Allowance: Moving from “Getting” to “Earning”

When we first started giving our kids an allowance, we had a core philosophy that the allowance wasn’t payment for being good, or doing their chores. Rather, the allowance was a recognition that we trusted them to make their own spending decisions, using moMovingfromGettingtoEarningney we would have spent for their benefit regardless.

Now that they’re all teenagers, we’re going to change the rules a bit. We’re going to take a portion of their allowance and pay it out as earnings for working on projects around the house. For example, I would like to have all of the old Hi8 and Digital8 home movies we’ve shot over the last decade imported to iMovie and backed up to a portable hard drive. This is a long, boring job that will probably take 50 hours. I’m going to tell my daughter that she’s no longer getting $50 per month for her clothing budget; instead, she’ll earn $5.00 for every hour of movie she converts. In the end, she should come out ahead, unless she decides she’s not going to do the work.

We’ve got some other jobs available on the docket as well – deep cleaning storage closets, packaging and listing stuff on eBay, and scanning photos and slides. The list grows as I think of things I’ve long been meaning to do, but haven’t had the time. Note that these aren’t merely chores, these are larger projects. In our family, everyone does chores without pay – it’s just each person’s contribution to the welfare of the family.

So what’s the reasoning behind the change to their allowance? Why change what’s working?

We’ve taught our kids how to be good stewards of their money (actually, our money) and I think that they’ll be able to manage a budget even if we’re not monitoring them. However, I don’t plan for them to be on the dole the rest of their lives. Ideally, at 16 or 17, they’ll be able to get a part-time job locally. When they do, that income will replace a portion of the allowance we’re now giving them. By the time they’re 18 and moving on to college, they should be fully transitioned to managing their own income – and money coming from us will be a windfall gift.

I’m fully prepared for some push back. I know that at first, when I reduce their allowance, they’ll feel no great incentive to put in the hours on the make up the difference. But after a couple of months with no clothing dollars going into her budget, Darling Daughter will begin to feel the pinch, and realize that she’s got to put in some hours on one of these projects to afford a new pair of jeans. And this is the whole point, really: teaching our kids that working, and earning, and saving give you the freedom to later buy the things you need. Work a bit harder, save a bit more, and you just might have enough to do something fun. It’s a great habit to form early. I hope they’re successful.

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