When to give an allowance?
February 6, 2007 10:35 AM   Subscribe

At what age should you start giving a child an allowance? Personal experiences? Obvious follow-up: How much?
posted by dirtylittlemonkey to Work & Money (35 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
My father started giving me an allowance when I was in 5th grade...my brother (3rd) and my sister (1st) got one as well. I got three dollars, my brother two, and my sister one.

The allowance was contingent on us making our beds daily and helping to clean on the weekends. However, the way he had us spend our allowance was really clever. We had to save one third of it. He had us start savings accounts and gave us whatever small amount was needed to start the account. Periodically we'd all go to the bank and make deposits, and the amount in our account was our "college fund." We also put a third in the plate at church, and the the other third was ours. It taught us about saving and charity and whatnot.

Periodically we got raises in our allowance so I was making about ten bucks by high school. When we got jobs, the allowance stopped.

I plan on doing it this way when I have kids.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2007

posted by magikker at 10:57 AM on February 6, 2007

I don't remember when I first started getting an allowance, but I do remember having one when I was in second grade, so it had to be earlier than that. It was $2 a week until I was in eighth grade, I think, when it suddenly shot up to $20 a week. That was... odd. I'd suggest stepping it up gradually, whatever you set it at. (When I was old enough to babysit, my parents also used to pay both me and my younger brother when they went out -- me for babysitting him, him for behaving for me. That was $2/hr for each of us. That always seemed like a better deal to me than the allowance, but it does require a kid old enough to leave home in charge.)
posted by occhiblu at 11:02 AM on February 6, 2007

Whatever you decide, make them have to pay for certain expenses. For instantance, we've been giving our kid a certain amount since she was 8, but she has to pay for her school lunch outta it. Of course we give her enough to cover lunch and then some, but she has learned that money isn't free and things cost in the world.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:02 AM on February 6, 2007

i'm 30.5 and I never had an allowance. As best as I can remember, it was never discussed and we were expected to do the chores that my parents asked of us. Spending money was doled out on a case by case basis and by the clever keeping of change when going to store for bread/milk/etc.
posted by mmascolino at 11:05 AM on February 6, 2007

I never got an allowance, but if I really needed money for something my parents would help me out if they considered it a reasonable expense. I think starting an allowance around 3rd grade is a good idea if you use it to teach the value of money. Don't make it a handout - they should be responsible for paying for some items, and you should teach them the value of saving/investing.
posted by bangitliketmac at 11:09 AM on February 6, 2007

Chores are a great way to base an allowance. However, good grades can also be an extra source of income. I cheerfully would attempt to bankrupt my parents through good grades, and a scholarship will pay off a heck of a lot better in the long run than a bed with hospital corners.
posted by adipocere at 11:16 AM on February 6, 2007

I very much dislike linking chores to money. You help clean up because you are a member of a family and not a savage, not because you expect to get paid. Likewise behaving and doing well in school. Honestly, my mom just gave me money when I asked, as long as it was reasonable. Then again, we didn't have much money when I was little, and I did go to travel camp, where I had a certain amount of money for lunch and games, so I learned responsibility and the worth of money (or some anyway). I guess it depends which lessons you want to emphasize: I prefer thinking we do chores and share money because we are family.
posted by dame at 11:31 AM on February 6, 2007

I'd say start early, start small, gradually build things up, and when the kid is old enoug for a car and a job the allowance stops, but still help the kid out with some expenses when need-be.

Paying for chores is a pretty standard way to go, and I like the grades idea too.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:36 AM on February 6, 2007

I never got an allowance, either. Spending money on a case by case basis. So I don't have an answer to that question. But I did want to share what my dad did. When I started making my own money (from babysitting), he tried to encourage me to invest money. He gave me the $250 minimum investment in a mutual fund. We discussed choices (I think he gave me three or four to choose from). To encourage me to invest, he acted like a 401k - matching each dollar I saved with $.50, becuase I was worried about losing my money.

I'm almost thirty and I still have that mutual fund. It's got a healthy balance in it. I learned about saving, investing, and had a connection with my dad when we would check the balances.
posted by dpx.mfx at 11:51 AM on February 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

My sisters and I started getting allowance in 1st grade and the grade you were in was the amount you received ($2/wk for 2nd grade, and so on). When I was in high school that shot up to $20 and then $25/wk, which made sense since we had more expenses and didn't have school year jobs. We did work during the summers, so an allowance was a nice addition then.

Our allowances was never linked to chores since what we were expected to do, we were expected to do or to grades (as doing well was also expected and non-negotiable to some extent).

What I liked about our allowance was knowing how much money I had. My best friend would have to ask her parents for money whenever she wanted to do or buy anything. Our parents expected us to manage our money ourselves (with help for special occasions, etc). For example, in high school we could buy our own lunch with our allowance or bring in lunch from home (which my parents wanted us to do anyway, but we did have the choice). There was never anything we couldn't spend our money on, though we never really pushed that limit publicly.

Another important lesson in money management that seemed to fit in with managing an allowance was occasionally looking at bills with my parents. Looking at how much a monthly telephone bill was, watching my father put his check in the bank and withdraw $100 (or whatever) and say this is the grocery and spending money for the week. And of course, the credit card lesson which I credit for the fact that I am credit card debt free - looking at a post-Christmas credit card bill, being shown the monthly payment and having my father explain how much you would end up paying in interest if you only paid the monthly payment.
posted by Caz721 at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

My experience, and viewpoint on the issue, matches with dame's 100% (well, minus the camp thing; so maybe it's more like 98%). Why add an extrinsic reward to something that should be motivated intrinsically? (To be fair, this may only work with kids of a particular personality type.)

I never got an allowance and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody I knew did, either. We knew when it was appropriate to ask for money (not too often) and usually got it. Maybe I just knew a bunch of really good kids.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2007

My parents divorced when I was about eight. A couple years after my dad remarried, his second wife suggested that he give us an allowance for doing chores. I assume she had read this in one of the parenting books she had bought. My sister and I laughed at this and rejected the offer.

Bribing us to do rational things, like enjoying a clean environment or ensuring pets get water and food at appropriate times seemed preposterous to us (and still does), mainly because our mother emphasized these normal behavioral expectations to us very early on.

Before the time when we could get part-time after-school jobs, money for things or entertainment was provided. Certain things were denied, others were encouraged.
posted by odinsdream at 11:56 AM on February 6, 2007

About paying for expenses -- I think that's a good idea, but meals are one thing a kid definitely shouldn't be paying for. Then you just get into a situation where your kid gets to choose between a full meal and buying a candy bar from the vending machines and pocketing the difference.

Then again, and with the same logic, having them pay for candy/cookies could be good.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2007

... About paying for expenses out of one's allowance, is what I meant.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 12:00 PM on February 6, 2007

we give our kids allowance ($3/week for the 7yo, $5 for the 11 & 13 year olds) and the rule is, put a quarter in "long-term savings" (ill-defined, but basically they can't spend it) a quarter in charity (their choice), a quarter in "short-term savings" (they can spend it if they make a good case) and a quarter they can do whatever with. They each have boxes with dividers to keep the cash in.

It's a great example of how no one rule will work for every kid. Our youngest wants to spend everything at all times, and it's a constant battle to rein him in. The 11yo never spends anything, saves everything, and she's starting to ask questions about investing and risk vs. reward. The 14yo was somewhere in the middle, although with babysitting income, her allowance is pretty much irrelevant now and her spending is guided by not dictated by us.

Chores and allowance are completely unrelated in our house. You do your chores because you pull your weight. We give you regular money because your incessant nagging would drive us insane otherwise. Separate issues, works for us.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 12:03 PM on February 6, 2007

I don't remember when the allowance started for me, but it was definately unrelated to chores or grades. I think partly because my brother always struggled in school, and my parents didn't like to make a fuss that I was an A student.

I liked that we had to save for specific goals. Starting in middle school, my brother and I always spent some time at camp each summer. We had to pay half the cost of that, which was $150-300. So there was always a reason behind my Dad's insistence that half of the allowance and half of all gift money went into the bank.
posted by saffry at 12:22 PM on February 6, 2007

I can't remember exactly when I started getting an allowance, but I guess it was around the time I stopped going on play-dates to friends' houses and started going out more (mall, movies, etc). My dad would give me a certain amount of money every 15 days, and I had to make it last through two weekends, which was the time when I'd spend most of it. I tried to always save some money, so I had a reasonable amount to spend on things for myself when we went on vacation or wherever.

I never got any money for doing chores or having good grades. As I learned in some of my Organizational Behavior classes: you should never reward behaviors that people should *already* be doing (like getting to work on time), or, in a child's case, getting good grades.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:31 PM on February 6, 2007

Oh, I forgot to add that I think that getting a child their own savings account in bank can be a good tool in teaching them to save some money.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 12:38 PM on February 6, 2007

I'm in the "chores and grades shouldn't earn allowance" camp. (Although, we do allow grandparents to send bonus money for straight A's.) I also am an opponent of tying allowance to meals, for the reason lullabyofbirdland stated.

We pay our fifth grader an allowance twice a month (X years old gets X dollars), and it's to be used as pin money -- ice cream, impulse novelty buys at Target, etc. She also has a savings account, which was started to hold birthday and Christmas checks from relatives.

If she wants to buy something more expensive than her pin money can afford, she can either take it out of her savings account (which she never wants to do as she likes to gloat proudly over the amount she's put away), or we help with a short-term finance plan -- offering additional chores that can be done for extra $, offering loans with interest, etc.

We sneakily inject our values, too: if the desired item is educational or something that we perceive to have value, we make it far easier to reach the savings goal. And, we always pick up the tab for books, no matter what, to encourage reading.

And, occasionally, we make the child pay us. If she's really grumbling about doing a chore or brushing teeth or some other standard task, we offer to let her pay out of it, under the auspices that dental bills cost money, and dental bills for rotting teeth cost more money -- so if she doesn't want to brush her teeth, she can contribute today to the additional expense she is incurring down the line. And, the real catch is she has to pay right then -- meaning, cash must be on hand, no IOUs or allowance advances.

Since she's stingy with her spending money, she'll usually decide to suck it up and just do Dreaded Thing X, instead of having to hand over green dollar bills to skip it.
posted by pineapple at 1:01 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

My seven-year-old daughter has gotten a dollar per year of her age per week since she was in kindergarten, disbursed every other week. (So right now she gets $14 every other Saturday if she doesn't have a lien against her for, say, losing glasses or a penalty like sucking her thumb.) She can do whatever she wants with it, and she managed to save a great deal of it so she could buy an American Girl doll, so she's better at budgeting than I am.

If she helps in the family tasks (chores) she should take part in the family bounty (cash), but she's not paid directly for chores. (There's no "dog walking is $2." It's usually "if we want a dog, the dog needs to be walked.") We wrote down all the chores that needed to be done in the family and divided them up. So the kid isn't doing "it would be nice if someone...", but rather she has responsibilities to help us upkeep the house, the pets, etc.

With everything, though, we deal with it in the family meeting and the same rules apply to all of us. So, although parents don't get allowance, if we're behind on our own chores or I get caught biting my nails, there's equal opportunity for punishment. So, yeah, I've been locked out of screentime for not doing the dishes and I've had to pay out $1 to every member of the family for swearing.
posted by Gucky at 1:16 PM on February 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I agree with those that say that allowance is not a reward for chores. A family is not a business - you do chores because that is your share of the household work. You get an allowance because your parents are sharing some of their money with you. Even as a young child (I got an allowance starting at age 6 or 7), I understood this.

My allowance was always my age in quarters. This was a long time ago, so maybe double it now.

One important requirement was that I had to save some of my money, and set aside some for charity. The rest I could spend. I think at age 7 I gave 50 cents a week to charity, saved 50 cents, and could spend 75. I mostly saved the spending money until I afford barbies. The "saving" money went in a bank account and my dad showed me the monthly statement and taught me about interest.

Even though I am not currently terribly responsible with my money, I at least understand how money works and have since I was young, thanks to my parents guidance.

In retrospect I wish my parents had been a little looser about their spending on books, as I was always desperate for more to read.
posted by mai at 1:46 PM on February 6, 2007

Great answers, though I didn't ask about the chores vs allowance problem I'm glad to have heard them. My question actually came from reading the article linked to by Magikker as I have a son in that age range (he's 4) but I wouldn't have thought to start so young. Gucky seems about right with the start of Kindergarten signaling the change.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 1:53 PM on February 6, 2007

My father started me out on a $20/month allowance when I was in 3rd grade. Lunch at school cost over a dollar each day, and my parents wouldn't help me pack a lunch ... and at age 9, I wasn't very capable of preparing one myself. When he realized I kept running out of money, he switched it to $5/week.

At 13, my allowance went up to $30 ... all the way up until my senior year of high school. $30 all the way. I stopped eating lunch at school so that I could have a little pocket money to spend on my teenage frivolities, and dropped to 90 pounds in weight. (Don't worry... tiny Asian female here.) I couldn't earn any extra money from part-time jobs because there weren't any where I lived.

Anyhow. From that little tale ... don't give them too little, and don't give them too much. Know how much lunch at school costs them, and remember that the price of lunch does not stay constant for five years! (At the same time, don't let the kid trick you into thinking his $2 lunch costs $10.) Know whether or not your kid has part-time job opportunities in the area, and if there are ... does your kid have time for it, in addition to homework, sports, and music lessons? What do you want the allowance to cover ... just their lunch money, or also a little extra for little purchases on the side?
posted by Xere at 2:32 PM on February 6, 2007

I recomend basing it on either age or grade, depending on your economic situation. I believe in giving your child barkpark to what other children are getting, although that shoulden't be the only factor. Stuff like working extra hard in school (not getting a certain grade, just working hard) or doing something above and beyond around the house should warrant extra money. Allowance should just cover extra things, no lunches and stuff they actually need.
posted by Suparnova at 2:47 PM on February 6, 2007

We started our six year old out at $3 per week and soon discovered all the other kids in the neighborhood got $2. This was BAD. She became very gloaty. We solved this by instituting a mandatory $1 per week savings plan. I strongly suggest finding out what your child's best friend gets, because they will discuss it.
posted by Malla at 3:13 PM on February 6, 2007

I can't remember when it started, but my mum always gave us $1 pocket money on school days for us to either spend at the school canteen or save. This went up to $2 per day by the end of primary school, and then became a $10 note at the beginning of each week. It was never tied to behaviour, chores, grades or anything like that because my siblings and I are all very different.

I personally believe that tying money to grades isn't fair. My sister worked her arse off all the way through high school and in the end, didn't get a mark that got her accepted into university. I, on the other hand, did as little as I could and still ended up in the top 5% of the state. To reward grades with money would just be rewarding my lazyness and punishing my sister's hard work.
posted by cholly at 3:16 PM on February 6, 2007

I started getting $1/week in first or second grade. My mom was always forgetting when she gave me my allowance and we switched to a monthly allowance after a couple of years.

I get $20/ month as a senior in high school. My parents pay for things they think I need: clothes, shoes, school supplies and school lunches and I buy the rest. I can earn a little extra money babysitting, but my mother mandated that doing well in school is my job so I don't work during the school year.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 3:51 PM on February 6, 2007

Chores were separate from allowance for my sister and me as well, when we were growing up. We didn't have a lot of chores, but the ones we did, we did as our contribution to the family. I think that was a good way to do it, and I'd do it the same way if I had kids. Allowance was a separate issue entirely. I don't remember when we started getting allowances but I think it was around age 8-ish. Our allowance was matched to the grade we were in, so in fifth grade I got $5/week, etc - usually paid out in a lump sum once a month. My little sister felt this was monstrously unfair since she would never ever catch up to me in allowances, but I thought it was an excellent way of doing things. (And it made up for the fact that inflation had hit the tooth fairy since my tooth-losing years. $1.00 a tooth, that girl was getting!)

Until I hit high school, allowance was mostly saved up and then occasionally used for some utterly crappy toy or horrible piece of clothing that my mother wouldn't buy for me but would let me have if I wanted it badly enough to blow my own money on it. Mostly these things would then break horribly, teaching me a valuable lesson about my mother knowing best which toys were utter crap.

Once I hit high school, my allowance was nominally still $1/grade, but extra cash was disbursed at frequent intervals for hanging out with my friends. Most of which I promptly blew on booze and cigarettes, which I don't think was quite what my parents had in mind. They probably should have stuck with making me spend from my allowance.
posted by Stacey at 3:52 PM on February 6, 2007

I never got a particular allowance until college. Of course, I wasn't exactly a social butterfly, so I didn't go out much. I would get the change from whenever my mom sent me into a store to get milk or whatever, so I often had a small amount of cash on hand. I was never paid for chores or grades (although some of this was due to my brother being a slacker in all areas). If I went to a tournament with my team, I'd get about $30 to cover my meals/other crap (this only applied if my dad wasn't going with me). My parents packed lunches for me in elementary and middle school, but in high school, we had a PIN that we used for lunches (our parents could put money into it whenever).
I didn't have a part time job because I was busy with volleyball (and my parents wanted me to focus more on my studies) but every once in a while, I'd pick up a match or two at tournaments (anywhere from $8-$30/match). If I needed cash for something (wanted to go to the movies/party at a friends house), I'd have to clear it with my parents in advance and determine an amount to have them give me. I had a savings account from elementary school on (which was set up by the school and even had student 'tellers' who were supervised and we could deposit amounts as little as 5 cents up to $20) and my dad also invested most of my birthday/holiday checks into stocks and made little graphs for me to see what I was earning.
If I wanted my parents to get something in particular (such as a cat), I had to do all sorts of research on caring for the cat, expenses associated with the cat, as well as creating a chore list that I would be responsible for. It seems like it might have sucked, but it certainly helped my parents put a stop to the whole "can I keep it?" thing.
In college, I couldn't work because I was sucking in the grades department (but I did pick up referee-ing during the season, Jan-May) so from my sophomore year on, I got $40/week to spend on things like gas (starting from junior year), food, booze/drugs (they didn't know), clothes, etc. However, I had to pay for my credit card bill on my own. All expenses on my student ID had to be for school (things from the bookstore like textbooks and the occasional sweatshirt) and any book/educational-related purchase on my credit card would be paid for by them.

Currently, I recieve no allowance, but if I'm not getting assignments for referee-ing and need to put gas in my car to get to class, they'll float me about $20 to fill the tank and expect me to pay them back when I get an assignment. I also currently have to pay everything on my credit card (books included) and $100 worth of "rent" a month.

I suck at finances/money, so my folks method probably wasn't the best.
posted by sperose at 4:39 PM on February 6, 2007

I'm 20. I got $5/week from middle school through high school. The catch was that Mom paid out annually, which really sucked for me; given a lump sum, I always socked it away in a bank account, which was hard to access. That meant I could generally be found looking between couch cushions. On the positive side, I get some pretty sweet deals for being a young long-term customer with a relatively fat balance.

Anyway, $5/week wouldn't have been much, especially for the area and time, even if I'd had it. I wasn't allowed to have a job during the school year, either, so I never really had money. I was whiny at the time, but I've turned out mostly okay. Plus I have a stingy economical streak that, as a college student, I'm very thankful for (means I have no credit card debt and a Roth IRA of my very own).

Like most other people, my allowance wasn't linked to my chores -- I had both, but they weren't connected. I was also never rewarded for grades; it was totally anathema to my parents' entire philosophy.

However, my parents always paid for my clothes and sneakers (on annual back-to-school expeditions), since I didn't see clothes as a reward -- I hate shopping and never wanted much but the bare minimum. Because I love books, I almost always paid for them (actually, I almost always whined to go to the library instead). I was pretty bitter I had to buy my own books, because they'd buy my brother's since he didn't like reading. But it wasn't all bad -- they were generally good about giving me $10 for a movie every few months, and covering expenses like school field trips or participation fees.

The only money they doled out on a regular basis was milk money (I had to bring cold lunch). Buying milk at school cost something like $2.50 a week, but I, like Xere, would skip it just to keep the money. In retrospect, this was a bad idea, and something you should try to keep your kids from doing.

I really wish my parents had listened to me when I said "But all the other kids have $X a week!" Their first reaction was disbelief, and the second was the whole if-they-jumped-off-a-bridge routine. I wish they'd spoken to other parents to get an idea of the going rate. I'm not saying they had to match or even come close, but if they had leveled with me -- "Okay, I know Jen gets $30, but we just can't afford that" -- I would have taken it way better. Understanding their position would've made me a lot more comfortable being the only one who hasn't heard whatever cool new CD.
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:42 PM on February 6, 2007

Run, don't walk to your local library/bookstore and read Capitate Your Kids.

Available for as little as $.98 from Amazon right now, apparently.

A great book that covers everything you'll want to know about teaching kids to understand/respect money.
posted by Wild_Eep at 5:58 PM on February 6, 2007

I didnt get a regular allowance - my siblings and I were expected to keep our rooms tidy and help out on the weekends. If we wanted money we could do above that, eg. if I washed the dishes for the whole week = 20 bucks. Although now my sister gets paid 50$ for the same work. INFLATION!
posted by supercrayon at 7:03 PM on February 6, 2007

I got $2/week from third grade on and it was tied to extra curriculars for me because those were the things that I hated doing the most. I got good grades and helped out with the chores on my own, but spending time with other children of my own free will was what I needed to be bribed to do. If I quit band or skipped out on my flute lessons, this was fine, but I was docked $1 per week. Likewise, in the spring, if I joined Little League, I could earn an extra dollar.

It was an excellent bribery system, but I never did like other children much and I'm still just as bad at managing my money as I was at eight years old. (I'm working on it.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:04 PM on February 6, 2007

I think I started getting an allowance sometime around 1st grade; I don't remember how much it was.

My parents got kind of creative, though, in that they didn't hand us cash every week. Instead, we each had, essentially, a direct deposit checking account through the Bank of Mom & Dad. There were 5 spreadsheet pages tacked to the basement door, one for each of us, on which all credits and debits were recorded. If I didn't write down +$whatever for my allowance that week, I missed my chance and didn't get the money added to my "account." When I wanted cash for something, I asked my parents for it, usually mentioning how much money I had available in my "account." We could go a little bit into debt (without any fees!), but that was of course at my parents' discretion.

When we made a big purchase, my parents worked out a payment plan for us. For example, when I was 12 I got my own French horn; I was responsible for 1/3 of the total cost. I debited a certain amount from my account each month toward that cost -- more if I felt like I could afford it, less if I couldn't.

(We also had real savings accounts at an actual credit union; larger sums from birthdays, etc. would usually get split between the home "account" and the actual savings account.)

It taught me basic money management skills pretty early on, kept me from spending money just because I had it on me, and kept my parents from having to pay 5 kids in cash every week.
posted by alyxstarr at 8:11 AM on February 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

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