I don’t remember at what age I started to get an allowance. I don’t remember at what dollar amount it started or incrementally how it grew. By the time I was old enough to remember getting it, it was $20 per week (or maybe every other week) and I’m fairly certain I blew it on things like nail polish, Barbie clothes and lip gloss. When I got a little bit older, before I had a part time job, I used it for McDonalds with friends, movie tickets and the occasional clothing item that my mother declined to purchase. If she liked it, she’d buy it. If I liked it, but she didn’t, I had to buy it.
Now I’m all grown up and I have a four year old son. My husband and I have been putting money in an account for his benefit since he was born, along with the small amounts given to him at holidays by family. It is just a place to set a little money aside for the things our son wants or needs over time. The money is not his official college fund, that’s separate. THIS account is what I’ve always intended to use for his allowance. We tap into it for things specifically for him – soccer, art classes, and the larger tag Christmas gifts, to name a few.
It has finally happened – our son has reached the stage of awareness where he not only will ask for books, toys and snacks after seeing them in stores or advertisements, he specifically says “will you buy this?” (By the way, I love that if we say no, he doesn’t have a tantrum or a fit. He may ask a few more times but he is quiet about it.) He understands that money exists and it is exchanged for goods. This makes me think that he is getting close to the point where I can use an allowance as a teaching tool with regards to the value of money and the receipt of it for good behavior.
Some experts are against providing an allowance to children in exchange for chores or good behavior. Some have said that money should be used for educational purposes alone, a tool illustrating how to manage money and prepare for a lifetime of healthy finances. We all know this is important in life. But is now too soon? I’m struggling with this.
Our child wants for little, I can’t lie. We encourage reading and the love of books, so if he wants a book we will rarely say no. We are a little bit stricter with regards to toy purchases but if he mentions something over and over it will go on his “wish list” and is likely to show up at Christmas, his birthday or in an Easter basket. His birthday and Christmas are only days apart and those are days of overwhelming bounty (we don’t do combo gifts), but I know it is hard for a child to wait an entire year between Christmas AND Birthday celebrations so he does get more toys and gifts than the average child in-between times. That is my own personal over-compensation issue and the blame for that is all mine. But I’ve started scaling back because we really don’t want him to be spoiled and entitled. It is one thing to be privileged and no-one is happier than we are that we can provide some extras for our child, but we also want to encourage gratitude.
He doesn’t really have household chores yet. His chores are things like “always be nice to the kitties” and “help pick up your toys” and “brush your teeth”. For each chore done he gets a sticker. If he reaches a certain sticker goal (example: 40 out of 50 possible stickers) he would get to choose a package out of the prize basket at the end of the week (books, puzzles, small toys). But perhaps it is time to switch the goal from a “surprise prize” to money that he can then take to a store and use to buy things?
How emotionally crushing will it be to a 4 year old if he takes $10 to the store and is $3 short to buy that one item he alleges he really really wants? Perhaps we should let him choose the item, earn the money and tell him when he has enough? That would make the trip to buy the item a big event.
Perhaps we should continue with the rewards basket and add a cash allowance sweetener that he has to put in a piggy bank for later?
Or do we stick with just the prize basket and save monetary allowance for later? For the prize basket to work we have to stop giving him little surprises in between or it loses its impact. That is going to be hard on MOMMY, but I’ll do my best.
I’m going to continue to mull this over but I’d love for people with experience to weigh in on this topic. What is working for you?