Gwen is starting to have an interest in money and the value of money. I have always been pretty upfront with her when she asks for things – whether it’s at the grocery store or in reference to a new toy – saying, “we don’t have money for that right now.” Recently she has started to catch on that certain outings cost money – Jumpin’ Jiminy’s, the pool – while others don’t – the playground, the waterpark. And certainly she has noticed my preference for the ones that are free. Earlier this week, after hearing about her two friends’ recent trip to Disneyland, she put all of her thoughts together and, as usual, came up with a “great idea” – “Mom, you don’t have to worry about enough money for Disneyland, because I have money IN MY PIGGYBANK!”
She found her piggybank and took out all the money. We sorted the different coins into piles (do all four-year-olds love sorting as much as Gwen does?), and then I talked a little about the value of the different coins. After counting them all up, we had a grand total of fifteen dollars. I then dropped the bomb that a family trip to Disneyland would probably cost about five thousand dollars. I thought briefly of trying to visually show her the amount of five thousand as compared to fifteen, but decided we’d had enough didactic learning for one day, and besides, no need to depress the poor child. Anyway, lest you think that money anxieties plague her mind, I did tell her that when the time was right we would DEFINITELY go to Disneyland, and she happily went back to sorting and counting and general merriment.
The coda to the story is that a few days later, she asked how much it would cost to go to Jumpin’ Jiminy’s. “I think it’s about … seven dollars?” I guessed. “SEVEN! I have more than seven dollars … so WE CAN GO TO JUMPIN’ JIMINY’S! HOORAY!” So now I’ll have to find some other excuse not to go there …
A related ‘real-world’ conversation we’ve been having recently is about playdates and Gwen’s constant need for stimulation. Just about every day as we are on our way home from school, she asks for one friend or another to come over and visit. I have recently begun explaining that it’s a whole lot easier for Moms and Dads and even kids, if we organize playdates for a day that isn’t a school day or work day. We went back to her trusty weekly calendar (which has largely fallen out of use now that her weekday activities are more consistent) and I showed her how two of the days begin with an S. “Those are good days for playdates,” I told her. “Those are days that Mom doesn’t go to work, and you don’t go to school, and your friends don’t go to school, so there’s lots of time for playing. On a school and work day, we only have time for a little bit of playing; mostly we do our put-away chores, we get dinner ready, we play music, and have just a bit of time for playing before dinner and getting ready for bed. It’s too rushed to have friends over. But on the days that begins with S, we have ALL DAY to do fun things! Those are good days for playdates.” She seemed to understand and take this in. Naturally, the next day when she woke up she asked me if it was an S day. This whole concept is really a lot to take in!
The put-away chores are another example of Gwen’s growing maturity. When we get home from school, she knows that it is her job to take off and put away her shoes, hat, and jacket, then take out the Tupperware from her lunch kit and put it in the dishwasher and put her lunch kit away in the pantry. I’m generally doing much the same thing with my own lunch kit and work stuff. She has taken this on very smoothly and without any fuss – in fact, she seems very happy and proud to do it. One day when I happened to put her things away because she’d gotten swept up in something else, she became very upset when she realized a few minutes later that she had been cheated out of the chance to do her chores. I think pretty soon I am going to add a couple more things to this list; for example, I’d like her to clear her own dishes after a meal, and wipe the table (and floor if needed). This might also have the bonus of encouraging her to be a less messy eater, since she will be the one dealing with the consequences! Eventually I’d also like her to start making her bed in the mornings, but mornings are already so challenging that I’m not going to add anything else to the mix just yet.
Her willingness to do chores and her interest in money have me thinking about some kind of allowance. I think five is a reasonable age to start receiving some kind of stipend. I haven’t done any formal research into this recently, but surveying my own thoughts/beliefs on the subject has led me to a few conclusions:
- I think kids need to be given money in order to learn how to handle money
- I think kids need both guidance and autonomy in how they spend their money
- I think that at least some portion of the allowance should have no connection to chores
- I think most of the chores should have no connection to money
My sister, whose kids are older than Gwen, has already tried a method or two. One idea she used made a lot of sense to me: that her older son Andrew could earn 25 cents a night setting the table for dinner, but only if he did it without being asked. Similarly, if the kids are ready for school on time without being nagged, they get some kind of reward that can then be cashed in for monetary or other rewards at the end of the week. Either way, they still have to get ready for school. But if they do it without giving their mom a lot of grief, they’re rewarded for it.
This method neatly avoids one of the pitfalls that has me a little concerned. I don’t want Gwen’s natural agreeableness and willingness to help stifled by the expectation of receiving money for the usual jobs and assistance that she needs to do in order to keep our house and family running smoothly. There is a certain level of helpfulness I expect from her just because she is a member of our family - our team - and we all work together. There are extra things that I may ask of her in the future, which may be worthy of pay. For example, when I was a teenager my father paid me $5.00 a week to wash the car or mow the lawn – larger chores that he would have had to do himself if he hadn’t had me to help. To me, that’s in a different category from tidying up after oneself, contributing to family meals, and so on.
The flip side is, whether or not she helps with her put-away chores and other jobs, I think she needs to receive a regular sum of money on a regular basis so that she can learn how to handle money. I know there are special piggy banks available that encourage kids to start the fundamentals of budgeting – allocate some money to savings, some to share (charity donations), and some for spending. I’m pretty sure Gwen is going to find one of those under the Christmas tree this year, with a note that she will be receiving a weekly allowance from then on.
What are your experiences with chores/allowance – as a child, and if applicable, a parent? What has worked or not worked in your family? What ideas have I not thought of?