Dollars and sense

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
We’re in the midst of a pocket money debate in the family. It’s the summer holidays but there are always chores to be done and, with no school, sports or other activities on at the moment, no excuses for not getting on with them, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro. 

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
A question I always ask a parent when the issue of payment arises is: Did you get paid specifically for cooking the meal or washing the dishes last night? No, and neither should our youngsters. They should be helping with basic household chores because ‘‘we’re all in this mess together’’ and each member of the team has their own valued contribution to make.

There’s a trap in paying for specified, individual chores. It can lead to an expectation that no chore, whether it’s making the bed, picking up clothing or putting out the rubbish, will be done without specific financial reward. This can quickly backfire when they decide they don’t need the dollar for doing tonight’s dishes so don’t do them.

An easy answer to a request for money for household chores is, “OK, I’ll pay you a dollar for doing the dishes, but tonight’s dinner will cost you four dollars.”

So why pocket money or an allowance? It’s important to be clear about its purpose in our own mind. An allowance can be seen as a way of:

• rewarding teamwork and overall contribution, much as a weekly wage is.

• teaching the value of money and learning the cost of items relative to money earned.

• learning how to handle money wisely and suffering the consequences of unwise decisions.

• developing other skills such as self-discipline and good judgement.

A good time to begin paying an allowance is once our youngster seems to be starting to grasp the concept of money and a 4-year-old should certainly be able to do that.

We then get to the question of how much. Some start at 50c or $1 a week, others settle for an amount either matching, or equal to half of, the child’s age and raised each birthday.

By age 12 they’ve usually reached an upper limit and then it’s over to them to supplement the allowance with part-time work. It could also be supplemented by a teen being given the amount normally spent on his or her clothing for the year, handing over responsibility in that area with no bailouts.

The allowance could also be supplemented by contracting them to do certain special tasks, for example carting and stacking a load of firewood, helping paint the house, spring cleaning the kitchen for an hourly rate or negotiated fee or, a favourite of mine, running the vegetable garden and selling the family cook the produce.


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