5 Things to Know About Chores and Allowance

houseworkBasically, there are two schools of thought when it comes to our children doing household chores and receiving an allowance.

The first approach is to tie allowance to doing chores.  Money is given if agreed upon chores are completed or money is taken away from a decided amount if chores are not completed.  Some parents pick this approach because they want to model the “real world” where you have to work and earn your money if you expect to receive a paycheck.

The other approach is to NOT tie allowance to doing chores.  Some parents pick this approach because they want to instill in their children that freely contributing in some way is expected from every member of the family, i.e., everyone pitches in to make the household work without expecting to be paid for it.  Also, the parents model generosity by sharing their resources with all members of the family.

I decided to use the latter approach with my children because, for me, I wanted their motivation for contributing to the family to be intrinsic (based on their own feelings of accomplishment and contribution) rather than extrinsic (based on receiving a reward—money).

Whichever approach you decide to use with chores and allowance, here are 5 things that will help your children achieve a healthy relationship with money and family:

1. One of the ultimate lessons is to teach your children how to manage their financial resources for short-term and long-term goals.  In this vein, it helps to have them divvy up their allowance among three categories:  (1) long term savings, (2) charitable contributions, and (3) spending money. For example, when my children were young and received $3/week allowance—50¢ would go into long term savings, 50¢ would go into charitable contributions, and $2 would be leftover for “spending money.”

I paid them quarters and gave them 3 glass jars where they could watch the accumulation of their savings and charitable donations. The spending money didn’t accumulate for very long but hey, that portion was meant to practice spending, right?  The long term savings helped them learn to delay gratification and save up for those bigger ticket items.  And the charitable donations taught them the spirit of generosity and responsibility for being part of the solution to local and global problems. I remember their joyful faces when my children took their jar of quarters to donate to the local animal shelter.

2. Communicate clearly what their spending portion of the allowance is expected to cover.  Will they be expected to pay for any toys they get other than toys they receive as gifts at holidays and birthdays?  Will they be expected to pay for candy they want?  Or for entertainment, i.e., going to the movies or to Chuck E. Cheese’s?  Or for their video games?  As they get older (and their allowance increases), make sure the list of what they are expected to cover increases along with it.

3. Let them “fail” by making bad choices with their money.  As hard as it is, don’t bail them out! They will learn from their “mistakes” better than any financial lecture you could give them. Instead of lecturing or bailing them out, give them empathy when they realize their mistake and give them encouragement when you see that they are learning to make better choices with their money. This will take time. They will make mistakes as they learn and grow, but they will also learn to “self-correct” as they live with the consequences of their spending choices. Your acceptance of their learning and your empathy help maintain the relationship and gives them a safe place to experiment–fail–self-correct.

4. Make a list of ALL the family contributions (I call them contributions, not chores–who wants to do “chores”?!) and divvy up the list:  Who will pay the mortgage? Who will buy gas for the car? Who will get the trash together weekly?  Who will cook dinner?  Who will set the table?  Who will dust the furniture? Who will do the laundry?  Who will put the folded laundry in the drawers? Who will clean the playroom?  Who will vacuum? This gives children a sense of all that goes into running a household and it gives them some perspective on the magnitude that their parents are already freely contributing to the family.  Engage the kids: ask for their input, have them cut out pictures of how they want to contribute and glue them into a collage, or hand make a game board with all the contributions they can make and play a game (roll the dice and whatever space they land on is their contribution for the upcoming week). Help meet their need for fun and play and you’ll reap more cooperation from your kids.

5. Be sure to follow-up with your appreciation when they contribute. (This is different from “praise” which I see as having some downsides.)  It’s merely noticing and appreciating–by stating how it affects you:

“I see that you have the table all set and ready for dinner. Thank you.
That makes it easier for me to focus on cooking.”

“I noticed you put all your clothes in the drawers. Thank you.
I like it when things are in their places, don’t you?”

“I see that you’ve gathered all the trash without me even having to remind you.
Thanks. I like it when I can trust that things will get done.”

 This builds self-esteem as they get better at performing tasks and when they see that their contributions are acknowledged and needed in the family.