A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota.
Question: What is a good guideline for giving kids allowances? Should they get one just for being a member of the family? Or should it be tied to chores? And how much is an acceptable level?
Answer: There is no single right way to handle allowances. Whether you decide to offer an allowance with no strings attached or expect children to earn their money by doing chores, being clear about the policy up front is essential.
In fact, many parents use a combined approach. They give a small allowance without requiring special chores and then give children a chance to earn additional money by doing extra household work. Notice the word "extra." Children ought to help with the dishes, clean their own rooms and, in general, pitch in as members of the household without expecting payment. That's an important part of learning to be a contributing member of a community.
The amount of allowance you choose to give will vary with the age of your child, the resources and values you hold and how your children's allowance money will be used. For example, you might give a very young child a 50-cent allowance to spend on special treats, but give a teenager a relatively large amount and expect her to budget it for clothing, recreation and miscellaneous expenses. Older children and teens can benefit from helping to decide how much allowance they need. Engaging them in developing a reasonable clothing and recreation budget provides a powerful lesson in the value of money. Living within that budget helps them learn to prioritize their needs and wishes--and delay gratification, an important part of growing up.
Before giving your children an allowance, there are several other questions you ought to think about. Are there any conditions the children must meet in order to receive an allowance? For example, is the allowance tied to keeping their room in order or completing homework? If an older child has a major unexpected expense, are you willing to give an advance on the following week's allowance? Will your children be allowed to spend allowance money as they wish, or are there certain products or activities you will prohibit because they are inconsistent with your values? Will you expect your children to set aside a portion of their allowance for savings or charitable contributions? Many parents begin, even with very young children, to set up separate boxes or piggy banks for spending money, savings and charity--an important step in teaching values and financial planning.
Whatever allowance policy you decide to follow in your family, know that you are helping your children build patterns, skills and values they will carry into adult life.