Saturday, March 8, 2014

What Giving Our Children Weekly Allowances Taught Me (and why we don’t do it any longer)

Our children like things.  They like to buy things and look at things to buy and make lists of things to buy.  For my oldest daughter, the words “Do you know what I want?” were a regular conversation starter.  She’s a natural consumer.  This started early on in her life and her tastes were not inexpensive.  She was pretty extrinsically motivated and this worried me a bit.  (Thankfully, The Gratitude Project has helped with this a good deal over the last weeks.)  

Our youngest daughter, however, was not as motivated by ‘things’.  She was happy to get something new but it just wasn’t as important to her.  At first, this made it a bit tricky to figure out how to create a system of learning responsibilities and rewarding those responsibilities as well as starting to talk about money and how it all worked. 

Responsibility Chart
When we first started to teach them about responsibilities and doing their part, we tried to do the same thing for both girls.  At the time they were around ages 4 ½ and 6.  We used one of those great wooden magnet boards like this one.  They had general responsibilities for things like; getting dressed, brushing teeth, cleaning up after themselves, saying please and thank you, etc.  Our oldest daughter got some responsibilities that our younger daughter didn’t have yet, like homework. 

There were seven days in the week with seven items each day so 49 magnetic dots that were possible.  We offered $.10 for each magnet, so that meant $4.90 and we gave a $.10 bonus for getting all of your magnets for the week.  Seemed like a good system.  It was logical, easily explainable to them and wasn’t an ‘all or nothing’ scenario. 

As they got a little older, some of the easy responsibilities were considered expected and then replaced with new responsibilities.  My older daughter saved up for months for an American Girl doll and was extremely proud that she did it.  We were proud too!  My younger daughter saved and saved and rarely bought anything.  She just liked accomplishing her goals and keeping her money, which was great with us as well.

After a couple of years using system, I started thinking differently.  It’s clear and easy and teaching the wrong message for the long term. 
Of course they would do their homework, brush their teeth, clean their rooms and put away their laundry.  These were now part of their ‘normal’ responsibilities and we were not going to monetarily reward these behaviors anymore.  At the same time, we wanted them to start taking a bigger part in helping to maintain our home - being a ‘good citizen of the house’ - as we call it.  We expected them to contribute to our common living areas by vacuuming, dusting, mopping, etc. 

MOST importantly, we weren’t going to just give them money as an allowance just because they exist.  Generally speaking, that’s not the way the world works.  They wanted to earn money and we wanted them to continue to do so and to learn how to manage it.
With our first system, we were teaching them to take orders, do a job, don’t think-just do

As the children of two business owners, this was not going to work.  We thought about what we wanted to ensure we were teaching and instilling around this subject and came up with four items that really mattered. 

We wanted to reward:
  1. hard work, 
  2. showing a sense of ‘citizenship’, 
  3. being proactive, 
  4. creative and critical thinking.
So, as so many good parents do, we made a list. (See an example of our list here.)  It is actually hanging on our refrigerator right now.  For every item on the list there is monetary value added.  For example, vacuuming the kitchen, dining room, or living room is $.25 each.  Unloading the dishwasher is $.75.  As a bonus, if they do any of these items because they are needed (and we don’t ask), they earn an additional $1.00 for each item for being proactive and taking initiative.  We also have a negotiation option.  If they see something that needs to be done outside of their regular responsibilities, is not on the list and contributes to the house, they can come to us and negotiate a pay rate for it.  This was a bonus! 

Learning to negotiate is a skill that everyone needs and who better to practice with than your parents.  This practice also allows our children to decide what something is worth to them and estimate its value as part of the negotiation. 

(Don’t get me wrong, we negotiate a lot in our house.  Often, we even require several thought out persuasive arguments to be presented but that’s another topic for another day.)

Our daughters follow the three catagories rule as well; Save, Spend and Share (Give).  

We do reward our daughters for their efforts and working hard in both academia and extra-curriculars.  Usually rewards are new books or trips to the movies.  They often get an Adventure Hunt out of it as well.  However, when it comes to the desire for toys, it is up to our children to save or wait until a holiday or birthday.  They now have both clear guidelines and tasks with a set payment structure, as well as, an option for extra work for extra money that involves being proactive, finding a problem, creating a solution, and negotiating a price to supply that solution.  

We all win when this works.  


P.S.  Dis`quis´i`tive: Relating to disquisition; fond of discussion or investigation; examining; inquisitive.

Thanks for reading!
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  1. I like the idea behind this; it resonates with me more than the alternative methods. Thanks for sharing! Maybe for those to really enjoy having somebody else come up with the practical applications, you can even provide a link to your list so that they can print yours.

    1. That's a great idea! I will type it up (no one wants to see my handwriting) and will attach. Thank you!

    2. Here's a rough list of what we have on ours list. Adding the link to the post as well. Thanks for the idea!

  2. yes I too would be keen to see this in printed form :)

    1. Here's a rough list of what we have on ours list. I don't know if you can print easily. Trying to see if I can add an attachment too.

      Adding the link to the post as well.

  3. Oh my gosh, I love your ideas! How brilliant to let them learn to find needs, create solutions, and even negotiate the price! They will be better prepared for the real world than many of their peers. My kids are babies but I will put this into action in the future!

    1. Thank you for the feedback and kind words Rebecca! I hope you and your children much success in the future.

      All the Best,