How to Manage Allowance

by Heligirl on September 24, 2012

in Mom Tip Monday,Parenting Articles,Positive Discipline

In many of my positive discipline/positive parenting books and even a couple of the lectures I’ve attended, there are some misconnects when it comes to allowance, chores and the rules inbetween.

One belief goes to lengths about how children should get allowances regardless of whether they did their chores or not, as they’re considered a part of the household and as such should receive the benefits therein (of course, I’m summarizing). The basic point was pay regardless or risk developing a reward/punishment mindset.

I’m sorry, but to this I’m going to have to say “are you high?”

In my experience as a paid employee, I’ve been unsuccessful in convincing any employer to pay me even if I don’t do anything. And I’ve yet to believe this has created a reward/punishment mindset that has then developed into low self-esteem. In fact, I believe the attitude of pay regardless of work develops entitlement, laziness, and a poor economy. Paying for work well done is reality and prepares children for life.

Others say you should never pay. Children should be doing the work because they feel important as a part of the family. Sure, communism worked great for Russia. Not.

I’m more into the belief that together as a family we can come up with chores, rules, and allowance, and make it work in a way that is both realistic (reflects the real world) and valuable to the whole family. Having chores and getting an allowance opens the doors for all kinds of life skill learning opportunities, as well as valuable self-esteem building.

There is also discussion about at what age a child should get an allowance. I hold strongly to the positive discipline foundation belief that a family works as a unit. We all pull together. Way back when, kids were pulling their weight just to help the family survive. With the onset of working outside the home, the dynamic changed, but keeping children involved in helping the household run is paramount to developing and maintaining that sense of inclusion and importance. Expecting them to do it for the fun of it (past those early years when they LOVE to help) isn’t realistic in this day and age. Certainly, in pioneer times, for instance, they didn’t get paid, but they knew they didn’t eat if they slacked off. That’s not the issue today, so giving them a little money allows them the opportunity to develop other life skills they’ll need in today’s world – saving, financial planning, prioritizing purchases, etc. All of these develop and deepen a “can do” and “I did it” attitude.

When to start is a family decision. I agree with some positive discipline folks who say preschool isn’t too soon. Here’s why. My 3-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter watch Sesame Street. They watched Elmo do chores and save up for a toy he wanted. At the same time, as we take them to the store to choose birthday gifts for friends (or heck, any time we take them to the store) they’re starting to ask for things. Then my daughter announced over the summer, “I could work for the money and save it.”

So I’m following her lead. This week we’re initiating allowance for her, a simple $1 a week for a handful of chores. For the record, she just turned 5. Here’s how we did it.

The first step is to sit down as a family. If you have family meetings, this is an ideal agenda item. Talk about the plan to start offering allowance for chores. A few chores is all younger kids need, more when they’re older. Let the kids help come up with a chore list. Some folks even do a chore wheel or other rotating chore schedule between kids and parents – which is great for grade school on up to add variety.

Write down the chores. Have fun with it, maybe using poster board and using big letters for younger kids, a white board list with magnets when jobs are done, sticker sheet, etc.

Agree on the allowance and how often it will be paid.

Agree on the rules. How many missed chores constitute no allowance? Can chores be made up? If so, how? Will you require a saving rule? (Some families will agree to start allowance as long as 50% goes into savings. Your call.) As a family talk about the rules and agree on the them. Write them down and have them available to review (especially for older kids). You can revise them as you hammer out the kinks.

Now watch and see how the motivation to help out increases. If there is still foot dragging and refusal, maybe it’s too soon to try this. However, you may be surprised. Do you remember the first thing you bought with your first allowance? I remember the arrows I bought like it was yesterday. My dad had given me an old toy bow and I wanted arrows. I could afford only two $1 arrows, and I’ll never forget.

Now on the other side as the parent, I look forward to watching Sweetness save up and get something with her own money. She’ll learn about money, saving, making decisions on purchases, the joy of buying something you earned, and (hopefully) increased care for the things she bought with her own money.

My tip today is to work together as a family to decide when to start allowance, the rules and how it will work in your home.

Do you offer allowance? Why or why not? I’d love to learn more about how others approach this issue.


Erin September 24, 2012 at 6:24 am

I like this post. I’d been wondering for awhile where to find a happy medium between just giving my girls money (Still young, at the moment, but my older daughter is going to need lessons soon. 3.75yrs and 1) and paying them to do chores that, really, they should be doing as part of the family. We all know that doesn’t teach them any lessons about money and often breeds resentment.

Based on this post, what I’m going to propose to my husband and daughter in the coming months is that every month, there is a chore chart. There will be 5 chores. Every time a chore is completed, she puts a sticker next to it. Before our weekly Target trip, we will add up the stickers and she’ll get $1 per sticker. She is then free to shop or save as much as she wants – for now.

I’m hoping that this will inspire her to help, but also not keep her confined to only doing certain chores. That the variety that happens because we change the list every month will keep her from being bored with the same chores and always wondering what she can do for praise and possibly a sticker.
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October 5, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Good for you Erin. I also read this past week that paying $1 per age a week is another option. I guess in the end, you simply determine what you’ll be expecting your child to spend the money on (older ones might be tasked with buying their own school clothes for instance).

It’s important to have chores rotate. I love your idea there. Also, it’s important not to pay for thing they should be doing. Giving allowance because a kid gets dressed, brushes teeth and puts dishes by the sink after a meal is not helping a child. Let me know how it’s working out for you!

Liz F September 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Starting an allowance is something I’ve been thinking about recently. Well, not *starting* the allowance now (lol he’s not quite 3!) but more along the lines when to start an allowance, how to give it out, whether to start his brother at the same time, etc. How do you deal with the jealousy factor of an older sibling getting money when baby brother isn’t? I did think that money is only earned when chores are done is fair. It’s not how we were raised (my mom spoiled us 😉 ) but it feels like the fair thing to do, especially when kids today (ie, college students >.<) feel so entitled to everything (jobs, money, attention, etc.)

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October 5, 2012 at 4:14 pm

There are times when Mr. Man gets upset that he’s not getting money when she gets paid. I take that opportunity to ask him if he’d like to do chores too. That usually stops it. But when he says ‘yes,’ then he’s deciding he’s ready and we’ll start off slow with him, rotating chores between him and his sister, and coming up with new stuff to rotate in each month to keep it interesting.

Sybil September 24, 2012 at 10:01 pm

In our house allowance is not linked to chores. They are two totally separate issues.

My two girls, now ages 6 and 8, have been getting allowance for at least a couple of years. Right now they get $10 every other week. We do this because when allowance was lower and/or more frequent there was basically nothing substantial they could spend their money on. With their allowance they buy anything they want, and I only purchase them essential items. If they ask for a treat/toy/whatever I say “do you have allowance?” And if they don’t, then they can’t get it. Allowance in our house is a tool for learning to spend money and as a bonus, it curbs begging.

Now, my girls do chores. Every day they have chores and some are just part of helping and some if they don’t do they have consequences. Like if the playroom isn’t cleaned, no tv show. IMO chores in a family is totally different from working a job. YOU don’t get paid to clean up your house, do you? Neither do I, or my kids. So if your kids say they won’t clean XYZ, then they get no allowance and then what? It still isn’t clean. I don’t pay my kids to do things I already expect of them. My kids will get extra quarters for doing things like pick up dog poop, but we don’t expect that of them, that is typically a grown up job.

All of that said, our system isn’t perfect, and no system is, but it is good enough.
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October 5, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Thanks Sybil. I love your explanation and it sounds like your system works out really well for you. I had the similar thoughts as you when we came up with chores. There’s a whole list of things they are expected to do that are not in any way tied to chores and, like you, we have consequences (don’t clean up the living room, I keep the toys I clean up for a week, for instance). The chores we chose for allowance are a lot like the things you might pay extra quarters for.

Yes, each family has their own system, and it’s great to hear yours works for you guys. 🙂 That’s the most important part of all. There’s no right way, just the right way for you.

Lucinda October 18, 2012 at 2:20 pm

I’ve been going back and forth on this for years already and I think you make some great points. Especially about the stakes being higher for kids in the past when it came to doing chores. I see that in farming families even today. My daughter refuses to do chores because she feels it is unfair. I therefore refuse to pay her. My son will gladly help if he gets paid and he has started to help even when he isn’t asked. The other day my daughter said my plan wasn’t working. I explained it worked perfectly. Her brother was willing to work for money. She was willing to go without being able to buy stuff. Perfect. Guess who started doing chores for money this week?

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October 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm

That’s awesome Lucinda. I really do believe in giving them the opportunity to choose. Just giving them money and expecting them to help out, paying even when they refuse, teaches entitlement. When they decide how it’s going to be (your daughter deciding she’ll do chores), they’ve had the power and the final say. They’ll also not rebel against it as much as it was their decision. Well done mama!!
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