Chores and Allowances

child holding moneyHow do you as a parent deal with chores and allowances? Do you pay for chores or do you feel that kids are supposed to help out without expecting payment? Do you give allowances on a regular basis or give money when you feel it’s warranted? There is no right or wrong answers to these questions, of course. It does take some work to find a system that matches your own view on financial matters however.

I developed my own approach regarding this subject by working backwards. My goal was to raise kids who would feel as though they mattered within the family unit. I also wanted children to learn the difference between instant and delayed gratification. So I used money and chores as a teaching tool to try to achieve this. Let me explain.

We all want to feel needed. Kids are no different. Even a teenager, who may look like he doesn’t care, wants to hear that the family needs and appreciates him. A century ago, children had to help with farming or babysitting chores, not as punishment but because the family unit would be worse off without the assistance. Although none of us would want to return to those days, being a vital, necessary part of the family unit did wonders for a child’s self esteem.

As parents we want our children to do well in school, excel at sports, pick decent friends, and give back to the community. We serve up opportunities on silver platters to make all this happen. What we many times forget to add to the equation is a child’s need to feel needed, and to give back to the immediate family. It’s difficult to feel valuable when all that seems to be valued is what you do for yourself. This puts many kids in a position of having to constantly justify their very existence. We treat our kids (and they act) like privileged house guests while we wonder why they don’t appreciate all that we do for them.

Chores– Great Esteem Builders

With this in mind, chores ought to be seen, not as punishment, but as esteem builders. To help build a child’s self esteem, I never turned down anyone willing to help, no matter how young a child or how busy I was at the moment. Whether it was a one year old who wanted to feed me sticky cheerios, a two year old eager to help unload a dryer or a four year old wanting to wash a car, their help was always genuinely appreciated.

As they got older, responsibilities such as walking and feeding the dog, setting the table, cleaning up or taking out the garbage were not paid chores but were done to help the family unit function better. Larger chores such as painting, yard work, washing cars or mowing the lawn were paid chores, and a child would do them as they needed money or if we needed help.

What if the chores weren’t completed?If the chores weren’t completed within a reasonable amount of time, or if the response I received was beyond normal signs of irritation, I assigned additional jobs, explaining that it looked as though my child needed more practice doing chores, and here was his chance to practice. My kids soon realized that it was in their best interest to get stuff done as soon as possible.

To show respect for their schedule (the way I wanted them to show respect for mine) I always let them know ahead of time that I needed their assistance at a certain time. I also made sure to show my appreciation when the tasks were completed.


When it came to allowances, my goal was to focus on the child developing a financial sense through trial and error. From the age of five, my children received a weekly allowance, paid regardless of how many chores were completed. The allowance was enough to learn self regulating skills but not so high that they would lose the incentive to do larger chores for money.

At the age of thirteen, the weekly pocket money was turned into a monthly allowance that covered most non-school related expenses. At this time they also started doing their own laundry (a natural extension of buying their own clothes). The first six months of being responsible for a larger amount of money while anticipating future needs and wants can be quite challenging. It’s tempting to go in and micromanage as a parent. This would be a major mistake. This should be a learning opportunity. Failing at times is a natural part of mastering any new major skill.

When to Step In

Developing an inner financial gauge can be a difficult and long process for a child– and even a tougher process to watch. It’s hard to watch your child walk to school wearing jeans in June because she failed to budget for new shorts. It’s tough to see her devastated look as she pulls her new, expensive shirt from the dryer, only to find out that it shrunk to fit a small doll. During the times when a true mistake was made (and my motherly heart spoke the loudest) I sometimes stepped in with some extra money or a loan. However, I tried never to cover calculated risks that failed.

Through the years I’ve watched many parents use money as a controlling device or as an emotional bargaining tool. These parents withhold money when they feel disappointed in, or neglected by their child. They also become overly generous when feeling guilty or when they seek a child’s approval. Kids are smart. They know manipulation when they see it.

Few subjects are wrapped up in so much emotion as those dealing with money. The fear that your child will become financially irresponsible, and ending up living in a cardboard box under a bridge, pretty much begins to take form the day she eats all of her candy in one sitting.It takes time to find a financial comfort zone however. By starting early, and with small amounts, financial losses and gains will shape most teenagers into financially responsible adults. The sooner we, as parents, get out of the way of this process, the quicker this will take place.