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Kid Allowances (And How They Force Me to Budget)


My friend’s baby was snoozing in her arms, but her four-year-old son was tugging on her to bring her to the bathroom. I reached for her baby so she could have the use of both her hands while helping her son in a public restroom (the alternatives get dire, fast).

The baby slept in my arms, head snuggled up on my collarbone for a solid thirty minutes. His hair was soft and he smelled like baby soap. I rocked him back and forth and hummed an r&b song with inappropriate lyrics but a killer melody.

“Don’t you miss that?” another woman asked me.

“I do. I do. But do you know what babies can’t do, Brenda? Babies can’t do chores.”

If you come over my baby-less (sniff) house and ask my daughters what their chores are, they line up like the von Trapp children (before the curtains-as-clothing scenes) and one-by-one, they list them off.

“I unload the dishwasher.” ::clicks heels::

“I make sure the living room stays clean.” ::jazz square::

“I clear off the table.” ::haphazard pirouette::

It gives them responsibility, a sense of pride, a sense of teamwork, and it’s one less Target tumbler I’m unceremoniously handling throughout the day.

We had talked about allowances last year, but decided to put them in place after the chore schedule had a few months to solidify. We’ve always required them to help, but now that we’ve moved into a new home, we wanted to formalize that setup — without at all tying it to their allowance.

So they have an allowance and they have chores, but neither have an effect on the other.

“You do chores without pay,” I tell them, “because we all live in this house. And it’s so much nicer to live in a clean house than in a messy house.”

They acknowledge that they prefer that their environment is clean, and we talk about how, since we all live in this house, we all pitch in.

Separating allowances from chores also spares us from one day having a teenager examine the contents of her handbag and say, “Well I already have $20, so I’m just going to skip out on doing the dinner dishes tonight.”

They do chores because that’s what being a part of a household requires, and they get allowances because we want to teach them good money habits.

Particularly, we want to teach them about saving, spending, and giving. Not a new concept; in fact, there are plenty of banks to choose from that share this approach. I ended up buying a case of mason jars, maybe less for its Pinteresty appeal, and more because I liked the idea of having them stay within a grid. It mitigates the visions of shattered glass and scattered dimes.

Our process (like most of our parenting tactics) is going to be pretty amorphous, I think, and we’re content to figure it out as we go. But here’s what’s happening so far.

  1. Each week, we give them an allowance according to their age. The 8-year-old gets $8, and the almost-7-year-old is looking forward to her $1 bump in a few weeks. We usually give them at least two dollars in coins to make divvying up a little easier.
  2. We calculate ten percent to put in their give jar. It’s a nice opportunity to introduce division.
  3. Half of their allowance goes into their save jar. Jack and I had discussed whether or not that would go towards a future special purpose, but we ultimately decided that’s what the spend jar is for. We’re essentially giving them money and, once the jar is full, taking half of it back for savings.
  4. The rest can go into their spend and invest jars as they see fit.
  5. We threw invest in there just for fun. We told Remmy that any money she puts in the invest jar has to stay there until she hits $10. But once she does, we’ll give her another $2. In that case, she can take out all $12, or wait until it hits $20, and then we’ll give her another $5. It doesn’t exactly model investing (although I’d love returns like this at my bank), but it gives them an idea about what investing is about.
  6. They don’t get to spend their spend jar on anything they want. I want to give my 4-year-old some autonomy, but this is a learning lesson and my job is to guide her, so I’m not going to let her spend $20 on lollipops.

And here’s the kicker — we told them we’re going to stop buying them extras.

“Mom and Dad are on a budget, too. So if we’re at the stores and you say ‘Mom, I really like those shoes, could we buy them?’, I’m going to remember that you already have a pair of sneakers, a pair of snow boots, and a pair of dress boots, so if you want those, you’ll have to pay for them with your allowance money.”

They nodded and understood. We get them what they need, but extra toys and special things? That’s mostly going to come on birthday and Christmas.

To be honest, I have to figure this out for me, too, because anytime there’s a neat book out, I want to buy it for them. And then I remind myself that they have loads of books and libraries are wonderful things.

We’d like to give them opportunities to earn, too, but we’re not sure what that looks like yet. Again, holding on these rules loosely, but I’m hopeful that we’ll all get some learning lessons with this one.

Do you do allowances? Chores? Got a baby I can snuggle for thirty minutes? Call me.

Teaching Kids About Personal Safety


Teaching Kids About Personal Safety

No one really keep a rein on my television watching as a child, and as a result of too many Unsolved Mysteries episodes, I cannot watch scary movies and I am suspicious of all basements. My mom wavered between being paranoid (don’t talk to people, ever) and incredibly trusting (I can’t even recall […]

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