Should I give an allowance?

In theory giving an allowance is a good idea, and this is a good time to start. Many parents of six- to nine-year-old want their children to begin learning how to save and spend wisely.

There are two main ways in which an allowance is given: conditionally and unconditionally. An unconditional allowance handed out automatically every week. A conditional allowance only given after a child successfully completes certain requirements. Chores are the usual requirements, but sometimes conditions are related to school work or general behavior. One parent who gives her child a conditional allowance said, “I want him to learn how the world works. You get paid for what you do.”

When an allowance depends on a child’s performance, there can be family conflicts. Children may remember only half of their chores or may argue that they’re too tired or busy to do all that their parents want. Parents have to constantly remind a child, “If you don’t clear the table, you won’t get your allowance.” “No money if you don’t fold the clothes.” In addition, he may complete his task, but not to the satisfaction of his parents. They have to continually monitor and judge.

When kids are threatened with losing their allowance, they often do as their parent desire. However, they sometimes try to negotiate. One boy regularly got two dollars a week for making his bed and cleaning his room. When he wanted to miss a day, he started bargaining: “Just give me one dollar this time.” When the negotiating got out of hand, her parents switched to an unconditional allowance and used other tactics to encourage him to keep his room neat.

Some parents use an allowance to try to control their child’s behavior. He may gain or lose money depending on how obedient he is or how well he does at school. While this may work, it may lead to anger and frustration. If he hears, “You forgot your math book. You’re losing 50 cents this week,” he may feel unfairly penalized. Receiving an allowance should be a positive experience, not one associated with anger and feelings of helplessness.

While some families have success with a conditional allowance, others eventually give it up because of the struggles and attitudes they see their child adopting. One parent said her son refused to pitch in and help with anything other than his assigned chores unless he was paid extra.

However parents decide to give an allowance, they should strive for a system that makes them and their child feel good. If one method doesn’t work, they can try another.

At times, children are very interested in money, asking for an allowance at the earliest possible moment each week and eagerly counting their savings. At other times, they may forget their allowances for weeks. Some families have a regular day when the allowance is given, while others are very casual, giving children money at irregular intervals. Again, any method is fine as long as family members are comfortable with it.

A big question for parents is how much money to give. There are no general rules, and amounts vary from family to family. When parents are in doubt, they can find out how much other children are receiving. Families in a neighborhood or parents of close friends sometimes agree to give their children equal amounts.

Many parents open a bank account for their child when they start giving him an allowance. They want him to learn about saving and put at least part of his money away. Yet, it’s often hard for them to know how much should be saved and how the savings should be used. While they should encourage savings, they should also allow their child to make his own decisions about his allowance. He’ll certainly make mistakes, but he’ll learn valuable lessons from the experience.

For instance, if he wants a toy his parents aren’t willing to buy he may decide to save and buy it with his own money. If he does manage to accumulate enough, they should praise him for his patience even if they doubt the wisdom of his purchase.

It takes time for children to learn to manage money wisely. You may be frustrated if your child wants to spend each week’s allowance on gum, baseball cards, or comics. You don’t want him to waste his money, yet you do want him to have control over what is, after all, his. You’ll have to strike a balance, letting him make some mistakes as long as he doesn’t violate your family’s basic ideas about buying and saving. Keep in mind, too, that most adults make unnecessary, frivolous purchases from time to time.

To encourage your child to be more responsible about money, have him occasionally donate a small amount, perhaps at the same time you’re making a donation to a worthy cause. He can use his money to help buy toys for needy children or give a cash gift to a charity. Although he may initially resist, he’ll soon feel good about his donations, especially if you praise him for helping others.

Picture credit: Google