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ECFE All About Allowance & Chores

In my last blog post, Top 5 Things to Avoid with Your Kids, I discussed not paying for chores. This has sparked some conversation and questions so I thought now would be a great time to focus on the when, what, how, and who of chores and allowances.

Let’s start by taking a look at allowance. There is a common misconception or fear that giving your child an allowance without them “earning” it, will teach your child that they don’t have to work for things. This misconception or fear is created because we are viewing allowances as a payment rather than a teaching tool. What is the goal of giving your child an allowance? An allowance is a way to teach your child about financial responsibility. It has the added bonus of helping your child understand that you are not their personal ATM! Here are some things to think about when implementing an allowance system with your children.

1.     When should you start? Start giving an allowance when your child is old enough to understand they need money to buy something. This does not mean they fully understand the concept of money by any means but at about 4 or 5 years of age, they start to recognize that you have to pay for things.

2.     How much should you give your child? There are different schools of thought for determining how much your child’s allowance should be. Some families opt to give their children $1 per years of age per week. This means a 5-year-old receives $5 per week. My children have always received half their age per week for their allowance. This was the recommendation when we started giving allowance and it has worked for us. To decide how much is the right amount for your family, consider the following:

  • What will your child be expected to buy with their allowance?
  • Will you ask them to save and/or donate a portion of it each week? In our family, my kids had to divide their allowance up into save, spend, and donate. The save portion went into their piggy bank and eventually their savings account. The spend portion was the money kept on hand for them to use. My kids would decide together where to send their donate money. They bought groceries for the food shelf, donated it to their classrooms at school, and gave money to the animal shelter. We did not dictate how much they had to put into each pile. They were allowed to choose how much to put into each pile.
  • What fits into your family’s budget?

3.     What is the best way to implement an allowance with your child? This can be the trickiest part of starting an allowance with your child. Here are some tips to make things a little easier for you:

  • Use cash. I know, I know. Who carries cash anymore? Kids need the concrete, tangible experience of having money. Then spending that money and having it gone. Pay your child’s allowance with coins and cash.
  • Be consistent. Determine what day you will give allowance and then stick to that. I recommend giving their allowance once a week when your child is younger. As they get older, upper elementary and into middle school, you can transition to giving a lump sum once a month if you want.
  • Give them someplace to keep their allowance. My kids had piggy banks that they put their money into for safekeeping. You could also use a container, wallet, or bag.
  • Take a step back and let them spend their money. Remember the purpose of an allowance is to help teach your child about money. This means we need to get out of the way and let them spend their money. One of the best lessons my kids learned was buying something they thought was cool but turned out to be less spectacular in real life. Buyer’s remorse is a good teacher.
  • Talk about money with your kids. I used to talk about why or why not I was buying something at the store. I would also point out the difference in cost between similar items (i.e., store-brand cereal vs name-brand.)

Allowances go hand and hand with chores for many families. However, allowance should not be linked to chores. Paying kids for chores establishes the expectation that they should be paid for helping their families. In our house, we told our kids, “You are part of our family, so you need to do things to help our family.” The other issue that arises is what happens if they don’t finish their chore or do a less-than-stellar job. Do you only pay part of it or not at all? What if you ask them to do an extra job? Do you pay for that?

In the same way that it is important to consider the purpose of allowance, we should consider why we have kids do chores. Chores are an opportunity for kids to contribute to their families, be helpful, and learn life skills and responsibility. The other thing to remember is that kids are capable of more than we think they are. Here are some ideas for possible chores for different age groups.

Toddlers (2-3)

This is a great age to start introducing chores because kids this age enjoy helping and especially enjoy doing things that they see us do. Remember at this age you will need to keep a watchful eye on your child while they do their chore and provide help as needed. Some good chores for toddlers include:

  • Putting clothes in a hamper
  • Feeding the family pet
  • Picking up their toys
  • Dusting shelves or baseboards with a sock or dry rag
  • Assist with putting clothes in the washer/dryer
  • Wiping the bathroom sink with a wet rag

Preschoolers (3-4)

Your preschooler should be able to complete most of their chores without much supervision. They still really enjoy being a helper so use that to your advantage as you engage them in completing chores. Some good chores for preschoolers include:

  • Making their bed
  • Using a handheld vacuum or sweeper to clean up crumbs
  • Clear dishes off the table
  • Pull weeds
  • Help set the table
  • Sort laundry before you wash it
  • Match socks
  • Put away clean silverware

Elementary Aged Kids (5-8)

At this age, your child should be able to do more complicated chores with minimal supervision. Kids this age will often start to resist or complain about having to do their chores. Be consistent and set expectations about when chores need to be done. I have found using First, Then language can be helpful. First, you need to do the dishes. Then you can play with your Legos. This puts the power in the child’s hands. The sooner they tackle their chore, the sooner they get to do what they want. Some good chores for elementary-aged kids include:

  • Setting and clearing the table
  • Helping make lunches
  • Putting away their laundry
  • Unloading and loading the dishwasher
  • Vacuum or mop
  • Wipe down the table after a meal
  • Take out the garbage

In closing, remember that whatever chore you assign your child, you need to have reasonable expectations for how it will be completed. Your preschooler’s bed is made if their sheets and blankets are pulled up but still a little lumpy or lopsided. Another key to making chores successful is teaching your child how to do the job. I like to show them, do it with them and then let them do it themselves. Depending on the job and the age of your child you may need to show them and do it with them a few times before they have it figured out.