Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Allow(ance) or not to Allow(ance)? That is the Question

Recently I gave my children their first paid gig: picking up leaves and acorns. We have a nice play area in our backyard with rubber mulch, and it was getting taken over by the invaders of autumn. I gave Lamb and Monkey each a bucket, and I told them I would pay a penny per leaf and a nickel per acorn. Monkey quickly filled his up and came running back. I showed him how to push the leaves down to make more room in his bucket, and he went happily off to earn more money.

When all was said and done, I paid Monkey $1.35. I paid Lamb… are you ready for this?... $9.55! She was quite the hard worker that afternoon! Note to self: Make everything worth a penny next time…

Fast-forward a few days to Monday, when Lamb was home sick from school. As she sat on the floor and worked on a little craft, the following conversation took place:

Monkey (to Lamb): "Why are you cutting the couch?"
Lamb: "I'm not!"
Monkey: "Yes, you are!"
Lamb: "Noooooooooo!!!!! I'm NNNNNOOOOOTTTTTTT!!!!!"

Somewhere in my brain I heard this whole conversation, but the conscious part of my brain just heard "Fighting kids. Must stop." So I stopped them and talked to them. Then I played back in my head what had transpired, and I wondered if I should go over and check the couch. "Nah," I thought, "she's FIVE, not two. She knows better."

And then about two hours later, my mom was over and said, "Oh no! What happened to your couch?"


Sure enough, there was a 2-inch gash along the couch cushion, made by a nice pair of kid scissors. So Lamb and I had a talk. Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but I was actually quite pleased with how calm and compassionate yet firm I was, almost like an actual good mom. But during the course of the conversation, I asked Lamb how she thought we should pay for the repairs, and eventually "we" decided that she should give me all of the money in her piggy bank. (And yes, she has an actual piggy bank.) That included all of her leaf and acorn money, plus a few dollars in coins that she had accumulated over time. She was devastated. (By the way, what on earth made her decide to slice open the couch, I still don't know.)

But as we discussed this consequence, she said two things that really stood out to me. "Now how will I save up for anything?!" and "But no one ever wants to give me their money!" I was impressed that she had given thought to saving up for things, and struck by the fact that she relied on us giving her the occasional quarter in order to do so.

So that got me thinking… What other jobs would she be willing to do for a penny or nickel at a time? No wait, that wasn't it. It was… Maybe it's time to start an allowance.

And then I started researching allowances, and let me tell you—expert opinions vary widely on the topic. Here are just a few of the results I found in my search:

  • From – "Don't link allowance to routine household chores. Children have chores because they're members of the family; they get an allowance to learn how to handle money. Linking the two may result in children who won't do anything without pay or children who decide the money isn't worth the work."
  • From – "Start paying them a commission for chores they do around the house… Do not give them an allowance."
  • From – "Provide your child with a weekly or bi-weekly allowance, depending on how often you get paid. Letting your child know that his "payday" corresponds with yours can help drive home the idea that money has to be managed and made to last until the next payday."
  • From – "Their first allowance should be given at a minimum of once a week."

And that's just the beginning! A wide range of opinions can also be found on what age a child should be, how much they should be given, how involved the parents should be in how the money is spent, and on and on and on.

I just wanted a simple way to help my daughter save up for something!

So now Mr. Fantastic (That's how I'm referring to my hubby from now on—I may even go back and do it retroactively. He's not a big blogging fan, so maybe this will help me to earn some brownie points. Plus, he IS pretty darn fantastic.) and I are trying to decide how to handle this whole thing. Do we give her an allowance or a "commission"? Maybe we should give her some basic responsibilities and then she earns money for chores she does on top of that…? But if we do that, will she start to expect payment every time we ask her to do something? If we give her an allowance (and not a commission), will she think that money just grows on trees? How much is appropriate? How do we help her learn how to spend it? Should we start something with Monkey too? How much of her allowance should be set aside for the therapy bills that she will inevitably need after being raised in this house?

And that's where we are, in the midst of the great payment debate. So what do you do? Do your kids get an allowance or a commission or neither? Or both? What are the parameters? Do you have a set of written rules—amounts, times, conditions, etc? Let's hear it—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Commence! J


Mike said...

I don't have kids, but I do have opinions. lol

Money is a resource, and you may give it to them in a raw form or via other goods and services. That is, you could give an allowance or you could allow them to earn credit towards something they desire. It's worth thinking about whether this will be money in addition to the other resources you provide or not.

Perhaps you could create a distinction between regular chores and paid chores. A list, or maybe just a succession of conversations.

My parents gave us no money, except for $50 to start a bank account when we were young. After I learned other people got an allowance, I was upset my parents didn't do the same. You're not going to avoid the psychological problems of resource allotment, allowance or no. Let that go and make your decision and deal with the problems when they arise.

However, I think it is hugely important to help your kids understand how to allocate their resources, esp. spending money. Learning the value of a dollar, and the costs of living are lessons they will thank you for later. Help them spend money at the store, help them give money away. They will eventually see that the resources are limited and making wise decisions about how to allocate them is important.

Rachel said...

In our house, Jared just started earning an allowance this year. He has a chart that includes chores and certain behavior aspects. If he completes the chores and abides by the behavior constraints, then he passes that day. We originally took him to the store every 2 weeks to pick out a small toy (less than $5) but then decided to give him $2.50 a week so that he could save up for something larger.
I like that he understands the concept of saving and how much things cost. He doesn't seem to expect payment for extra things he is asked to do (at least, not yet).
The difficulty lies in the fact that Lydia does not think it is fair that Jared gets an allowance and she doesn't. We've just told her that when she's 8 she'll start earning an allowance.
There are basic chores that are done because it's part of being a family. The allowance is earned by doing chores in addition to those.
Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Well I think teaching about money from a young age is always a good thing! We started giving Gavin special jobs at 3 years old and he saved up for quite a while to pay for half of his first bike. Right now he's saving up for a new wii game. We try to teach him certain things must be done as chores, he cleans his room and helps unload the dishwasher, but sometimes it's nice when he can help out with bigger things and we'll pay him. I think every kid is different and you need to customize your plan accordingly. Also at Thanksgiving and Christmas time he helps me buy food for others.

erin said...

Okay, clearly Levi and Seth are a bit young for us to be doling out allowances, but we have given this subject some thought.

My parents actually did NOT give us an allowance, for the very reason stated by My mom's rationale was "you live in this house, I'm not going to pay you to help keep it up." Which I agree with.

I also agree, though, that children need to know what it means to earn and value money, and where it comes from (a blessing from God that He is entrusting us to be wise stewards of--now how do you convey that to a small child? Beats me! Hee.), so we probably will be paying them at some point to do chores above and beyond what we would consider normal.

I know you guys will figure it out, though. :) You're pretty smart cookies.


ps. sorry about your couch. :(

Penny said...

When I was growing up my mom was very good about charting and getting us involved in household chores. Likewise, we started getting an allowance in elementary school every two weeks when my Dad got his paycheck. It was $5 which was pretty good (I thought). I don't remember ever NOT getting it if chores were not done(although THAT rarely flew in our house), but we did not get any more money for doing extra things either. My trouble with the allowance was that it never went up. $5 was a great amount to save up for a toy, but took a long while to save up for church camp or other bigger ticket items when I was older. I think I got the allowance until I got my first job in high school (aside from babysitting). And the funny thing is when I older and was on my own (and earning a good paycheck) my dad would always slip me a $20 and send me home with food (usually extra bananas). Where was THAT when I was saving for camp or needed pizza or book money in college!?!

I would suggest charting the routine chores, providing a regular allowance and paying commission for occasional chores/providing special help to you with bigger projects (like the leaves and acorns). I have to say, I do like your method of paying for damage! I have three little ones and while some of that is expected, as you said, when they are two, if the older ones do something they know they shouldn't, they should pay a price (money or time) to make up for it. It does make an impact. Just be fair despite the initial emotion.

For instance, I had to pay the price for my sister's car when with her permission (but not my parents who lived in Canton) I was driving my boyfriend back to college from a visit me over the weekend at my college and the serpantine belt broke on the way back stranding us in Dayton. THIS was not MY fault, but since I was driving the car at the time and I was not supposed to be driving my boyfriend out of town (he went to Univ of Cinci and I was at Ohio Northern), my punishment was paying to fix the car. (SERIOUSLY?!) I had to sell my word-processor for $200-$300??? (in college - 1994) to pay off the bill I charged to my only credit card. I have to say, I did think twice in the future about doing things I knew my parents would be upset about. Thankfully, I had the good sense to take a college friend with me on the dreadful evening so I was not alone when I was stranded overnight (and had to miss my calc class at 8am the next morning). This was BCP (before cell phones). :) My parents were very emotional and scared when they found out I was stranded (and where and why), so the "payment" was all they felt they could do (I would guess) to make it sink in that I did something I really should not have done.