Should parents give their kids an allowance?

Posted at 6:41 AM, Jun 08, 2017

I grew up without an allowance—which forced me to ask for money every time I needed/wanted something. My purchases were entirely dependent upon my parents’ good mood and goodwill. I hated begging and Dad groaned every time I said “Daddy” (the sweeter version of “Dad” that I reserved for just such coercion).

My son was 7 years old when he earned his first allowance for plate-clearing and bed-making. Meanwhile my 5-year-old daughter thrilled at her payout of a single buck. As they’ve grown, so have their chores and “wages.” They’ve saved and spent (and overspent) and have generally learned how our economy works.

I believe that every family should institute an allowance system—there are invaluable financial and social lessons that are just best taught against the backdrop of a cash exchange.

Allowances Connect Work To Reward

I know plenty of families that offer allowances disconnected from chores. I’m all for intrinsic motivation, but I don’t know anyone who finds fulfillment in dragging trash cans to the curb. My kids might practice guitar or piano for the joy of music or take shots for the reward of a basket (Joking! They’ve never made a basket!), but for the work-a-day stuff that makes a household run, there’s a lot less whining when they’re getting paid.

To get the table cleared, dishwasher loaded and dirty clothes off the floors, parents basically have two options: reward or punishment. Kids will always choose carrot over stick. It makes sense to tie kids’ earnings to their efforts— you know, like in the real world.

Allowances Teach Kids How To Budget

Graphed, my daughter’s savings looks like a steep climb, a glorious mountain where Olympians only dare. Meanwhile, our son spends as he earns; his diagram has shallow dips and small bumps akin to bunny slopes.

In the beginning of his allowance-collecting career, he spent more than he earned. He was like a drunken sailor burning through every last cent on ladies before heading back out to sea. Except swap “ladies” for “Pokemon cards.” He took a loan from a shark (me) to get his fix of one more set of the Japanese cards.

I charged interest to the tune of 50 percent—which I handily docked from his next allowance. This went on for weeks until he stopped getting paid altogether, as all of his earnings became interest payable to yours truly. I can track the trend on his allowance spreadsheet and see exactly when he realized that instant gratification wasn’t, well, gratifying. He still has a pretty small earn-to-spend gap, but he no longer goes into debt. That’s a lesson I’m glad he’s learned while he still loves under the security of my roof!

Allowances Give Kids Freedom

The other day my daughter and I were in a store and she squealed with delight at the magical sight of a small plastic toilet filled with sour powder and a plunger-shaped lollipop. Yum. That’s exactly what allowances are for—the type of crap I won’t buy for them. They get the junk they love and I’m freed from assessing their every expenditure.

In addition to lavatory treats, my daughter likes to spend her money (when she parts with it) on gifts for others. She loves surprising family members with gifts she’s chosen and paid for herself. She earned those gifts and takes great satisfaction in their giving. I would argue that her pleasure is greater than if I’d given her $20 and told her to “pick out a birthday gift for your brother.”

Allowances give kids the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of spending, to choose whether to buy a sugar potty or a t-shirt that says “World’s Okayest Brother.”

When I asked my kids why they like getting an allowance, my daughter said, “It’s fun to earn money.” Meanwhile, my son declared, “Because slave labor is illegal.” So, yes, there are still lessons to teach—like the vast difference between picking up a wet towel and horrific slave practices—but allowances have solved some of our problems.