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First-time Allowance

The Beginner’s Guide to Allowances

By Amalah

Amalah is currently on maternity leave. In her absence, however, she’s just as tethered to the computer as ever, and will be using this space to ask you — our intrepid Advice Smackdown Commenter Crew — questions. What’s been baffling her, as a parent, you may wonder? Why, she’s so glad you asked!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesDear Internet-Wan Kenobi,

So. Chores. Allowances! What do you guys do? I am thinking it is time to start the whole allowance thing around these parts — Noah is five and a half, starting kindergarten this fall, already regularly doing some very basic chores (albeit with a LOT of reminders), and starting to generally lust after specific, pricey toys at the store. (LEGO sets. Always, always with the LEGO sets.)

Currently, we have a sticker chart that includes a couple chore-like duties (letting the dog outside, making your bed, clearing the table) along with more general behavior-type things (no tantrums, first-time listening, etc.). The stickers are, for now, the only real incentive, though we do count the stickers at the end of the week and if he hits a certain number there is an extra reward, like a small toy or seeing a movie or going out for ice cream. I sense he might be outgrowing this, and that it’s time for him to really understand just how much ACTUAL MONEY even that small toy costs. And that he’s ready to have some agency and actual ability to save up for that precious, precious LEGO set he wants so badly.

So…I’m curious. How much of an allowance do you think is appropriate for a five-and-a-half-year-old? Is there a nice magic amount that hits the sweet spot between “yes, you actually have to SAVE for awhile” and “it will take the poor child 300 years to save up for what he wants because holy CRAP, these toys are expensive”? I remember starting off with just a couple quarters a week as a child, but then again, the objects of my desire were $5 My Little Ponies, not LEGO sets that start at $15 and go well over a hundred.

And even more important, how much responsibility should come with that amount? I would like to add setting the table or something similar to his chore list, and would also like it VERY VERY MUCH if he would actually *do* the stuff we’re already asking of him *without* the daily reminders. (We already say that if a tantrum or whining accompanies the chore, like throwing a fit the first time he’s asked to clear up his toys before bed, he forfeits the sticker.)

Any and all insight would be muchly appreciated. By me and my LEGO-lusting kid.

Amalah

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Wallydraigle
Guest

My kids aren’t anywhere near this age yet, but I liked the system my parents had (20 years ago, so you may wish to adjust for inflation). . I got a dollar a week, no matter what. That probably sounds a little nutty, but they wanted me to understand that my regular chores were just part of being a member of a household. It’s not something you get paid for. But then there were other extra chores I could do for more money. I now suspect that my dad’s shirts kept “losing” buttons because he liked giving me nickels for… Read more »

Anthony from CharismaticKid
Guest

Let me ask you a question, how much allowance is appropriate for you… or me? Here’s the answer: NONE. I’m glad you are coupling allowance with chores, however this makes the word “allowance” no longer have any meaning. Allowance means payment without any effort given. What I recommend is to put the jobs around the house up on the chart, include amount paid to each job, and then hold spaces for CHECK MARKS where he accomplished each job. At the end of the week, add it all up, and that’s what he should get. If he does not do the… Read more »

Anthony from CharismaticKid
Guest

I also want to add that I like wallydraigle’s comment that normal chores are for being a part of the household.

Cleaning his room is HIS job, not yours.

Only pay him for things that he doesn’t HAVE to do.

Thanks, Wally!

Zinna
Guest
Zinna

Totally in the same predicament. We started trying an allowance (not chore-based $$ but weekly allowance) of $5. We figured a buck a year. It didn’t really take and WE weren’t consistent with it so we gave up. Now that our son is 6, we started again. We got him his own wallet (with his name on it) and we kept the allowance at $5. We’re TRYING to instill that if he doesn’t have the wallet with him, he can’t buy whatever it is he wants. Also, he has a piggy bank so any change he gets goes directly in… Read more »

Suzanne
Guest
Suzanne

I’ve heard of, and am quite a fan of the “reverse allowance” method. I haven’t gotten a chance to try it out on my own, but the basic gist is supposed to be that you don’t get money for “doing” chores, you are assumed to have to do them anyway. If someone else has to do your chores for you, your allowance gets subtracted accordingly. This eliminates the choice factor. (I don’t need money this week, so I won’t make my bed and no one will be upset) and turns it more into a “If I don’t make my bed,… Read more »

Katie Lee
Guest
Katie Lee

My allowance was also not tied to chores for the same reason Wallydraigle cited: chores were not a job, but part of our family life. We were always allowed to do extra work for extra money only once all the regular chores were done. I remember my allowance being 5-ish dollars at that age, which still seems reasonable to me: if he wants a 15 dollar LEGO set, and you pay him on the same day every week, it would only really take him 15 days to save up the money. That’s really not that long for an item of… Read more »

Megan
Guest

I started at 5$ a month as a kid of 5 or so, eventually reaching 20-25 until I got a job. I was a hoarder – mom would hit me up for easy cash. What I would have hated, but could have really learned from was a taxing system. I’ve seen families deduct “taxes” from allowances using the savings for family activities or as “insurance” for broken things. That could have been helpful for when I finally got a real paycheck and had to think of savings, health care, etc. you know, all the fun deductions that decide your take… Read more »

Hadley
Guest
Hadley

No children here, but my parents did the haphazard approach for a long time with me and my brother. Over the past few years, I’ve done the Dave Ramsey program and his idea of comissions is really good for motivating children to do their chores and make their money. Additionally–it teaches them to (1) give, (2) save, and (3) spend. With the haphazard approach my parents did, I saved only and my brother spent only. Both of those are not good balances. You can find lots of info on his approach online.

Heather
Guest

I always got an allowance, but it wasn’t tied to chores.  As a member of a family, it was assumed I would help out with certain things every week and my parents didn’t pay me to do them. Sometimes I would have the opportunity to “earn” money by doing something extra, but my general allowance came to me regardless.  I don’t remember how much it was, but I think for my children, I will do $1/year/month.  So my 5 year-old will get $5/month.  That may increase as they get older, before they get a job (since just going to the… Read more »

Lorinda
Guest
Lorinda

We give our kids, starting around 3 years old, 50 cents per year of age at the beginning of each week. They have to save half for a safety net in college and the other half they can spend on anything they want. My oldest (7) has purchased a few wii games with his own money and was over the moon. The youngest (3), just likes putting the coins in the piggy banks. We use dollar coins and quarters because 1) they fit in the banks more easily and 2) they look like “treasure.”

Jen
Guest
Jen

We bought one of those “responsibility charts” (the one we have is by Melissa and Doug). It has magnets – about 20 to choose from – that have different jobs on them. Then there are other magnets that you use to mark when the child has done that job on a given day. Both of our kids (7 1/2 and 5) get five cents per magnet, and we pay up every Sunday and then clear the chart to start over for the next week. Things that they should do just because they are in the family (picking up their dirty… Read more »

Jessie
Guest
Jessie

Like Wallydraigle, I received a weekly allowance no matter what and I was expected to do chores every day as a part of the family – no matter what. I think when I was a little older than Noah I received $2.00 a week. Then again that was 30 years ago…I’ve heard a lot of parents give a dollar per week for every year of age (age 5 = $5.00/week). That might be a little steep, I don’t know. I did receive extra money for really big jobs – the kind of jobs you might hire someone to do, and… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

Have you heard of the Jar system? I think you do four jars – one long-term save, on short-term saving, one spend, and one give/charity… My son isn’t old enough to do allowance yet, but I’m thinking of going this route. Along with an incentive (matched funds?) for long-term saving.

It seems like the short term savings would be a good way to save up for lego sets…

There is a good summery here: http://www.tipsonlifeandlove.com/parenting/the-four-jar-allowance-system-for-kids

duchessbelle
Guest

I never got an allowance (tiny violin) but I like what my aunt did with my cousins. They got some easily splittable amount ($2/week in elementary school, $10/week upon middle school) and they each had two banks. Half of everything (allowance, birthday money, Christmas etc) went automatically into savings and could not be touched and were put towards something big. They told the kids that when they got their licenses they’d match whatever was in savings towards a car and by the time they both hit 17 they each had thousands of dollars. So, they were able to have the… Read more »

Amy
Guest

I don’t believe in giving kids money for chores. I don’t get money for doing the 10,000 things I do in our home to keep it running – I do those things because it’s part of being a family – we all must do things to help our family function. “But Mommy, I don’t LIKE to clean up!” Oh yeah, well Mommy doesn’t LIKE to clean toilets… I take them to the nearby university to do language studies so they can earn money for toys and stuff. With 8 grandparents, they always seem to have some money in their piggy… Read more »

professormama
Guest
professormama

Our son is just finishing kindergarten (he’s just turned 6). He’s been getting $5 each week as long as he clean his room and generally does his chores (clearing his plate after meals & putting his dirty clothing in the laundry bin etc.) If he doesn’t clean his room by then end of the weekend, no allowance. I think this has happened only once or twice.  He can also earn money for additional chores, if he’s clean the litter box he gets $2, so if he’s trying to save up for something expensive he’ll do this job quite a bit,… Read more »

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

Hey there… My input is very similar to what I’m reading already here. We give our 5 (almost 6 year old), $2.50 a week (50 cents per year) – no matter what. Our philosophy is that as a member of our family, the expectation is that he will help keep our household running. He does things like take his dishes to the sink, help fold laundry and put his own away, feed our dogs (not all the time, but often) and keep his toys picked up. We got this really cool piggy bank which has separate slots for saving, spending,… Read more »

eva
Guest
eva

I’m here to 3rd the “allowance is to learn to save and budget, chores are cause you live here” camp. But really, my almost 6 year old daughter gets $1 a week so I can say, no I’m not buying that, but you can save up for it if you’d like. She can also earn money doing extra chores, and she’s saved up for multiple $10+ items. 

Susannah
Guest

From the time I was 5 or 6 up until I was 16 and got a part time job after school, my sister and I would get our age in dollars weekly. So when I was fifteen, I got $15 a week. But additionally, as an incentive to either save our money or be mindful of what we spent it on, if we were able to account for where our last week’s allowance went (beyond just saying “I spent it”), dad would throw in another few dollars. I never did well with that part but my sister could save like… Read more »

Katy
Guest
Katy

There are some really great books out there on training your children to become good savers, understand the value of a dollar, etc. One I’ve heard good things about is “Debt Proof Your Kids” by Mary Hunt. I read her “Debt Proof Living” a few years ago and it was pretty helpful, so I imagine the kids’ version is probably good, too!

Taima
Guest
Taima

When I was Noah’s age, I got five dollars a week for doing my chores/getting good grades/not giving too much lip. Here’s what my mother did since five bucks even back then wasn’t honestly enough for much of anything. She would hold onto the money to save for me until I had saved up enough for a big toy that I wanted. She’d also do matching with me if a toy was waaay expensive and was something I really wanted. My birthday is in October and since Christmas is just two months later, I had a long span to go… Read more »

BMom
Guest
BMom

I’m a fan of the “allowance to learn about money” and “chores are part of being a family” school and not tying them together too. Nathan Dugan has some good stuff at his sharesavespend website, as well as some good books!

karen
Guest
karen

Money management is a great topic and I need to figure out my strategy too, but after reading the question and all comments in a row, I was struck by the slight absurdity of how privileged we all sound, contemplating how to best allocate moo-lah to our offspring. How many people in the world would love to have our problem? 🙂 🙂

Dani
Guest

We have this bizarre reward system built on aquarium rocks. My son is a hoarder of rocks so while you did stickers, we do rocks. We only give rocks for positive behavior and once given they are never taken away. (With truly atrocious behavior, they have been put in “storage” but are returned when good behavior returns). This system works amazingly well for us. The catch is, that he spends his rocks like money. It’s 5 rocks for a movie, 3 for a wii game, 10 for a party at a friends house, 10 for any special trip (zoo, museum,… Read more »

Christy
Guest

So, we have a kind of different system here – we have what we call a “red coin jar”. Basically our daughter – 4.5 – gets red marbles to go in her jar for going “above and beyond” in different ways. We have a “store”, aka basket in the corner of our room. We buy items she’d like and put them in the store and assign a number of red coins to them – and she saves up for the items. I like this system because it does teach her the basic idea that she needs to save up for… Read more »

Sally
Guest

My boy loves legos too, and we’ve found that doing a matching-funds sort of program for earning legos works well. That allows us to count each sticker as a dollar or a quarter or whatever seems reasonable, but still buy the $50 set without a huge wait. He also has the option of getting the $25 to spend on something else. We only match funds for legos, books and books on CD. If he wants something more frivolous like an action figure or a nerf gun, then we don’t match. We also did a chart for piano practicing where each… Read more »

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Heather
Guest
Heather

I don’t have kids yet at all, but I would like to share my parents’ approach to allowance. Like so many commenters above, my base allowance was simply there, my spending money as a family member, and I was expected to help out with routine chores as needed (dishes, putting away my clean clothes, etc.). I also had the option of earning additional money for chores that were not part of the daily routine; when I was about 12 I earned close to $30 for taking down all the ceiling tiles from the drop ceiling, painting them, and putting them… Read more »

Brenda
Guest

My five year old son gets a $3 weekly allowance: one dollar to spend, one dollar to save and one dollar to give. What this really means is that he saves up $2 a week most weeks for what he wants (like a DS game). Added in to the periodic grand-parental $5 gifts that arrive, that allows him to periodically buy the more expensive things he wants. I like the idea of having money for short term goals, long term goals and charity. (In our case it’s a church, which makes it easy for a kid to donate.) Those are… Read more »

professormama
Guest
professormama

I have to just comment again, because I’m off work- so I can!  Lots of comments on allowance being for learning about money and “chores are just part family etc.”. I didn’t mention in my already too long comment, that we separate the “jobs” our kids do, so there are the things you do because you are a part of the family, like clean up after yourself etc. and then things that are “work/a job” like a big-clean up and organizing of the kid’s room at then end of the week, cleaning the litter, washing dishes etc. These are things… Read more »

annabelvita
Guest

We always got ten times our age – so at five I’d have got 50 pence a week. But we only really bought sweeties from the corner shop with it! Legos must have been presents.

Jenn
Guest
Jenn

I give my kids (10 and 6) their age – $1 per week. This may sound like a lot, but I have found it works. They actually have to save up for things they want, like Legos or DS games, and they understand that if they spend $5 on pokemon cards and candy, it will take them another week just to get back to where they were. We also offer them the option at restaurants to either get a soda (we don’t allow any soda at home, just at restaurants as a treat) or they can get water and I… Read more »

Jennifer
Guest
Jennifer

There’s a good summary of studies on kids who got unconditional allowances vs. tied to chores here: http://money.bundle.com/article/allowances-welfare-for-kids Basically, the overall idea of the article is that unconditional allowances foster an entitlement mentality and undermine learning the value of work.  I think this may be extreme, but going with a mixture of the two seems fair. Even though our son is 5, he doesn’t have an allowance yet.  We plan to start when he starts kindergarten as a sort of entry in to big boy/school age benefits and responsibilities (like homework and such).  He has simple chores, and we will often… Read more »

Nysha
Guest
Nysha

My advice is to keep it simple or you won’t stick with the program. Since you’re already using a sticker chart, I would figure out how much I felt was reasonable for him to have a week, divide by however many stickers it’s possible for him to get each week, and at the end of the week he gets paid for each sticker. I had 5 kids (now 18-25) and some were motivated to do their chores because of their allowance and some could not have cared less. We started chore charts when the oldest 3 were in Kindergarten &… Read more »

Rebecca Jane
Guest

I had mixed success with allowances with my children. My oldest responded well and took on the extra responsibilities we asked for and was rewarded with pocket money. Our younger one on the other hand, even when a year or two older than we started with our eldest just refused to do anything and allowances just weren’t an incentive he was interested in