All About Allowances

Avoid Tying Chores to Allowance

allowance for kids

You’ve barely entered the store and the whining starts. “Moooooom, why can’t I get the new Lego Star Wars video game?” And back at home when you ask Alex to set the table? “But Moooo-oom…I’m tired!”

Sigh. Maybe it’s time for an allowance. After all, what better way to get Alex to do his chores and let him buy his own video games, right?

If only it were that easy. Our goal is to motivate, but connecting an allowance to household duties does the opposite. By focusing on the payoff for the chore rather than the contribution made to the family, we create – and reinforce – a negative lesson. Rather than encouraging our child doing something for its intrinsic value, we instead teach them to ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Daniel Pink, author of The New York Times best seller, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us , tells us that paying kids to do chores “…sends kids a clear (and clearly wrongheaded) message: In the absence of a payment, no self-respecting child would willingly set the table, empty the garbage, or make her own bed. …. It converts a moral and familial obligation into just another commercial transaction—and teaches that the only reason to do a less-than-desirable task for your family is in exchange for payment.”

So what’s a parent to do? Rest assured: we do have a way to take the whine out of taking out the garbage. And an allowance is a great way to teach our kids financial responsibility and money sense. The key is to implement the two separately:

Start by discussing “family contributions” and sweep “chore” right out of your vocabulary. While the word “chore” conjures up images of Cinderella scrubbing the castle floors, the idea of a family contribution will instead remind our kids that they play an important role in helping the household run smoothly. Granted, Emma may not jump for joy when she’s asked to help put laundry away, but her new perception of the task gains her a feeling of personal significance and sense of belonging to the family.

allowance in a jar

Revel in the win-win arrangement that is an allowance; not only will your kids feel grown up to have their own “income,” but it will be a big step in learning real-life skills such as the benefits of good decisions and the consequences of bad ones. The key is that the allowance is not tied to family contributions, or good grades, or winning the big game. Instead, use this opportunity to teach them about saving for things they really want, budgeting for the future, and charitable giving.

Set boundaries that encompass the weekly allowance amount, and what it can be spent on. The amount you give should be age appropriate, and not entirely comfortable. If Alex can buy every video game he sees, you’re not teaching him anything. Instead, choose an amount that can reasonably cover the expenses you expect him to take on –iTunes and app purchases, entertainment, and toys – and that gives him the option to save for the special game he really wants. He’ll also learn the invaluable concept of delayed gratification.

As kids get older, consider giving them a larger amount each week or month for allowance, but increase the items that he’ll be expected to cover. A tween or teen can learn important life lessons by budgeting her monthly allowance to cover lunch money, entertainment, clothes, iTunes downloads, etc. If she blows all of her money in the first week, she’ll experience the natural consequences of poor budgeting and will likely do better next month.

By separating – but still implementing – family contributions and allowance, we are able to teach far more valuable lessons than the two could ever hope to achieve when combined. And who would have thought that intrinsic motivation and financial responsibility could start with a few loads of laundry and $10 a week?

About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.