At some point parents make the decision whether, when, why and how much to give a child allowance, and, as with many things, we use some trial and error and in the end we do what feels right. If you’re at the point where you’re beginning to consider allowance, there are several factors to consider: age, sibling allowance, amount, frequency, and so on.
I remember I learned a lot about money because of allowance. When the ice cream bicycle would come down the street, I’d ask my parents if I could have a popsicle. My parents, knowing it was not a healthy nor truly special treat, and having an abundance of popsicles at home already, said that if I used my allowance I could get one. I thought about using 3 weeks of “work” making my bed and setting the table and decided it wasn’t worth it. An important lesson that helped me always. I also learned how to use a savings account beginning around age 6, though I was a bit confused about the idea of interest and other banking concepts that are good to learn later on.
If you have determined that your child is ready to handle and learn about money, one important consideration is whether to make it a reward, or to just give it to them as a saving, spending and learning tool. Bringing rewards and punishments into the child’s world of money can create emotional or motivational anxieties, or a child can forget that it’s important to help out in the house simply because it needs to be done. On the other hand, a sense of entitlement can become a problem with a “free” allowance, in which case allowance for work done can be useful, especially as a life skill for the work force. Many think that waiting until a child is about 6 years old is a good time to begin giving them extra responsibilities for allowance reward money. Some can handle it earlier, some later. Often siblings of different ages feel the need for equal treatment, making allowance age vary widely.
One argument in favour of waiting until the child is a little older to get an award-based allowance is this: I was encouraging a preschool aged boy to help a little more with cleaning up his toys, bed, laundry in the basket, and doing little things before moving on to the next. I would talk about why this was important, create games to make it fun, add counting for additional learning, and generally try to instill a sense of importance and accomplishment. It worked sometimes. Other times I have to remember that at a certain age, if it doesn’t feel like play, or if it’s not the right moment, it’s not going to get done easily until they get a little older. One day, he started receiving a quarter for each task. When I asked him to help out as before, he would no longer do tasks unless he was to get paid. After a few days, even the thought of a reward (allowance) wore off, and the tasks would not get done without a power struggle. Things did improve with age, communication and varying strategies.
In favour of giving allowance for chores to a 4-5 year old, I have seen kids have a greater respect for things and money when they are told how much of their allowance they would have to spend to get that extra toy they want, or to replace their sister’s object they broke. They understand how much time and work it can take to get something. They take pride in and care for their hard-earned toy.
Kids can certainly learn addition, subtraction, fractions and more with money. An article (linked below) suggests doing a little math question each time you hand over allowance. It can be made enjoyable! Play change-making games! Ask how many quarters/pennies would it take to buy something at the dollar store? The kids might like to play “store” as well.
One tactic as a pre-teen that I enjoyed was when we were about to go on a trip where we’d likely need some spending money, my mom would put a chart on the fridge with extra tasks to complete and get checked off over the course of a month. It was a great way to be empowered and it probably helped Mom out, too.
Once the child has a piggy bank that is filling up, you can talk about your values and expectations with regard to spending, saving and giving. Kids are often given full control of their allowance money, which is an interesting way to learn about their desires and tendencies. I do wish that as a kid I had been coached to spend a little and enjoy it, and give a percentage to charity. I probably waited and saved till I had extra babysitting money to do so.
For more experiences and opinions, check out this article:
Tara Beninger is from Victoria and is always trying to think up new and silly clean up games to motivate kids.