The Allowance Conundrum

When I was a kid, I got an allowance. It was tied to my chores, and if I did them, I got my dollar or two a week. I saved it in a thick glass Snoopy bank that cleverly had no stopper, so in order to get the money out, I had to literally break the bank. Once I figured that out, the money started going into a wallet. I’m sure I must have spent it here or there, but the only place I really remember doing so was at the annual Book Fair at my school’s library. I have a vivid memory of excitedly counting out seven dollars when I was in second grade, money I had carefully saved, knowing that I would be able to buy not only three new books for myself, but new bookmarks and tree ornaments for my siblings for Christmas. Good times.

When I had children of my own and the “gimme!” tantrums began every time we went to the store, I realized it was time to give them an allowance. But I didn’t like the idea of paying them to clean up after themselves. Picking up your toys when you’re done playing with them and putting your dirty clothes in the hamper are skills you should have by kindergarten. My husband and I wanted our kids to be able to pick up after themselves because they are capable of it and it’s appropriate that they should; we are not their maids.

As they got older, we wanted them to assume more responsibilities, like helping to set the table or bringing their dirty dishes to the sink. Carrying their backpacks out of the car every afternoon. Making their beds. And if they grew up with the expectation that we would pay them to be, essentially, functioning members of the household, then they would never have the motivation not to be slobs if there weren’t a monetary reward. (And if this seems like an unrealistic concern, then you’re hanging out with much more evolved children than we are.)


Speaking of more evolved children… My friend Steven Tesney recently published this post on the Daddy Issues blog about the way they handle allowances in his family, and it’s an interesting system — more sophisticated in its philosophy than most I’ve encountered so far. I’m interested in what you think of it.


So instead of paying our kids to not be slobs, we started giving them a few dollars a week for no other reason than to have it, just so they can learn how to manage money for themselves. If they want to buy candy or Pokémon cards from the grocery store, that’s coming out of their allowance. We give them a smallish amount, because there’s not really much call for them to need to spend their money; we pay for things like gifts for their friends and extra fun things at school and outings. We give them bonuses, too: if they participate in a big chore (like helping us clean the cars or pulling weeds from the garden or raking leaves in the yard), there’s extra money for that; if we go to a festival or on vacation, we give them a chunk of money to spend on souvenirs and games and rides, and anything they don’t spend, they get to keep.

And if they don’t do their chores? They lose privileges like screen time.

But our system isn’t perfect. I wonder whether we’re giving them enough money. Some people advocate a dollar for each year of age per week, but most of the people I know who do that have only one child. Even though we tell the kids they need to divide their allowance equally between “spend,” “save,” and “donate,” sometimes the lines between those blur a little when Tiny Beowulf really wants to spend money on something. Sometimes they lose one of those little banks or wallets somewhere in the depths of their closets or bedrooms and choose to compromise quickly rather than spend some time looking for their stuff. The inconsistency makes it difficult to establish a good habit.

What do you do? If you have kids, how do you handle allowances, if at all? If you don’t have kids yourself but received an allowance when you were young, how did you earn it, and did the mechanics of your family’s system work well? I’m interested in hearing how the allowance debate is treated these days among all of you.

Please, discuss.  🙂


8 thoughts on “The Allowance Conundrum

  1. No two kids or families are alike. We gave our kids an allowance without any chores attached but they were expected to help out and keep the common area of the house clean. We allowed them to have messy bedrooms and just closed the door. They were expected to save half their allowance and they could earn more money by washing the car, cutting the grass, shoveling snow. If they wanted an expensive toy or activity then we would only pay half and they would have to earn the other half.

    My daughter wanted horseback riding lessons, she delivered newspapers to pay for half of the cost. She later baby sat to earn money and my son took over the paper route so that he could buy expensive computer games. I put all the money that they gave us into a mutual fund and gave it back to them when they graduated from university.

    They both live in houses today that are kept very neat & clean even though their bedrooms in my house were always messy.


  2. We give our son an allowance of $5 a week for certain household chores. His own personal chores – cleaning his room, laundry, etc. are done without compensation. Since he’s almost 15, the amount sounds trivial but he’s a great saver so it really adds up. (When he was twelve he bought his own XBox. More recently he bought a very expensive set of headphones.) I’ll also pay him for other projects like the book trailer he did for me or when he helped with our back patio renovations (but he understands that just because we ask for his help with something, it doesn’t mean he’s getting paid.)

    So essentially, life skills things are not compensated, chores that help the household in general are, and we give him the opportunity for “jobs” to earn more and help him develop a work ethic. Seems to be working so far!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That seems like a good way to focus on an important aspect of budget. I had a conversation with my daughter this morning about how she could use her allowance for songs from iTunes. I have a feeling that focusing on just one aspect of budget at a time is probably going to help my kids absorb it all most easily.


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