I’ve always felt thankful that my husband and I agree on most parenting-related things. Don’t get me wrong. We have other differences of opinion for sure, but when it comes to the kids, we’re usually on the same page. That is, until our kids became old enough to receive an allowance.
To learn how different families approach the issue, I conducted an informal poll of Austin parents. It turns out we’re not the only family struggling to find the “right” way to teach fiscal and family responsibility. What’s important is to not give up on the topic altogether. Money is an important teaching tool, not just a reward. Kids need practice to become skilled at saving and spending, and having spending money as a child is an important part of financial literacy practice.
When deciding what’s best for your family, you might consider the following questions:
Pay for Chores?
There are several schools of thought on this. Some families pay for basic chores such as doing the dishes, helping with the pet or keeping the bedroom and belongings tidy. Carrie Rupprath uses her daughter’s allowance to not only get chores done but to teach basic skills. “We have a checklist of requirements that have to be met to earn a weekly allowance. Most are geared to help teach basic responsible behaviors. Once those items become consistent, we change the list to tackle new items.”
Other families choose to give an allowance that is not tied to anything, based on the idea that chores are simply a part of contributing and belonging to a family. Jennifer Cathcart shared, “I never had an allowance growing up. Fast forward to being a parent. My husband and I are team “No Allowance” for chores. The chores you do in the house are part of being in our family.”
Another approach is a hybrid, whereby basic chores are required and don’t earn an allowance, but above-and-beyond tasks can be completed for payment. Kim Fromberg shared, “I always have a list of jobs around the house, like ‘clean out the garage’ or ‘change the lightbulbs,’ and they have a dollar amount associated with them. That way, if my kids want extra money, they know how they can earn it.” In the Lucksinger household, Daniel said it was important to encourage “personal responsibility and learning life skills as well as a communal looking out for each other.” Chores such as keeping your room clean and doing your own laundry are expected, while activities that benefit the whole family, such as dusting the house or helping with yardwork, come with an added reward.
Allowance amounts vary widely. Some parents use a formula, such as $1 per year of age per week or month, while others pay a flat amount. Families that pay larger allowances often require children to use their own money for discretionary spending. “Our kids are given a monthly sum and they are responsible for managing it. We pay for food, basic clothing and shelter. The rest is up to them,” said Carissa Milam.
Another approach is to provide a situational allowance. Tracey Beadle shared, “When it’s time to buy clothes, I give my girls an allowance, and they get to decide what to purchase. If they want more, they find ways to earn the funds. They’ve learned to sell their old belongings through apps, and they have become great bargain hunters!”
Save or Spend?
Here is another category with multiple approaches. One option is to allow children full autonomy over saving and spending decisions. Theoretically, children learn through natural consequences what happens when they want a special toy but have spent all their money on small trinkets. They will become intrinsically motivated to forgo the small spending in favor of saving for the big prize.
Other families allow their children a measure of autonomy but serve a mentorship role in the spending and saving process. Melissa Howitt shared, “We discuss potential purchases that they ‘want’ versus ‘need’ and take the purchases of ‘wants’ on a case-by-case basis.”
Finally, some families choose to use a formula for saving and spending and may even include a category for giving. “Our kids are taught and required to
save and to give a portion away to church or non-profits that they choose,” said Carissa.
How To Pay?
This question brought my favorite poll response. Mary Katherine Stout shared, “Definitely don’t do it the way we do!
The system is well-intentioned, but I’m bad about paying my kids on time, and they badger me about when I am going to make their ‘monthly payment.’ On
the upside, they may have a future in debt collection because they are relentless nags.”
Ultimately, the best system is the one that works for you. If you’re great about having cash on hand and want to pay out on the spot, great! Or it might work best to keep a log of what the kids have earned. Several families that I polled have found great success with a debit card, such as Greenlight, or a savings app, like Current. Your child’s account can be tied to yours, making it easy to transfer money to the account, or back to yours.
As you can see, there are many ways to handle allowances. While it can be easy to get overwhelmed, the benefits of teaching your child financial literacy are worth the headache of figuring out your system! Remember, there is no best approach – the one that works for your family is about as close to “right” as you can get.
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.