Allowances: The Strings Attached
Posted by Gail | Filed under Kids & Money
One of the most hotly debated issues when it comes to kids and their allowances is the idea of what an allowance should be tied to. Most people have no difficultly with the idea that before kids can learn to manage money they first need to be able to get their hands on some. But when it comes to what we should require of our children in exchange for an allowance, well that’s where we often part company with friends, neighbours and sometimes even our spouses.
Some people feel an allowance should have no strings attached. Others think it should be tied to chores in the home, school grades or even behaviour as in, “If you don’t smarten up, I’ll cut off your allowance!”
Just as the allowance debate is strongly pro and con on the idea of attaching strings, so too is the debate about whether or not kids should work for their money. Some parents feel that school is a child’s job, and any other work detracts from potential success at school. Others think that a part-time job is perfectly fine, while still others believe that a part-time job is essential because it begins the development of a good work ethic.
I’m of the school that believes that allowances should come with no strings attached, and that it’s perfectly fine for children to get a part-time job to supplement their allowance – not to replace it – when they get older.
Think about why you’re giving your kid an allowance. The objective should be to teach her money-management skills. The fact that you work hard for your money will be brought home when your child learns relative value – how many hours she has to work to afford that outfit.
The biggest problem in tying your child’s allowance to the completion of his routine chores comes on the day when you must withdraw the allowance. Now you’re teaching your child, “I have the money and you’ll have to do as I say to get some of it!” That’s a straight-out power play. “I have the money, so I have the power.” Ouch, not a lesson I want my children to learn. A far better tack for children who don’t follow through on household responsibilities is to do a like-for-like comparison. “Matt, if you don’t make your bed, I’m going to have to. And I only have time to do one thing, make your bed or make your lunch. Which one do you want to do?”
The strings attached to the money you got as a child will have a strong bearing on the strings you attach to your children’s money. We know our money history plays a big part in our money personalities. Perhaps you were never given an allowance and had to work for every penny you got. Or perhaps your parents’ strong work ethic was a point of great pride in your family. If you had to put yourself through college or university working at the local carwash on weekends and waiting tables at night, this will no doubt colour the way you look at money in general. If your allowance was tied to chores, or you were required to save all the money received as gifts, you may see that as the “normal way to do things”.
Whatever your own experiences with money as a child, try to put them aside as you begin to teach your children how money works and the role it should play in their lives. To ensure money is not imbued with meanings it shouldn’t have, don’t tie things like self-esteem, power or love to money. Stay balanced when you talk about it. And, above all, figure out what message you want your children to get from your money lessons. For, consciously or not, they are learning all about money from you.