Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees – Life Lessons Learned from Allowances

This week and next, I am taking some time to focus on the benefits of using an allowance to teach kids life skills. Some of the personal stories are from days gone by, as Bob and my adult children don’t have much use for allowances anymore. But the truths are timeless and we’re seeing some of the fruits of our labor as our kids make wise choices.

Money Doesn't Grow on Trees

Using an Allowance to Teach Responsibility

The first objective we have in implementing an allowance is the idea of teaching our children about responsibility. Responsibility and accountability are closely related, and both are vital life skills that will help keep our children out of a financial counselor’s office when they’re adults.

Members Only Personally, I do not advocate giving a child an allowance because she is living and breathing—as if an allowance were an inalienable right. On the other hand, your child is a member of your family and as such has certain responsibilities. Because she is a member of the family she should get an allowance.

Not Paid for Chores There’s a delicate balance between paying your child for chores and withholding a portion of the allowance for chores and withholding a portion of the allowance for chores left undone. Daryl Lucas said in his book 105 Questions Children Ask About Money Matters. “Try not to tie allowances to chores. Doing so gives children the impression that they should be paid for all work, even cleaning up after themselves. Give them both chores and an allowance because they are part of the family.” (Tyndale House Publishers, 1997, Questions #79).

Responsibilities on Demand In our large family, we’ve trained our children that they are part of a larger whole—the family. As responsible members they are required to give their parents the help they need. While they have specific chores that they ware to do on a regular basis, that does not exclude them from nonpaying work. We’ve trained our kids to fold another load of laundry, vacuum the carpet, rake the backyard, or do whatever the family needs to get one. This doesn’t mean we’re not willing to pay them for some of these jobs on occasion (if they’re trying to earn money and looking to do extra work). But it does mean that they’ll do some work without expecting to be paid to do it.

Age Appropriate An allowance based on a child’s age is a good place to start. So unless you have twins, all your children will get different allowances. Their chores or responsibilities would need to be age appropriate, too.

Younger Children Even a three-year-old child can help set a table, carry dishes to the sink, pick up his toys and clothes. As a four year old, he can being learning to make his bed with help, and by the time he’s five, he’s doing a fairly decent job of it. One of the primary chores five-year-old Joshua has is to organize the shoe rack we keep in our garage (we don’t wear shoes in our house). One day we heard a sharp cry from the garage, and when I went to see what Joshua was doing, all he could say was, “Look at that, Mama.” Daniel had a few friends over, and there were four sets of tennis shoes that were sizes 12, 13, 14, and 15—there was no place for Joshua to put them on the rack!

Older Children The older a child is, the more responsibility he tends to have in the family, since he is closer to living on his own—when he will have to make all his own financial decisions. When our oldest, Daniel starts to complain that he has the lion’s share of the work around the house, we gently remind him that he also has the most privileges associated with his heightened responsibility.

Check back next week for part 2, where I’ll focus on the benefits of teaching accountability through an allowance.

This blog is taken from my book Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees: Teaching Your Kids the Value of a Buck. For more on this subject, you can buy the book from the bookstore at www.elliekay.com.

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