Q&A: allowance and chores

Jessica writes:

"I was wondering, what is your philosophy on allowances and household chores?  I have a four and half year old daughter and while she is generally helpful around the house when we ask her to do something, I feel she could be responsible for specific chores on a more regularly scheduled basis.  Both small things like making sure the cat has dry food and water each morning and helping to set the table and also larger tasks like making sure her room and the basement playroom are orderly before she goes to sleep at night.  She likes rules and order very much (one of her nicknames before she was able to spell was Baby OCD) and is pretty goal-oreinted for a preschooler, so naturally I thought about getting her a chore chart for the refrigerator and rewarding her with an allowance.  My husband and I both earned our allowances as children and there is a part of me that really believes this would be a good way to begin teaching her about responsibility, saving and working towards your goals. 

However, I went to a parenting lecture a long time ago and allowance question was asked by another parent with an older child.  As I recall, the lecturer advised not to give an allowance as a pay-off for performing chores.  Instead she said to teach that chores are what your parents ask of you as part of participating in family life.  The lecturer advised that parents don't get paid for mowing the lawn or ironing and children shouldn't be paid for performing basic household tasks either.  Instead, the lecturer suggested that you just use an allowance as a means of teaching saving and give each child a set amount weekly or monthly and increase it annually on the child's birthday.  I am pretty sure she suggested giving your child one dollar a month per year of age.

Clearly this advice resonated with me a bit, because I remember it well almost three years later.  I think it stuck with me because I do agree with the "chores should be done as part of family life" argument.  I am sure a compromise could be that we only pay for extraordinary chores, but it's not like I can easily say to a four year-old that putting out napkins is your family responsibility, but if you want to earn an extra buck this week feel free to scrub the toilets.  Also, I am not sure my four year old needs four dollars a month for no reason other than to teach her about savings.  Is she too young for an allowance at all?  She certainly understands that things she has and want cost money.  Also she knows that her father and I financially support her and work hard for our money.  She has basic addition and subtraction abilities and a vague idea of monetary values (a sense that a quarter is worth more than a penny but less than a dollar) but her understanding of money could be much better.  Her grandparents give her change and a few dollars every now and again and she saves them in a wallet.  Her father and I also put our spare change nightly in banks she and her brother have in their rooms, and she knows that when they get full we deposit the coins in their savings accounts at the big bank.  I have occasionally made her pay for things that she wants that I deem ridiculous with her wallet money, but since I take all monetary gifts over $5 and deposit them in her savings account (she knows we do this) she doesn't actually have that much in her wallet and I am much more likely to refuse pleas for new stuff on "you don't need that/we can't afford things you don't need" grounds.  When she took a friend's birthday present out of the gift closet and started playing with it before it I could wrap and deliver it I took what was in her wallet to "pay" for a replacement present and she was devastated. But that was probably more about the stealing/disappointed lecture she got and my unwillingness to let her keep the stolen gift than the loss of the money.  I think she would embrace the idea of saving up to get higher priced items that I deem unnecessary, but then again she needs nothing else and I am with you on the no new toys sentiment you expressed recently. 

So to sum up what is becoming an extremely long email, I am very torn about an allowance and a job chart and confused about the age to start an allowance.  For the record, my husband thinks I am over-analyzing the situation and that we should do the chart already and either pay her an allowance, or if I can't get over my anxiety, reward her with a fun family outing since that worked well for us when potty-training. What do you and your wise commenters think?"

I love it when people email me with questions and then lay out the issue so completely that I'm pretty much useless. (Rereading that it sounds sarcastic, but I'm actually completely serious.)

It sounds like you and your husband have a pretty good grasp of teaching your kids about money already. I think that at least some of what you want to do will become more clear to you if I point out that you're connecting chores and allowance right now, when it seems pretty clear that you agree with the lecturer you saw years ago who said that chores are just something you do as part of being a member of a family. (I agree with that, too, BTW.)

So it looks like that's pretty much a done deal for you, that she's going to have a set of things that she's responsible for. The question then becomes how to deal with the allowance issue. And if you decide against an allowance, how does she make money, or does she have to ask for anything she wants from you?

There are plenty of families that just give an allowance every week. That's one option. Another option is giving her the chance to earn money by doing extra, more difficult chores.

I don't really know what the long-term outcomes are of those two ways of going about it. We talk about giving an allowance around here all the time. Every 4-5 months or so my older son brings it up, we agree on a figure, then he tells us he doesn't want it yet. So it's never gotten off the ground.

Anyone with older kids, or even kids this same age, want to talk about what you do about allowances and/or earning money for your kids? I'm betting there are tons of us who just haven't really enacted any kind of system because we don't know exactly what to do.