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.

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  • Reply Heather Laura Clarke January 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm

    Love this concept! We started doing an allowance a few months ago ($6/week for the six-year-old, $4 for the four-year-old). We’re very much a debit family, so we set them each up with their own bank accounts and the money automatically transfers from my account each week. We *did* tie it to chores, which kind of sucks because I can’t stop the transfer without a hassle (it’s more like a payee thing) and sometimes they don’t do all of their chores. So then I’m basically lying about their balance to reflect what they DID earn — jars sound much easier. :) Seeing them use their debit cards proudly is pretty cute, though.

    • Reply Roo January 10, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      Haha, them using debit cards sounds really cute! I like the idea of them being able to see their savings in jars, but I’m sure we’ll upgrade to something a little bit more technologically forward in the future!

  • Reply Awesome Anne January 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    I love this idea. I’m not sure how to implement something similar for a large family (five kids) on very tight budget. If we follow the “age=allowance” idea, we’d be out $51 each week. That adds up FAST. But then, I don’t want to feel like I’m punishing them for being in a big family. I especially LOVE the “invest” idea. Thanks for sharing. Gives me lots to think about.

    Also, I miss your This is How I Feel posts.

    • Reply Roo January 10, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Oooh yeah, that’s not an insignificant amount monthly. Happy to share, let me know what you end up doing! (PS I posted a new TIHIF last Friday!)

    • Reply Kaydee January 21, 2017 at 10:19 pm

      My parents gave us half our age in allowance which I didn’t realize wasn’t normal until like high school. But they did the same save, spend, donate thig with us.

      • Reply Kaydee January 21, 2017 at 10:20 pm


  • Reply Rachel January 10, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    My mum is a big budgeting fan and we had something similar as kids, put without the pin worthy jars. (Awesome Anne; our monthly allowance was proportionate to our age but not strictly dollar per year. Mum calculated it each April according to how much her budget allowed that financial year)

    We had to contribute the equivalent of one months money for each week of summer holiday which went into a kitty (plus mum and dads much bigger contribution), we then decided as a family how we spent it.

    When I was about 16 I also got half of my clothing budget (as I said, big budgeter, each child had a clothing line in the monthly budget) direct. Parents paid for school uniform, church clothes, outfit for cousins wedding etc but I could buy &choose my own fun/casual clothes. Similarly, if I wanted fancy shampoo I had to use my money but there would always be normal shampoo in the bathroom.

    It definitely taught me to budget my money and while I’m not (anyway near) as detailed as my mum I do still keep a budget. So do both my sisters. Guess it works!

    • Reply Roo January 10, 2017 at 4:34 pm

      I love all of that, Rachel. Thanks for sharing her methods; I think I’ll implement a couple! Glad to see it worked out in the long run. 😊

  • Reply Megan January 10, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    This is similar to what we do- in that we don’t tie chores to allowance. If they want more money, and we have some big project (power washing the garage- not sweeping the kitchen), we’ll negotiate a rate we feel is fair and let them do it. But if they want extra $$ and there’s no big job to do, they just have to wait for their next allowance. We do, however, let the kids use their ‘spend’ money with no restrictions or judgements. Our angle is, if they want to blow $20 on lollipops, we make sure they know that just because they buy them doesn’t mean we’ll let them eat all of them at once! Then if they still spend that $ on lollipops, they get to decide how they feel about that kind of choice. It’s been neat to see each kid go through various phases of being a ‘saver’ v a ‘spender’. My biggest challenge is to not judge: $100 (that took over 8 months of allowances and gifts to save up) on Pokemon cards was hard to swallow – but the kiddo was really proud, and never regretted that purchase.

    • Reply Roo January 10, 2017 at 4:35 pm

      Pokemon cards would have me gritting my teeth, too! I’ll have to come up with some bigger projects for the girls to earn a little more money. Thanks, Megan!

  • Reply Jenn January 11, 2017 at 11:40 am

    Growing up middle school through high school my parents gave us each (3 girls) $500 a year to spend as we please. They taught us how to track and predict spending through excel – if we knew we wanted new jeans and shoes for school that year, we looked online for prices and predicted the year out. We could also spend it on fun things (parasailing on our family trip to Florida!), we just had to make sure it would last all year :)

  • Reply Liz January 11, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    My comment is not about the post (although it was helpful and something I’d like to try!). My comment is to say that this is the first of your posts I’ve seen in 209 days!!! I know this because Feedly told me. I follow you on feedly and it hasn’t shown me any new posts of yours since the post about packing to move. I just happened to see your comment on Instagram today telling someone about this post and I thought, wait a minute, I don’t remember seeing that. Just wondering if this is something that’s wrong on my end, or if it’s something you can fix with your blog?? Any insight would be much appreciated! Thanks. Gotto go catch up on my reading now.

    • Reply Roo January 11, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      Hey Liz! A few people have asked about this, and for some reason I thought they were flukes. I’m digging into it now!

      • Reply Nicolette January 19, 2017 at 11:14 am

        This happened to me too! I use Bloglovin’

  • Reply Andrea January 11, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    When we moved back to Canada (from Pakistan) as kids my parents were suddenly hit with the “we want an allowance!” discussion from us kids. They gave us twice our age a month, and like you automatically cut out buying us extras. Yes, some days it seemed hugely unfair that I had to buy that cool pair of jeans next month….. Not this month because I didn’t have the cash. Any cafeteria buys also had to come from my own pocket, which taught me very quickly that getting up in time to make lunch for school had it’s pluses.
    We’ve not really started the allowance thing yet for our kids. Partially because the eldest is 7 and the youngest is only 1…partially because we too live in Pakistan where there isn’t the same level of ability to purchase things (unless it’s cheap toys or candy… No thank you!) but when our two eldest kids are yearning for a big purchase (read lego! Lego! Lego!) we find something they can do to earn it. Often that’s meant increasing their chores list, each day if they so choose they can ask me for a special task that they can earn varying amounts of money for, anything from washing the car, collecting the garbage, to making dinner with me. Lately as we’ve found them struggling to want to learn the local language we’ve incentivized them to spend time practising by making it an earner. Their comprehension over the last two weeks has improved no end.

    Now we just need to work on the “you said you were saving for said big lego set…. Don’t go and spend it on several small ones or we’ll be back where we started three months ago”. Suggestions on a magic method of having them understand that anyone?!?!

  • Reply Sarah January 12, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I love this idea and use 3 mason jars (spend, save, donate) for my toddler. She’s a little too young to understand right now but we’re ready for the day she starts getting cash! I love the idea of not tying it in with chores, chores are not an option – they’re a requirement. Anyway, did you know they make mason jar lids with coin slots? That’s what I used so I don’t have to unscrew the lid every time she gets a dollar. Not sure where I got mine but Joann sells them.


  • Reply Laurie January 23, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    This is such a good idea. I wish we had done this in my house so it wasn’t something I was learning at 30. And 40. And let’s be honest, I’ll probably still be learning it in my 50s.

  • Reply Go Finance Yourself! January 26, 2017 at 6:50 am

    I’ve heard of parents using this approach with their kids and money and I think it’s fantastic. It teaches kids at a young age the value of money, and the importance of saving and giving to others. It also teaches them responsibility when they have to decide if they really want to spend their money on something, and not mom and dad’s money.

    Great post!

    • Reply Roo January 26, 2017 at 9:42 am

      Thanks for reading! It’s neat to see how it affects their thinking at a store, too. We’ll stop and calculate 25% off a product in the middle of the store. Lots of lessons to learn — wish I had learned them fifteen years ago!

  • Reply CoupleofCents January 26, 2017 at 9:26 am

    I remember my dad getting 3 PVC pipes about 3 ft tall and drilling holes up the size as graduations to mark the dollar amount. Each week from our allowance we would drop a coins into each pipe, savings, tithe, spending. Over time we could see the pipes fill up. I think it worked. I have always continued to allocate my money into these 3 categories.

    • Reply Roo January 26, 2017 at 9:32 am

      The PVC pipe thing is a cool idea! It’s a kick in the pants for us, too, to get a little bit better about saving (and investing!).

  • Reply Merideth January 26, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    My parents gave my older sister and I an allowance when we were in 7th and 9th grades (in 1998). It was $7.50 per week and we were responsible for buying everything for ourselves (clothing, fast food, movies, toys/hobbies, even toiletries). It was a little rough at first…but we got used to it. As soon as we could, we also got jobs. I think it was one of the best things my parents did for us.

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