I knew I was going to be tackling the subject of allowance in this blog, so I thought I'd invite the input of my kids around the dinner table. I wanted to get a feel for how they viewed money, ownership and a good work ethic. It was fascinating to hear their ideas - since they range from 7 to 17, and have varying degrees of work ethic - everything from sheer entitlement to extreme independence.
"So, what do you all think of allowance?" I asked.
From the 10-year-old: "It means getting money. Can we change it to a 'yes' that you'll start giving us an allowance? I saw in a book somewhere that allowance is money parents give you." Now, this should already tell you how much our family is versed in the art of the allowance: not much, since he had to learn about allowance from a book!
From the 12-year-old: "Allowance is giving kids money because they have no way of *resourcing it themselves. (*Yes people, he used that very vocabulary! Way to go with big words, kid!) Sometimes it is money given for doing chores."
From the 16-year-old: "An allowance gives kids some ownership - something to be responsible for. Sometimes chores go along with it. It gives them some resources to also be able to give to others."
From the 17-year-old: "I'm against it. Parents can just buy things for kids if they ask. Kids can ask, and they can also earn. An allowance doesn't make sense. You could set up a little store at home and start with some points and kids can buy things from your store."
So I asked, "How much is a good allowance?"
"$5.00 a week, so the kid can learn to not spend it right away on candy, or can learn to save it up for something. It would be nice to get an allowance."
Suddenly I wondered if my efforts to field comments for a blog was going to lead me down a road neither I nor my purse intended to go. I had just introduced the idea that maybe, just maybe, there could be an opportunity for my children to gain an unsolicited income!
Side note to self: think before you invite your kids' input on blog posts.
Given our family's attitude towards allowances, I feel somewhat unqualified to write about teaching kids how to handle finances. When we look around at other families, we notice they do a lot more than we do on educating kids about money. We have a simple reason for this: We are terrible at keeping track of chore chart debits and credits. Sticker charts are great, and there are great resources out there for how to raise money-smart kids, but that is just not how our family operates.
Even if we haven't followed a system or a plan, we still had a significant impact on how our children view and handle money.
At first, I believed I had nothing to offer on the subject. But, as I watch our kids grow and build their understanding of the world and economics, I realize that even if we haven't followed a system or a plan, we still had a significant impact on how our children view and handle money. Allowing for an Allowance may be a part of that.
An allowance does not need to be a 'right/wrong' or 'good/bad' issue. It is simply a tool to build some money usage experience with and for kids. This will look different at every age and stage. Even though my younger ones hardly knew what an allowance was, my older children knew because we have at different times in their lives allowed for an allowance. I'll share our approach but, I don't offer it as an example to follow. I suggest it merely as food for thought, as you decide how to implement allowances in your own family.
In the early days, we made no effort to expose our young children to money or economics. We didn't pay it any attention. Even if we did not formally educate our kids 7 and under on money matters, we did share our own childhood experiences with money. My parents had given me an allowance for a season - it amounted to $1.25 a week. At that time, it was enough to buy me three candy bars and have some left over to put in the offering plate at church. My husband on the other hand never received an allowance. He never had any need for it. Growing up in the bush of Zambia meant no stores and nothing to buy. As a young bride, I was flummoxed. His answer to my question, "So, how did you learn to be money-smart, frugal and wise about spending if you never had an allowance to experiment with?!" was, "I suppose I just learned from watching how my parents lived."
Issuing an allowance is really more about the lesson you intend to teach than the value of the money.
These experiences lead me to believe that an allowance may have a place in a family or not. It all depends on what your kids need during a particular season in their lives. Receiving an allowance may be tied to chores or not. You may allow a stipend just to provide a small income to your children, period. Or you may offer children a way to earn money through chores. Earning money through chores might even come with certain limitations and provisos that will have children lose the privilegde of parent-sponsored income for significant areas of irresponsibility or resistance. Issuing an allowance is really more about the lesson you intend to teach than the value of the money. I believe it is best to truly know your child - their strengths, struggles, weaknesses - and use money as a tool to growth them. The growth you want to see may depend on generously doling out some funds to them regularly, or it may mean requiring that they find ways of earning funds for themselves.
While our children were young we simply steered clear of any allowances. If there was something they truly wanted, we figured out a way they could earn money to buy it or we waited for a birthday and gifted them the much desired item.
Some seasons in life are harder to earn an income because age-appropriate opportunities are limited. So when our decent, obedient, diligent, steady, responsible pre-teen asked for money, we allowed $5.00 a week. This arrangement fizzled out after a few months. The child was glad for it when we remembered but just as soon forget this stipend. There was no demand or reminders and the child was not required to do extra chores around the house.
Knowing our kids and being in relationship with them made us comfortable about giving them no-strings-attached money every week. We were able to comment on their attitudes of respect and gratitude. I realize this was a gift to us as parents (Thank you, Lord!) because kids will have varying struggles with attitude - I get that and I see that in my own house.
When the older children wanted money as a way to feel independent or to have some freedom to buy some frivolous thing, our approach changed to address the need. We encouraged them to find a job. Those who could find jobs and employment in our neighborhood did not require an allowance - they came by funds the normal way: by earning it.
We made a decision based on the bigger picture.
When job opportunities became scarce and one of our children was actively seeking a job but not having much succes, we assessed the situation and made a decision based on the bigger picture. There was a time when our 16-year-old was actively looking for a job but only sporadically got to babysit. In that situation, we felt it appropriate to allow her some funds, until she was able to find a more consistent income. Our daughter has always been a 'good citizen' (my terminology) in our house. She has always gladly contributed to household labor but never as a way to earn money. We took this into consideration when we made the decision to pay her a small allowance. She might not have been working outside the house, but she was definitely working inside the house. We teach our kids that they live in our home and benefit from the services of the adults who labor for them in the kitchen and the laundry and by chauffeuring. In turn, they are required to help out around the house. Our daughter was happily shoudering more than what we expected from her. We don't ask a whole lot from them. The story would go very differently if we were demanding and harsh about their chores.
The point I am making with these examples is this: Know your child and think about what is appropriate for each child. Here are a few questions to ask as you consider making allowance for an allowance:
- Do my kids have a good work ethic? How could giving an allowance strengthen or support it?
- Do my kids demonstrate gratitude and respect? How might an allowance give them more opportunity to be thankful and willing to put in effort in the home?
- Do my kids need money to work with? Do they need to learn how quickly it is spent and how easy it is to waste and the regret that comes from spending it on the wrong things? How might giving an allowance allow them to experiment with spending money and learn painful lessons?
- Am I, as a parent, able to let go of controlling their spending? If I give them an allowance, will I be frustrated when they make mistakes? Will I be able to gently discuss their money-usage habits without inviting hostility and anger into the relationship? How might an allowance give my child the freedom to make mistakes and grow?
Ultimately, making allowance for an allowance is a lot about parenting in general. How can I walk with my kids through their learning and growth process - not only in money matters but in all of life - to encourage and support the person God intends for them to be?
In the end, for parents, that is always the question. The answer will vary for each parent and child out there, but one truth applies to all: Trust in God as we raise our children is an essential.
Are you motivated by your fears or by your confidence in the God who can be trusted?
As our kids engage with us over life issues, they will sense either fear and anxiety or our unswerving trust in God. As we navigate money issues, relational dynamics, school stresses, church and community life - in all of these, they will pick up on whether we are motivated by our fears or by our confidence in the God who can be trusted to work all things for the good of those who love him and are called to his purpose.
I know which way I want to be parenting - and what I want my kids to see in me: ruthless, bold trust in the Faithful God who lovingly parents us with tender compassion and mercy.