Column: To Allowance or Not To Allowance?
By Mary Forde
Yesterday as I was driving home from work, there was a story on NPR about allowances. There was a new study by professional CPAs that found that the average allowance is $30 a week. Not that I need continual reminders of how old I am, but I recall getting 25¢ for which I had to mow the lawn, paint the house, do the laundry and cook all the meals (and I think I walk 10 miles barefoot in the snow to school). But seriously, how do you decide as a parent whether or not to give an allowance, what, if any, chores will be required to earn it and how much to give?
To allowance or not to allowance?
Giving children money is the best way to teach children how to manage money. Having children earn money helps them see its value. As in so many cases, the decisions should start with conversations with your children – what do they think they need money for? Learning how to wait and delay satisfaction is a trait that has been associated with later successes. Learning to save for a desired object or experience is an important ‘adult’ milestone. There are probably some everyday items or goodies (ice cream after school) your child can identify but there may be some ‘big ticket items’ that they would also like to have (sneakers, game, app). Use both these wish lists to come up with a reasonable amount for an allowance. You can then have a discussion with your child about how much they want to spend and how much they want to set aside for the larger item. It’s great if you can open a bank savings account and go on a regular basis to make deposits but if that is not possible a version of the piggy bank works just fine. If you are interested in raising the next Warren Buffet, you can even add the concept of interest – “If you make your savings deposit for three weeks in a row, I will add $1.00 in interest.” Allow children to withdraw if they want to. It will help them to understand the impact of short-term benefits on long term goals.
If you don’t have disposable income at the current time for cash allowances, you can still run the entire process with your own ‘fake’ money (Monopoly money works fine). Instead of working for cash and purchases, children can work to earn family privileges. What those look like really depends on your family and your routines – but choosing a dinner menu, trading in a chore for the next week, picking the TV show, etc. can be just as powerful.
It is not a bad idea for children to understand how a household works. Unlike the tooth fairy, the laundry and dinner fairies do not come in the night and make all things ready for the next day. All household activities take time and some take planning. It is important to help children, even very young children, understand that they are both a contributor to and a receiver of household services. They may not be cooking the dinner but they can put the forks on the table, they might not be doing the laundry but they can bring their dirty clothes to the washing machine. While the chores may form the basis for the payment of allowances, children should also understand that what they are doing is a necessary role in having a comfortable life. If they don’t do their part, the rest of the family will suffer, well maybe not suffer but certainly be inconvenienced.
You have probably all seen the cartoons that show a child who reports to have cleaned their room only to have stuffed everything in the closet. If you have assigned chores to your children in the past, how often have you had a ‘discussion’ that their idea of clean does not match your definition of that term. Although it may take a little time, it is a good idea to complete the chore with your child one or two times. Show them how you approach the task, how you figured out how long it would take you and what you needed to do the job. This is where the iPad or Chromebook can be your friend. Take a picture of all the things you gather to complete the task, take pictures and/or describe the steps you take and most importantly, take a picture of the completed task, “This is what I mean when I say your room is clean.” Make sure you both agree that this is what the finished job will look like. After your ‘on the job training’, decide with your child when the chore will be done and use this as payday. Compare the completed work to your picture – rather than debating whose definition of “done” is correct, you just compare what your expected with what they produced, “When I look at the picture we agreed on, the lids were on the garbage cans. Is that how this looks?” Less drama and debate is always better.
Mary Forde is the Chief of Pupil Personal Services Greenwich Public Schools.