The Rockwood Files: The “Allowance” Issue

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

At one point or another, we parents have to decide what we want to do about kids and money. Do we pay an allowance? Is the money tied to chores? When do we begin? How much is enough? How much is too much? Do we have any say-so over how the kids spend it?

I didn’t have hard and fast answers on this because I didn’t get an allowance when I was growing up. My parents bought the things my brother and I needed and some of the stuff we wanted. Sometimes we’d do extra chores around the house to earn an extra buck or two.

But I’ve noticed lately just how “gimme, gimme, gimme” kids, including mine, can become when they want more stuff, regardless of how much that stuff costs. So we decided it was time for some kind of system that would, hopefully, teach them that the infamous “money tree” doesn’t grow anywhere on our property. I’ve checked – lots of times.

Because Tom and I recently went through a Dave Ramsey financial course at our church, we adopted Ramsey’s guidelines for how to teach kids about money. He doesn’t suggest how much to pay each kid, but he does say that the kid should have to put a portion of his money into three different areas – spending money, savings, and giving. And he’s an advocate of tying the money to certain jobs or chores around the house so kids learn the concept of working for their money.

We don’t call the money an “allowance.” Like Ramsey, I’ve never really liked that word because it insinuates we should allow kids money just because they’re breathing. But in the real world, I’ve never once received money for breathing, so the “allowance” term doesn’t seem to fit. At our house, we call it a “paycheck.”

I wrote down three chores for each of the boys to do at least once per week – clean their rooms, wipe down one bathroom, and straighten up one other room in the house. Since our oldest two kids are still pretty young (8 and 5), they earn one dollar for each completed chore for a grand total of three bucks each by the end of the week. They can choose not to do the chores, but they understand that not showing up to work will mean the paycheck will be a “no-show” as well.

We’ve only had the new system in place for a couple months now, but I’m already beginning to see some interesting changes. For example, one of 8-year-old Adam’s jobs is to straighten up the play room and put things away so I won’t trip on a Lego block and break my leg when I walk through there. Because he’s old enough, I’m also teaching him to organize the toys into groups instead of just pitching everything into a jumbled pile.

Last week he found his 3-year-old sister in the play room spreading dominoes all over the floor. He paused a moment as he stared down over her mess and then said quite seriously, “You’re going to have to clean that up when you’re done, you know.” My heart swelled with pride. Suddenly, they’re learning that things get put away thanks to someone’s effort and not by the help of invisible cleaning fairies.

A few days later, I overheard the boys talking in the bathroom. Jack had just used the potty and his brother was taking his turn when I heard this exchange:

“Hey, don’t splatter your pee-pee on the side of the potty! I just wiped that off yesterday!” Jack said, exasperated.

And that’s when I smiled a triumphant smile, and I knew we were truly on to something here. Not only are the boys learning to handle their own money, they’re also learning to take pride in their work and to protect the results of their labor. It reminds me of that old Chinese proverb that says “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

At our house, the proverb holds true and has been amended to the following: “Clean a boy’s toilet and it’ll be clean for a day. Teach him to clean a toilet and his aim will improve for a lifetime.”

That’s a lesson as good as money in the bank.rockwoodheadshot2010compressed1.jpg

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of She’d love to hear your thoughts and advice on kids and money, so click the orange button above to comment. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.