Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Best Mom Tip #188: Pay 'em...maybe

Jay and I have differing opinions about how or when to give our children an allowance. I was never given one-my parents said that any work we did around the house was just part of being a member of our family. My folks both grew up on farms and had horrible chores like killing sickly baby chicks and picking tobacco in 95 degree heat, so my complaints about unpaid laundry folding fell on deaf ears.

It is really hard to negotiate with people who killed their own chickens for dinner or held the hind legs of the pigs for slaughter. Or shot the cow to get hamburger meat. Or saved the chickens from the flooded chicken house by wading through chicken crap. Or toted watermelons all summer. Or ate tomato sandwiches for months because there wasn't yet a pig big enough for you to have to hold it's hind legs so your dad could kill it so you could eat some meat.

Anyway, you get my point. No money came my way for any lazy, spoiled suburban-kid chores like taking out the trash or washing dishes. We were lucky we didn't have to murder our dinner ourselves. And we certainly didn't want to hear about it so we didn't ask.

My life now is pretty cushy--and so are the lives of my children. Work consists of cleaning bathrooms and sweeping the floors, not manual labor in the Georgia heat. Still, I consider that work to be part of being a team and should not be compensated. Jay thinks, and I agree with him, that an allowance can be a useful tool in teaching fiscal responsibility. Clearly, I want my kids to learn how to handle money, so how do we give them practice?

For right now we have decided to pay them for tasks that they do without us asking, that take work off of our plates, and that they do as well or better than I would do it myself. For our nearly 6-year-old son that is watering the plants. He loves plants, he likes to use the faucets, and he remembers more often than I do. The plants are all still alive and I am only out 3 dollars for the month of June thus far.

Our daughter found out that her brother was getting money and so she began a campaign to find some job for which I would be willing to pay her. She finally came up with being a sort-of mother's helper. She does jobs I can't get to right that moment because I'm in the middle of something else. It is usually things like serving breakfast to her brothers or putting shoes on the baby. She did it so well that this is how I was able to refinish the stairs. And still, I don't really like paying them.

I am actually pretty financially savvy. I got a degree in Economics back in the day and I like budgeting and talking about financial decisions, so it's funny that I'm so against giving our kids money for tasks they perform. I certainly don't get paid and it galls me that they might earn more than me, even if it's only by 4 dollars a month. I prefer to make them miserable every time I spend money by pointing out the price per unit or making them figure out what one treat item them want because we've reached our grocery budget.

We certainly do make conversations about money part of our family life. We show the children when we give money to our church or favorite charities. We explain that we use extra money to save or pay down our mortgage. We tell them how much things cost that they want and how many gallons of milk or loaves of bread that would be worth. But we still debate over the actual allowance part.

Meanwhile, their reactions to their paydays have been telling. Our daughter wants to buy every piece of glittery, colorful, junk she sees in any store we're in, including the grocery store. Our son wants to keep putting the money in his piggy bank so he can become "richer and richer" complete with gleeful/maniacal laugh.  Clearly we have some spendthrift/hoarder tendencies and teaching some balance would not be a bad thing on our part.

Whatever we decide it needs to be easy, logical, and as my husband likes to say, scalable. We have two more kids coming after the older ones and I am not interested in reminding four people to do their made-up chores so that I can remember to give them money that Jay earned. At this point we are treating these chores as a summer experiment. I am leaning towards removing the money once school resumes and telling them that it was just because they were home more and had more time to do the jobs well that I gave them money. And, of course, age and ability to understand the financial lessons matters. We will see.

So, what do you do? Do you have give, save, and spend jars? Do you give a steady allowance and let them decide? Is is all up to the Tooth Fairy and whatever Grandma sends for your birthday? Or, like me, are you fumbling your way through the money mess?


  1. G is four, so ymmv. She has some unpaid because-she-lives-here chores like feeding the cats, but we pay her for extra chores not on the list like yard work. Right now, it's just spend/save, but we plan to add tithing next year.

  2. Yeah, I find the concept of tithing the hardest one to incorporate without a steady income of some sort. We do charitable giving that they have to come up with, but the act of it being a portion of every dollar you earn is so important. I didn't start regularly tithing until I had a job as a teenager.

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