started of with $1 per week, (at age 4, I think) given in quarters. Half into 'save' and half into 'spend'.

I don't pay for good behaviour, as that's just part of life; nor do I pay for regular chores. There are two reasons for that: one is that everyone living in tis house needs to contribute (do I get paid for laundry? I think not.), and secondly, I could foresee a time when I might have made a rod for my own back. Don't need money? Won't do chores.

I also don't fine them pocket money, unless, say, they have broken something (accidentally or on purpose!) belonging to someone else, in which case they have to pay, at least partly, to replace it.

The allowance is just simply that: a no-strings allowance for them to spend as they choose. I've always tried to help them spend it wisely (REALLY? You want to buy THAT with your allowance? Are you SURE?) and it seems to be working fine, so far. The habit of spend AND save seems to be quite firmly established in the two older children (9 and 6), so far, at least.

Incidentally, they voluntarily do the same with birthday money: put half (or more!) to save and half to spend.

And finally (!), I rarely buy toys for the children, unless it's something particular for birthday or Christmas. I will contribute to something 'special' they are saving to buy themselves, though. BUT - even though we haunt the library on a weekly basis - I buy books like there is no tomorrow. Sometimes they CHOOSE to spend their allowance on books (hurray!), but it's something I am happy, nay, delighted, to buy for them.

AnnetteK said...

My son earns money by the job, with no particular set allowance. If he has a week where he doesn't do his jobs he earns nothing. If he does lots of extra jobs he earns more.

He doesn't earn anything for good behavior, but he has had to pay fines for bad behavior.

He may start getting an allowance as he gets older, but for now he likes to earn his money by the job so I'm leaving it alone.

Issas Crazy World said...

I actually give allowance just to give allowance. To teach them about money. To make them have to think about what they buy. So they learn, I suppose. My oldest pays me for her iTouch apps with it and they will both pay me back for a toy or candy or something at Target. I don't take it away if they mis-behave. That's not a consequence I'm willing to use.

They also have chores each day/week. The two are separate in my mind. I figure being a part of our family means they need to help out. I do on occasion pay for extra stuff. Or you know...the random dollar for entertaining their brother while I finish work. that kind of stuff.

ps. I'm so sorry to hear about your pup.

texasholly said...

My boys get their age in $ as an allowance. It is not attached to tasks, but there are certain tasks that they are expected to do because they belong to our family. Of that money, $1 goes to savings and $1 goes to giving each week. So in actuality, my 9 year old gets $7 worth of spending cash each week.

I highly recommend letting them have spending money because it completely eliminates them asking for me to buy them things...I just ask back if they have the money and they want to spend it.

Two of my kids spend pretty freely and one is a saver.

Either way, they are learning a lot about money management that will help them in the future.

A Modern Mother said...

I pay 10p a snail! They earned about £5 this year...

Great post -- have not thought about allowance yet.

Jb said...

Loaded questions!

We also think the kids should do chores as part of being a member of the household. But you could pay them for chores that are more of a challenge.

One thing I would advise, based on my own failures in this area, is to keep it simple. You don't want to make it difficult for yourself to keep track of your system.

Also, you might want to have some kind of rule about the money that comes to them as a gift...because when they have money given to them all the time, then motivation becomes a big problem.

Good luck! I wish I had done better on this subject myself!

Lisa said...

This is what we do (4 and 6 yos):

There are certain chores that are done because one is part of the family. These chores include picking up ones toys, helping mom set the table, cleaning ones pee up off the bathroom floor, etc.). There is no money paid for these chores.

I have a chart of extra chores that one can do for money. This includes things like taking out the trash, vacuuming, sorting and folding laundry, cleaning windows, weeding). Each chore has a payment amount, which differs with the chore, but it is all up on the chart. I sometimes ask the child to do the chore and then pay, or sometimes the child volunteers, if there is something he really wants money for.

As the children get older, my intention is to add to the list of chores one doesn't get paid for, while also adding more difficult (and thus more lucrative) chores to the for-money list.

Suburban Kamikaze said...

In our house we find that a combination of systems works just as well as any individual system, none of which actually works.

But good luck to you,


Annah said...

I like Option #2, with the fining method.

MommyTime said...

There are so many good ideas here that I feel like I need to mull it over and talk about it at length with Husband.

Many thanks for taking so much time, so many of you, to put out all these great strategies!

Best Kept Secrets said...

I think the second one sounds good. I liked the first one at first but as you pointed out then they will feel entitled to monies for being good and when they don't get it become huge brats.

I was given $5 if I mowed the lawn or washed the car and .25 for every shirt of my dad's I ironed.

Keely said...

Hm, food for thought. My own kid is still too young, but when my brother and I were children we got a weekly allowance. It was tied to a chore list. I don't personally see it as paying for them to do chores - I see it as giving them responsibility, a "job", for which you are ultimately rewarded. Sure, you could argue that there are less tangible rewards already attached (sense of accomplishment, nice clean room, whatever), but that seems a bit obscure for younger children. Paying them to do chores a) teaches them how to do those things and b)gets them done so you don't have to.

(For big things, my parents always promised to ante up half if we saved the first half. Within reason of course.)

Keely said...

Ugh, and that comment was like "follow the ever changing pronoun". Sorry.


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