By Mir
September 18, 2005

Chickadee and Monkey received their first-ever allowance today. I’m pretty sure that Christmas is going to pale in comparison. It’s THAT exciting.

I suppose we’re late on the bandwagon. That’s partially due to the fact that, hello, they’re provided with everything they need and plenty of stuff they don’t, so it never seemed like they were needing cash or anything. (Heck, when they need cigarettes, I make sure they get ’em; that’s just the kind of mom I am.) Then it can also be attributed to the fact that I have long pondered whether I wanted to listen to the immediate and prolific cries of “NO FAIR!” if the older child receives more money than her brother, or whether I preferred to defer to an unnamed date in the future when she finally figures out that she’s older but he’s getting just as much as she does.

But more importantly, I’m just lazy. And it turns out that this is complicated.

Here’s what I remember about receiving allowance as a child: When I was little (like the age the kids are now, say), my mother would pay me a nickel for cleaning the sink in the bathroom. I was thrilled. I probably did it three or four times before realizing that crusty toothpaste was disgusting and I didn’t actually need money for anything. Later, as a young teen or so, I received $5 each week. I don’t remember thinking that the amount was unfair, but I did work to supplement that.

I was very aware that “money didn’t grow on trees” but I also had no idea of how my parents conducted their finances. I don’t remember discussing charitable giving or what sorts of things they routinely paid towards. We kids had savings accounts into which birthday and holiday gift checks disappeared. It all seemed rather mysterious until I got my first checking account.

So. It seemed like delaying the economics lessons until they reach 17 would work, but might not be optimal. I queried fellow parents. I did my reading. And I… kept putting off starting the process, because I like to become paralyzed over inconsequential matters and choose to do nothing rather than risk doing it wrong. Fiscal responsibility! If I don’t teach them they’ll grow up to be soulless automatons who carry balances on their credit cards! OH, THE PRESSURE!

My paralysis was broken by bendy pencils.

Chickadee’s school has a school store. They sell various supplies, including “super cool pencils that are ALL BENDY!” Well, even though I plunked down a kidney to obtain all of the school supplies on the teacher’s list before the term started, Chickadee NEEDS one of those pencils. The plain yellow pencils in her pencil box simply won’t do. Naturally. And she kept asking me for money to get a bendy pencil. And I kept saying she already has pencils. And she kept saying she needed one of THOSE pencils. And I kept saying that she did not NEED one of those pencils, she just WANTED one; and that I will buy the things she NEEDS but she can buy the things she WANTS. And she kept saying she couldn’t buy one because she doesn’t have any money. And I said, “Oh.”

Then I called up my ex and explained that having the bendy pencil discussion even one more time was going to cause my brain to explode and we needed to start giving the kids allowance.

So here’s the deal: They can each earn $1.75 each week, or one quarter per day. Each day’s quarter is based on meeting the family expectations for that day. (I dislike the idea of “paying” them for chores; we all have chores, as part of the family.) On Sunday, they get whatever they’ve earned for the previous week. Each week they may earn as many as 7 quarters (the full $1.75) or as few as none (just give Chickadee time), but every Sunday they have to set aside one quarter for charity and two quarters for savings. If they haven’t earned at least those three quarters, they’re in debt. Whatever they earn over those three is theirs for discretionary spending.

For our inaugural allowance Sunday, both children had earned the full amount. Huzzah! I gave them each a dollar bill and promised the rest for tomorrow after I go to the bank for quarters. [Yeah, I had this whole Martha-esque project planned of making them each triple-chambered containers so that they can track how much they have in each “fund” as we go along, but it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe this week.] We reviewed again how the “other” money works. When they reach $5 in savings, we’ll go put it in the bank. They can donate their charity money at any time; saving it up for a while if they like, or taking their quarters to church each week, or whatever.

It’s all very organized. I feel very pleased with how we decided to do it.

What I failed to anticipate was the delirium that a single dollar can induce in a small child. The agony! Chickadee wants to save up for a Polly Pocket set (approximately $8). But she also wants a bendy pencil (I think those are $.50). Immediate gratification? Quickest achievement of long-term goal? How to decide? What to do?? I mean, the good news is that it had her sitting down and doing actual math to figure out her options. The bad news is that my eardrums started bleeding somewhere around fifteen minutes after she’d received her money.

Monkey has a cold, so he pretty much just put his dollar down and went back to laying on the couch and watching cartoons. Maybe next week he can have a crisis, too.

Actually, I think it’s going to work out really well in the long run. They’ll learn to have a little foresight, and how to figure out what’s worth spending their money on and what’s not. By the time they’re in high school, it’ll be old news to them that if they really want to save up to pierce their nipples, they can’t go blowing all their money on weed every weekend. They’ll be light-years ahead of their more spoiled peers.

Until they get credit cards.


  1. Karen

    Oy, we haven’t done allowance yet either. Are you going to forbid them to buy certain things with their own money — like candy? I’m worried my kids will want to blow all their money on candy, since I’m SO MEAN and hardly let them have any.

  2. Jen

    Oh, dear… another thing to dread… What age are you supposed to start allowance? Boo is only 4 … how many years do I have?? Dread… Dread…

    By the way, your system sounds fantastic… I may reduce the dread by borrowing from it! I love the idea of built in savings and charity!

  3. Karry

    Oh my – Oh my – the tears are just rolling down my face. That is just too funny.

    I worked out something similar with my kids, except for bigger ticket items, I tell them that if they are so determined to have it that they save up half, I will buy the other half. Puts a full stop to the “will-die-without-that-toy- GASP!” crisis and also the “I can’t save up $80! My mother is crazy!” screaming fit.

  4. buffi

    I like your plan (especially the charity part). SugarPlum is 8 and has been getting an allowance for several months. Our agreement is that you get money, because you are a responsible member of our family. You also do chores because you are a member of our family. You do not get paid for doing your chores. HOWEVER, if you I have to do one of your duties, you must pay me. And I don’t work cheap.

    She also has to use her money for the “I wants.” This caused some anxiety at first, but has now done a lot to temper those requests.

  5. Cori

    Like you, I haven’t done an allowance yet with the Chaotic Kids, becuase, oh the horrors of not doing it perfectly!

    I’m totally stealing your plan and running away with it. It sounds great. I can’t wait to see how it all works out.

  6. Amanda

    that’s friggin brilliant! thinking about things like this gives me hives, but i am totally passing it on to all of my mommy-friends. i will certainly use it for myself should there ever be a day when i am not brought down by a panic attack at the thought of havin’ babies!

  7. udge

    Very good plan, clever Mir. “Immediate gratification or long-term goal” is a biggie, many people never really come to terms with it (cough credit-card debt cough).

  8. Sheryl

    This is a great idea. Do “family expectations” include behavior, or is earning potential strictly related to tasks?

  9. Mir

    Both, Sheryl. I forgot to mention that Chickadee actually lost her quarter Wednesday for disobeying me… but she earned it back by doing extra chores on Saturday. ;)

  10. Peek

    It sounds like a wonderful system. Good job to C & M. And don’t worry about the credit cards, we have a big enough balance for everyone!!!!

  11. sleepingmommy

    I know I should do this with my kids from an early age, maybe even start now with my oldest but I think I’m going to put it off as long as possible….

    Maybe until I have enough money to give MYSELF an allowance. :)

  12. Cindy

    Just wait until they start hounding you for a raise! They’ll poll all their friends to see how much they make and everytime they find someone that makes more, they’ll start wearing you down for more money.

    School kids have a network and anytime anyone gets a raise, they inform their peers so they can go home and pressure their parents.

    You may have been better off buying the bendy pencil! :-)

  13. Karen

    Freakin’ BRILLIANT. Question (which I totally get if you don’t want to answer):

    How old are your kids (read: what age did you decide was appropriate to start giving them allowances; further read: how much longer do I have to get my own financial affairs in order before I feel confident enough to start teaching my daughter fiscal responsibility)?

  14. Chewie

    I’m impressed….geez I wish I had enough brain power left to even FIGURE OUT a plan for allowance…but right now…until the bendy pencils come my way (ironically, “pencil” was a spelling word on that list he just CHEATED) I guess I’m paralyzed….frozen…and keeping my nose above water…*grin* But as soon as I come un frozen and have a few good days in a row, I just might have to come back here and steal your GREAT allowance plan!

  15. Penny

    Lol. mine are 14 & 17. Allowance? ummmmmmmm…… roflmao

  16. Amy-GO

    Hey! No Marthaesque project necessary. Use jelly (or peanut butter, now that Monkey can have it) jars to seperate spending, savings, and charity money. We actually started almost the exact same idea with our kids awhile back, but quit because they were too little to care. Guess it’s time to try again!

  17. JustLinda

    I don’t pay for chores, either. Our model is to pay for special projects that need doing. But the daily stuff, well, we all do that just because it needs to be done.

    Great approach with the charity and savings!

  18. Amy

    What a great plan. I’m totally stealing it too–in about 5 years.

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