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.