Every time we go to the grocery store or into the gift shop of a museum – let alone pass one of those vending machines that dispenses a bouncy ball or a “gold” ring with a plastic “gem” in exchange for a quarter – I am besieged by their requests for stuff.
“Can we get one of these, Mommy?” my boys will ask. And now my baby girl will even chime in with an occasional “I want” or “I take.”
Until recently, I didn’t have a consistent method for handling their appeals, leading to an unwieldy arrangement in which I’d sometimes give in to a request for a Matchbox car (“It’s on sale for 79 cents,” I’d reason. “Why not?”) and sometimes refuse (“Why do you need another Matchbox car?” I’d ask. “You already have a dozen at home!”). But then we started giving our boys an allowance and the answer has become clear: you can buy it if you can afford it.
Before deciding on a system, I did some research to try to figure out how other parents handle this issue. And even though we’ve been doing allowance for a few months now, I still read with interest two recent posts at Motherlode on this very topic. In the first, KJ Dell’Antonia presents the dilemma of a mother who felt like “a constant ATM machine” for her 14-year-old and asks her readers two questions that commonly come up after you’ve decided to give an allowance and chosen whether or not to tie it to chores: “What’s an allowance for in your house, and at what ages did you give it?” In the second, she shares strategies offered by her readers, most of whom support a “system of allowing for both expenses and fun while helping a child budget for both.”
If you had asked me a few years ago if I thought it was appropriate to give an allowance to a 5-year-old and 3-year-old, I probably would have said no. But most of the advice I’ve read seems to agree that kids are ready for an allowance when they start to show an awareness of what money is worth. (To be honest – and as is the case with so many things for us – our 3-year-old wouldn’t have an allowance yet if it didn’t seem like it was the right time to start for our 5-year-old.)
In our house – and this goes against what some experts recommend – we do tie allowance to chores. Each of our boys does a few daily chores. At the end of the day, each gets a sticker for each chore he completed. At the end of the week, he gets 10 cents for each sticker, earning somewhere between $1-2 each week. Shouldn’t they be expected to do these chores without being compensated? Perhaps. But it made sense to us – largely because it seemed to make sense to them – to instill the idea that they need to earn the money they want to spend.
As for KJ’s question about what an allowance is for: for our boys, an allowance is for buying toys and treats. When we go to the grocery store, they can buy that Matchbox car if they have the money in their wallet. And when we go to the science museum, they can buy that astronaut set – but only if they’ve saved up for a few weeks. If they haven’t, then – I hope – they start to understand the value of saving.
Ideally, this fledgling allowance plan – one that will certainly grow and change as they and their needs do – will be an early lesson in the power of money. As KJ pointed out in her second post, an allowance is a tool for learning: the mistakes my kids and yours will undoubtedly make in managing their allowances are “as much a part of a strong financial education as the saving and spending. So whether an allowance is for movies or not, the one thing it should be for is for your child to make choices, even if they’re not the choices you would make.”
How do you deal with the question of allowances in your house?