Family Work: Allowance, to Pay or Not to Pay

Need to catch up on your work? Past posts in the Family Work series:
Principles and Vision
If Mama Ain’t Happy
Are My Kids Allergic to Work? {link up}
Chore Charts and Other Motivators {link up}
And though not specifically about work, you won’t want to miss Nicholeen Peck’s guest post on Teaching Self Government.
If you haven’t already, please take some time to go visit (and comment on) the posts of those who have linked up. And remember, our September 2 Family Work post is a work-party. I’ve lined up some fun prizes to give away. Anyone who links up will automatically be entered to win.
family work button

Allowance, to Pay or Not to Pay

I’m firmly in the Give an Allowance Camp. Kids who don’t learn about money run the risk of becoming adults who make poor money decisions. A child who is allowed some spending money, taught how to use it, and allowed to make mistakes with it, is learning valuable lessons. Like: if I spend all my money on candy today, I’ll never be able to save enough for the game I really want.
I like allowance.  However, here is where my fellow Allowance Campers and I may disagree.
I don’t think it’s a good idea to pay children to do their chores.
Wait, before you take away my s’mores and kick me out of camp, hear me out.

Five Good Reasons Why You May Want to Reconsider Paying Children for Chores*

1. Money eclipses other good reasons for doing work and becomes the main motivator.
I mentioned this last week when we were talking about incentives for chore charts. Work can be rewarding in its own right. Children receive a sense of accomplishment, pride and increased self-confidence for a job well-done. Children also really do want to please their parents (even if they act otherwise). Putting a monetary value on chores overshadows all of those other things. They begin to work for the dollar instead of your praise.
In Freakonomics, the authors talk about a study done at several day care centers. Each center had a few parents that would habitually arrive late to pick up their children. The day cares decided to impose a monetary penalty on the parents if they were more than a few minutes late. To their surprise, the cash penalty caused the number of parents picking up late to increase. It was determined that once there was money involved it overshadowed the moral reasons for being on time. Instead there was a feeling of, this is okay because I’m only out a little bit of money.
The same can happen with chores. Contrast a child who thinks, “If I don’t clean up after my dog today, my mom might be unhappy with me” to one who thinks “If I don’t clean up after my dog today, I won’t get my dollar”. If that child decides they don’t really need a dollar today, it’s not so hard to decide not to do it.
That brings me to the next reason.
2. Paying for chores implies that the child can choose whether or not to do them.
Of course they can choose either way, right? But there is a big difference between “I have to do my chores because my parents expect each member of the family to do their part” and “I have to do my chores if I want money.” Sometimes the desire to not do the chores will be greater than the desire for money.
3. It creates a spirit of competition over cooperation.
Children are far less likely to help each other when there is money involved. Say you tell your family, “As soon as we all get done cleaning the living room, we’ll go to the park.”
If children are used to being paid for their work, you may begin to hear this: “I’m done with my jobs. I won’t help you unless you give me x amount of dollars.”
If money is not involved, the children may be more willing to help each other get done for the reward of going to the park.
4. Having to pay for chores reinforces the idea that “housework” is menial.
Have you ever heard a child ask “How much will you pay me to do this?” When children are asked to serve their families without compensation, the work is elevated.
We do these things because we love each other, because we take pride in our home and yard, because it feels good to create something lovely not because we are paid servants.
This goes along with the next point –
5. It teaches a love for money, not for the work, or the family the work benefits.
Think back to your vision. Do any of these points resonate?
Bonus Reason: Eventually children get old enough to begin earning money elsewhere and their motivation to earn money for chores at home decreases dramatically.

That’s not to say I think children should not be given opportunities to earn money at home. They should. But for extra (non-required) work.
I’m currently reading Cheaper by the Dozen, by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. The parents had a genius idea for extra work that needed to be done around their place – a closed bid system. They would approach their children with a job, say, painting the fence. Any interested parties would write down what they would be willing to do the job for, seal it in an envelope and turn it in. The parents would go with the lowest bid. It worked well until the kids got together and started fixing prices. 🙂
Here’s how we do it. We give our daughter an allowance of $10 per month ($1 for every year of her age). She gives $1 to the church and the rest is hers to spend or save as she will. Of course, we encourage her to save, but allow her to make mistakes (and feel the result of them). If she is invited to a birthday party, she picks out a gift and pays half of the price (I pay the other half).
If she wants to earn extra money, my husband and I look to see if there is extra work that can be done and we make her an offer. She is also encouraged to look for other earning opportunities.
For example: a couple of years ago, she decided she wanted to save up for a wii. At the time she was being paid only $8 a month allowance, with 80 cents going to her church donation. $7.20 a month does not add to $200 very quickly, so she asked for extra work. We had a big weedy patch behind our house and we offered her a couple of dollars for every 5 gallon bucket she filled with weeds. She earned a little bit more for reorganizing cupboards and closets.
She also asked her grandma if there was work that could be done at her house. In exchange for some cleaning, our daughter was given all the soda cans in the her grandma’s garage ($35 dollars worth!). Little by little, her money grew. After seven months of extra work (and saving her birthday money) she had enough to buy that wii. All that she did to earn it meant something to her. She was so proud. We were too.

Homework: Evaluate your current allowance system in light of your long term vision for your home. Are they in line? If not, what steps can you make to change? Journal Page PDF

Your Turn: How do your kids earn money? Do you have a system?
What do you think about paying kids to do chores? Do you disagree with me?
I’d love to hear your point of view. Please link to your blog post (old or new) with a back link to this post. Or tell me in the comments or on facebook. Then go visit (and comment on) these posts:

*A few of the reasons for not paying a child to do chores were inspired by Kathleen Bahr, 2004 BYU Women’s Conference, “Rejoice in His Labour”.
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Linked with Works for Me Wednesday


  1. I totally agree with you – our allowance is $1 per year that they are old each month (8 yo gets $8/month, 5 yo gets $5/month). We have mandated amounts (33%) to charity (tzedakah, in Hebrew) and savings. We do use $ as an incentive for extra chores – picking up backyard leaves, shoveling snow, washing car (usually $.50 per chore – and this doesn’t happen on a routine basis, just when we need added help.) In general, allowance is a money-management tool, not a make money tool. And we expect help around the house because they are part of the family, period.

    I linked up to a post that sort of encompasses not just allowance (altho there was a good deal of discussion in the comments about that), but rather our overall philosophy of how we talk to our kids about money in general.

    Thanks so much for sharing this great topic – I love it!

  2. @Mara – Love this: “allowance is a money-management tool, not a make money tool.” Thanks for commenting and linking up.

  3. The dollar per yr age is a great idea…and the monthly payment option is even better…really considering this..:)

  4. I like your logic and approach! I’ve never decided what we’ll do as our son gets a little older. I agree that an allowance is a good way to learn about money, but also agree that a child shouldn’t get paid to do what I do for free! This sounds like a great solution and is likely what we’ll implement soon. Thanks!

    • Thanks Kelly! It is nice to be able to have a game plan as your kids are growing, isn’t it?

  5. I’m so glad you’re doing this! I linked up my post, and honestly, I do agree with you about chores, allowances, and kids. My kids do exactly what you talk about, and I’m not happy about that.

    Even after 5 kids (and boy do I still feel a novice!), I’m not sure what to do about enforcing the chores. Though, I guess I shouldn’t worrying about that since I have been doing fine with enforcing chores.

    You’ve given me a lot to think about!

    • Barb – thank you for your comment and for linking up! I’m glad you’re here.
      As far as how to enforce getting the chores done, I’d love to refer you to this guest post by Nicholeen Peck. She is author of Parenting a House United and has taught self-government principles all over the world (including being a part of the BBC’s production of The World’s Strictest Parents). I can’t say enough about how incredible her principles are for kids of all ages. (And I don’t get any kind of commission, free product or anything else for saying so. :))

  6. Wow. Quite different than our approach but I understand your objectives.

    My 8 year old has chores that he gets paid for and chores he does as part of the family. If either of those categories don’t get done, then he doesn’t get paid. BUT, he still has to do the jobs for the rest of the week.

    For the jobs he does for pay, he gets $12 a week. Some of which goes into the bank (not a set amount). I guess that seems like a lot. But IMO, kids have the same cost per item as adults do. If they want a Build A Bear, or a video game, or books or Legos or a shirt, or to buy gifts for others, their costs for those items aren’t less because they are kids. I think that the work my son does should be rewarded fairly. At 8 dollars a month he would have no motivation since 8 dollars buys you almost nothing and he would spend it on junk.

    Also, I cannot ask him to do chores like laundry (yes, that is one of his chores) for $1 a week. That’s just not fair.

    There are so many ways to look at just about everything in the world and I love hearing other people’s takes on things and what works for them, their families and their worlds.

    Thanks for sharing your world with us, Heidi!

  7. I came across this post on Kosher on a Budget. What excellent strategies. Thank you! I especially like the cheaper by the dozen bidding practice. Brilliant!
    My practices are similar to yours, and they are working out pretty well. Kids get a reasonable allowance and they have occasional opportunities to earn more. We don’t pay for chores; as members of the household, everyone is responsible for pitching in.
    One of my questions/struggles is how to separate what is required and what is extra. For example, I’d like my older kids (girls, 12 yr old twins) to help out and babysit for my little one more (she’s 2). If I hired a babysitter, I’d pay $6 an hour. Do you think it’s fair to expect them to babysit for ‘free?’ Or should I be paying them the rate they could be earning if they were babysitting for neighbors? Would love your insights on this.

    • Rivki – Thanks for stopping in and commenting. Figuring out what is “for hire” can be a tricky question; I’ve struggled with that one myself. And, as each family is different, it will ultimately come down to what you (and your husband or partner) decides what is best for your family. Off the top of my head though, I think a comprise might be reasonable. For example, you could tell your daughters that you expect a certain amount of babysitting, just because they belong to the family and everyone needs to do their part. Decide on how many hours per month (or even per week) sounds reasonable to you. Anything above that would be compensated at the going neighborhood rate.
      I’d love to hear other readers’ thoughts. Anyone else want to weigh in?



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