Thursday, February 6, 2014

The "Dino Do List": Handling Chores and Allowance with young children


I'm always curious about how other families handle allowances with their children. What do you do when kids start wanting to spend their own money? 

A few months ago, SuperSam started needing money for things. He started asking to buy things when we went out and started paying attention to how much things cost. This told us he was ready to begin learning how money works. George and I worked together to develop a plan for how we are going to handle allowances and spending money with our children. SuperSam is the first and oldest child, so he gets to be the guinea pig.

As we came up with our plan, we discussed the things we hope our kids will learn about money before they leave our house. (It often helps to keep the long-range picture in mind...how is our handling of this issue now going to affect them when they start getting credit card offers as freshmen in college?)

The things I want our children to learn about money are:

1. It's not unlimited. You have a certain amount, and when it runs out, it's gone.
2. If you spend it today, you won't have it tomorrow.
3. You have to save it up over time if you want to get something special.
4. We don't have to spend lots of money to have fun.

The best way for SuperSam to start learning these lessons is to have a little bit of money of his own.

We decided that a dollar was a reasonable amount for him to have in spending money each week. We felt strongly that he also needed to be putting money in savings each week and sharing part of his money with those less fortunate. So he gets $1.50 allowance- a dollar and two quarters- every week. One quarter goes in his savings jar. One quarter goes in his jar for the church offering. The other dollar goes in his spending jar and is his to do with as he pleases.


In our home, allowance is not tied directly to chores. You get an allowance as part of our family, and you contribute to our family life and work in the ways that are appropriate for your age. SuperSam has a chore board with four jobs that he needs to do every morning and four jobs he needs to do in the evenings.

Here it is:



The magnet board came from the dollar bins at Target, and the wooden dinosaurs came from Michaels. SuperSam painted them himself (yellow for morning jobs and blue for nighttime ones), and we glued magnet strips on them. He has a basket on his dresser next to the board where the dinosaurs live when they are not on the board.

SuperSam is responsible for getting his "Dino Do List" done each morning and evening. He gets a reminder. If he doesn't comply or doesn't do his jobs, we tell him, "No problem, we will take care of it." I clean up whatever toys or make his bed or put the clothes in his hamper for him, but I invoice him for those chores. This keeps me from having to ask repeatedly or get into power struggles with him on more difficult days. I might charge 10 cents for picking up his dirty pajamas or 15 cents for cleaning up all the Legos from his floor- my rates are subject to change. The invoices go on the refrigerator so we can see them during the week.


At the end of the week, when we give out allowance, he brings the invoices to the kitchen table. We work together to figure out how much he owes us, and we break down the dollar into change so he can pay his bill. Anything left over is his to spend or keep for later. We do not get involved in his decisions about how he spends his money. If he has enough money to make a purchase, he can make that purchase. Even if it seems like an unwise decision to me, I do not put restrictions on what he may buy with his own money. I do remind him about big things he has been saving for or experiences that are coming up (our trip to California back in December, for example), but if he decides to blow his money on cheap toys or gum, I let him deal with the consequences of that decision.

Since we implemented this system back in the fall, we have had fewer arguments about chores and have seen SuperSam gradually taking more responsibility. He initially spent all his money quickly, but he successfully saved for his trip to California (where he bought a stuffed wooly mammoth for $14 in the museum gift shop at the La Brea Tar Pits). He also took on some extra work around the house to make additional money he needed to get the newest Celestial Buddy for his collection.

The very best way to learn how money works is to use money. I'd much rather him learn now how these things work than to wait until he is out on his own and the risks are much higher.

Do you give your children an allowance? How do you handle children's requests for money or for things when you are out shopping? What kind of system for chores is in place in your home?