Lessons on Allowance from an Eight-Year-Old
I realized that my eight-year-old was ready for an allowance the day I took him shopping with the ten dollars he received from a relative as a Christmas gift. As he walked through the toy aisles at our local supercenter weighing his options, he turned to me and said (quite precociously), “Boy, Mom, these toys sure are overpriced these days!” Suppressing a giggle, I replied, “You’re telling me!”
Now, it’s important to point out that this is the same kid who had no problem picking out a $50 Wii game or a grossly overpriced Nerf gun a few weeks ago when it was my money he was spending. Anyway, we left the store that day with two packs of playing cards for him (a buy-one-get-one free deal, mind you) and a nugget of wisdom for me—this kid needed an allowance, and ASAP.
Before that “aha” moment I had standing in the toy section of Wal-Mart, I was like a lot of parents when it came to the topic of allowance. I thought: What in the world does my child need an allowance for? I buy him everything he wants. Little did I know then that therein lies the problem with most kids these days, including my own. Little by little, with every seemingly innocent treat—the board game you purchased to keep him busy on a rainy day, the book she’d been begging for because hey, reading’s good for them, right?, the candy bar you bought him “just because”—these youngsters are gaining a very dangerous thing to have in this word—a sense of entitlement. Yep, that’s right. If they keep getting the things they want with little or no effort on their part and no inkling of an idea of what it costs, then they will eventually come to expect them and even feel that they deserve them. And I don’t have to tell you where that kind of thinking will get you as an adult.
Now that you know the merits of doling out a weekly allowance, you need to know when to start, how much to give, and in what context. Experts agree that earlier is better when it comes to teaching your child about money. As soon as she’s able to understand what money is and what it’s used for (usually about 5-6 years old), you can begin filling her piggy bank. The amount of allowance your child receives each week is a personal decision that you should make with your spouse or significant other and should depend on what you can afford as well as your standard of living and values (e.g. how many toys does your child have now, how many do you think she needs to have, what do you anticipate that she’ll buy with the money you give her—candy, toys, BOOKS?). These are all things you will need to consider carefully before deciding on a dollar amount. As to the context, the jury is still out on whether to link the allowance to certain chores or achievements (such as grades). Although some parenting experts say that connecting the allowance to chores takes away the intrinsic value (aka warm fuzzies) a child gets from contributing to the family environment, the fact is they will eventually have to work for a living, as we all do, and teaching them that hard work produces the things they want and need in life can’t be a bad thing.
Since that momentous shopping day with my son, I have purchased him a responsibility chart (the one thing he hasn’t had to earn lately) and attached a dollar amount to the chores he performs each week. His piggy bank is growing, and I rest a little easier at night knowing he’s learning an important lesson— that his favorite things in life aren’t actually free.