Q: I have a difficult time knowing whether we should give our kids an allowance, and if so, whether the amount should be related to their behavior, perform-ance, and responsibility. I’m really not very confident about this issue. Should they even receive an allowance at all? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

A: This is a dilemma many parents face, and one which I, too, faced when my own children were young. I struggled with how much was enough, too much, what was fair. The common question that frequently comes up is whether children should be paid for doing household chores. I hear parents frustrated with getting their children to follow through with their assigned chores, with some believing that bribing them with money is the only way to ensure jobs successfully get done. I don’t agree.

Regarding the question of consistent allowance versus paying-for-chores allowance: Do you receive any payment for doing laundry, cooking meals, or weeding the garden? Do you or your partner/spouse get paid if you organize the garage, clean the basement, or repair a leaky faucet? Of course not! The same applies to your children. They should not be rewarded for carrying out basic household duties either. Each member of the family should have certain responsibilities, simply because they are part of the family. Everyone should have some chore — even a very young child can begin learning how to contribute by helping with the recycling, emptying wastebaskets, helping set the table, brushing the dog, etc.

I certainly approve of children receiving an allowance. Teaching children that every member of the family can be helpful in some way makes them feel good about their contribution, without expecting to get paid for these jobs. However, the allowance should not depend on what your child does or doesn’t do around the house. Children should receive an allowance just because they’re part of your family, and for that same reason, they should be expected to help with the necessary chores. We can gradually teach them fiscal responsibility, by helping them learn how to budget and save for something special they might like to buy. It’s important for parents to gauge an amount that’s realistic, rather than trying to keep up with what some other families might be paying their children.

I also believe there are some chores that older children might do for which they can be paid, if that work would usually bring payment from an outside employer. When my then-13-year-old daughter started babysitting for her younger brother, we always paid her a very respectable hourly wage, for she was in demand with other babysitting jobs. We wanted to ensure she didn’t feel she was being taken advantage of. Similarly, when my son started getting paying lawn mowing jobs in our neighborhood, we decided he was entitled to remuneration for mowing our lawn. The time he spent mowing ours could have been spent mowing others for pay.



So what is an allowance actually for? It gives children spending power to buy what they want and need. It teaches independence and responsibility for preparing how to live out in the world. Children who receive a regular allowance are more likely to understand the concept of money than those who do not. Children under 6 rarely voice a desire to acquire regular spending money of their own.They tend to be satisfied with collecting coins for a piggy bank or special hiding place. However, once children reach school age, their need for an allowance is more obvious. They begin realizing they want to buy something special, which requires someone paying for it, and their parents may not want to buy it. This realization reinforces the need for an allowance. Receiving this once weekly works well, as even adults have a difficult time budgeting wisely when being paid monthly. Children appreciate getting paid on the same day each week and can become resentful if a parent doesn’t have the cash or forgets on the designated day.

As for how much to give your child, what matters most is giving an allowance that aligns with your family’s circumstances, and with consideration of the expenses you’re expecting your child to cover. Usually, the amount of a child’s allowance will vary, according to the family income, the number of children in the family, and the family lifestyle. Ideally, if a child’s allowance is to pay for necessities, having enough to also spend just for fun is important. One child may decide to save anything extra, to have spending money for the family vacation, and another child may spend every penny weekly. When starting an allowance, it’s helpful to work out a weekly budget with your child, providing a visual picture of your child’s expenses. When your child requests an allowance increase, this is a great time to negotiate, teaching skills that will be useful in different settings. Children need to learn that money is important, that one cannot survive without it, making careful planning — neither excessive spending or obsessive savings is productive — the framework for lifelong financial stability.

We certainly don’t want to overemphasize the importance of money, and we must avoid confusing money with love and approval. While money provides a means of exchange; giving children unconditional love and approval is their lifelong sustenance. More important than the lessons we give in spending and saving are the attitudes we convey — particularly, the attitude of moderation.

Please send me your questions.