Dear Learning Expressions Readers,
My dog is getting fat. Yes, that’s right. My 7-pound miniature dachshund is probably weighing in closer to 8 pounds of late, and believe me the extra pound makes a big difference on her long and low frame. But it’s not a sudden lack of exercise or an increase in table scraps that is turning my pooch pudgy, it’s actually the result of a change in our family chore chart. As of last month, my almost three-year-old became our primary dog-feeder-in-residence.
The chore has become a highly anticipated part of our morning routine. A few months back, a nice grandmother at the park was admiring our dog. As she patted the smallest member of our family, she informed my son that a dog will always love best whomever feeds her. My little guy was quite taken with the idea and begged to be our dog’s primary feeder, so I hired him on the spot. Each morning he runs eagerly down the stairs, pries open the food bin, and plays around with the scoop and kibble for a little while. In his unbridled enthusiasm to win the dog’s affection, he inevitably gives her too heaping a portion – thus the dachshund’s weight gain.
So begins the new era of chores, and with that, I’m guessing there will be a lot of nagging and negotiating throughout the years. Another implication of the new chore lifestyle is allowance. It is this tricky topic that I wish to tackle in today’s post. At what age should allowance start? What’s an appropriate amount of money? Should chores be tied to allowance or not? Should parents have control over what allowance is spent on? As straightforward as these questions may seem, I have found a huge discrepancy in answers from both parents and experts alike.
What age is it appropriate to start an allowance?
The most common answer I’ve heard is somewhere between age 3 and 5. In our home with our boys, the topic of money already does come up quite a bit. My oldest often asks why Daddy has to go to work. I explain to him that Daddy works so hard all day to give us money so we can buy food, clothes, have a roof over our head, and go to swimming lessons. When we are grocery shopping and my boys want to buy yet another ball, I explain to them that we came to buy food and not toys that day. When we drive past a construction worker and my son asks, “Why’s dat guy workeen so hard out da?” I explain that he is working to help fix the road and also to get money so he can buy food for his own family and pay for a home.
The purpose of an allowance is to teach our children the value of money. Although my oldest boy is still on the young side of when allowances typically start, I do think he’ll be able to grasp the general idea of working to earn money that he can later take to the store and exchange for a new orange tractor. So, we intend to start an allowance when he turns three. We’ll use his birthday as an important way to mark the beginning of allowance, which will hopefully get him excited that he’s becoming an even bigger boy with even more responsibilities.
What’s an appropriate amount of money?
I recently attended a workshop by a family-finance expert, and a lot of the material he presented was on the topic of allowances. He recommended giving a child one dollar for year of age. So a five year old would get an allowance of $5. It’s up to the family to then determine the frequency of this $5 allowance. Whether it’s given weekly, every other week, or monthly, obviously depends on the family’s own budget. I found the dollar-to-age rule helpful in figuring out what will be appropriate for my family.
Should chores be tied to allowance or not?
The answer to this question proved toughest. The financial planning expert I spoke with was adamant that chores should not be tied to allowance. He explained that the definition of an allowance is something that is given that is not earned. He said that you cannot use allowance as a reward for chores because you run the risk that your kid will say, “Fine, I won’t do your chores. I don’t want any money.” This would be a big problem because, explained the expert, chores are non-negotiable. Every family member does chores as a way to contribute to the family. This is how we teach our children to be productive members of a household. This is how we teach the adage that “many hands make light work.”
Another family-finance expert recently told The Wall Street Journal that a child’s allowance should be based on the completion of household chores. This is because working hard to earn money teaches children that money is something you work for, not something that you are entitled to receive. The expert explains that eventually kids will learn that even mom and dad have to work hard for money, and it does not grow on trees.
I think both arguments are quite compelling. For me though, a lot of it boils down to how I was raised. My brothers and I each had a list of weekly chores. If we didn’t do our chores, there was no allowance that week – simple as that. I can’t remember a single time that anyone failed to finish his or her chores. That allowance was certainly a powerful motivator! Although I do see valid arguments against tying allowance to chores, I know that I would have a very hard time handing allowance money over to a sourpuss child who has refused to do his chores that week. Chores and allowance are just too intertwined for me to separate them out, so, call me an ogre, but my kids will have to earn their money by completing their chores!
Should parents have control over what allowance is spent on?
My parents never micromanaged our allowance purchases. I appreciated that. If I blew all my money on Silly String, and it took all of 2 seconds to fly out of the can without even hitting my brother, I was allowed to make that mistake. I had to suffer the consequences of buyer’s remorse myself, and I was more careful next time around.
The family-finance expert did have a great tip on this subject though. He suggested paying your kid’s allowance but forcing them to donate 10 percent to a cause of their choice, save at least 20-50 percent, and put the rest in a spending pile. So an allowance for a 10 year old might look like this: Ten years means $10 cash. Give it to the child in 10 one-dollar bills. Then, one dollar would go into the charity piggy bank, 2-5 dollars would go in the savings piggy bank, and the rest would be put into the child’s wallet as that week’s spending money.
The expert also recommended that parents not slack off about giving the allowance in cash. It’s important to actually pay the allowance, not write IOUs to children. The one-dollar bills are easy to separate out, but there’s another benefit to the small bills. Studies have shown that if a child is buying something that cost $20 and they have to hand each dollar one by one over the clerk, the child is less likely to actually go through with the purchase. It is more painful to part with the cash dollar by dollar than it is to hand the clerk a single 20 dollar bill.
I sure hope this month’s topic has been helpful to anyone grappling with the allowance issue. I still can’t believe my little guy is old enough for me to even be discussing such a kid topic. I still feel like I should instead be discussing introducing solids or sleeping through the night. But, like it or not, my boy is feeding his dog, and that worker’s going to need some pay!
Bye for now!