Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Giving Your Child An Allowance - Does It Really Send The Right Message?
Author's Note: Before I discuss my views on allowances let me go bar my front door, pull my shades, and shut off all my lights. I need to hide from those who will want to tar and feather me.
Ok - here goes:
I don't believe in allowances, and I don't believe kids need allowances in order to learn the value of money or importance of managing it wisely. In fact, particularly today, I believe that too much money when kids aren't old enough (or willing) to work for it can create problems that would not otherwise have arisen.
Does An Allowance Really Send the Right Message?
When my kids were young I dealt with the money issue the same way my own parents did: Parents covered all necessary expenses, school events and needs, special occasion needs (like birthday gifts for parties) and a limited amount of entertainment expenses (the occasional movie or tickets for a trip to an amusement park, baseball game, etc.). The entertainment expenses were kept limited, and parents explained how only so much money could/should be spent on entertainment. Aunts and grandmothers often sent money at birthday times, and children could save. Sometimes grandmothers would hand a grandchild a couple of dollars just because they thought it was a nice thing to do. School promotion time brought cards with a few dollars in them. Kids were encouraged to save up their money to buy something worthwhile, and for some reason that's what usually happened.
Christmas and birthdays offered the chance for kids to have "one, big, gift" and a bunch of smaller ones. It was always made clear to kids that they should choose their "one, big, gift" wisely. During non-special times of year adults would buy the occasional small item for children just because it’s kind of nice to get a little toy or activity that's new and different, but kids understood there was a limit to the number of toys/activities bought in any one week and a limit on the amount spent.
Kids were told, "We'll cover the basics, but if you want to do something to earn a little extra spending money we'll help in any way we can." It was generally established that even before a kid gets to be of working age there are often little jobs s/he can do. At eleven I went to the store for neighbor-mothers with babies and was given fifty cents each time. There were also times when the young mothers would give me fifty cents for pushing their baby (in a carriage) back and forth near the house for a while, so they could get some work done. I was thirteen when I began babysitting.
Because I was a reliable and sensible babysitter more and more neighbors requested my services. It wasn't long before I had a monopoly in the neighborhood, and there was one, particularly special, family who moved but came back to pick me up so I could still sit. (I sat for them until I was 19, and their kids were big, even after I began working at 16.)
Newspaper routes were a way kids could earn money. My own eleven-year-old son earned the money to buy his first Nintendo system and was very proud of having done that.
In general, the way my family has always done things, children haven't felt particularly deprived because parents covered as many expenses as they did. Young children don't really need much more, and it isn't until a kid gets to be thirteen or so when the wish to have more spending money starts to get really strong. A kid that age can often find a way to earn some extra money, but if s/he cannot s/he will only have to wait a little while before being old enough to find a "real" part-time job. Thirteen to fifteen or so tend to be ages when kids are at high risk of getting into a little trouble, and I think the limitations of having little money can often keep a kid home at a time when too much out-and-around time isn't always good. Once kids were old enough to become employed it was understood that if they wanted extra spending money they needed to work for it. If they chose not to work they would need to live within parents' budgets when it came to spending money.
Our family had the general attitude that family members are supposed to help other family members at times - not because they'll be paid for services but because that's what families do. My belief (like my parents' was) has always been that it is the parents' responsibility to cover the expenses of childrearing, and providing for adequate social and entertainment activities is part of normal childrearing. "Adequate", however, is very different from "all the socializing and entertaining you want". In general, the idea always was that younger children's extra spending needs are fairly limited. Once teenagers get old enough to want to get a car, go out eating, and do things that require more money their "extra expenses" become a little higher and require a little pitching in on their part.
I've never believed I needed to hand my children money that was under the name of "allowance" just because they were my children. My kids had plenty of things and somehow had learned to be very careful with all those dollar bills and five-dollar bills they had been given at birthday time or upon accomplishment.
To me, it didn't seem like such a bad idea to let them know that dependence on others is for children and that a fixed weekly income comes when a person is willing and able to work for it. I wanted them to know if they needed anything they had me (and their father) to provide it, and when it came to things they wanted we'd provide as much as we could. My parenting was, to me, not a business arrangement. Somehow offering an allowance and getting into a whole, big, formal, arrangement as "allowance-payer" wasn't my idea of how things should be done. I wanted a less formal arrangement as provider, but it was also important to me that my children learn that when all is said and done people who want more money or stuff than they already have must work for it. To me, learning that there are limitations when one must be dependent on others helped children realize that part of being grown-up is working and earning a little more independence as a result of it.
At eleven years old I was proud that those young mothers trusted me to get exactly what they asked for from the store or to push their babies. I'd save up four of those quarters and use them to buy Barbie outfits, which at the time were usually about two dollars. All those neighborhood babysitting jobs (that earned me about $50 a week decades ago) made me feel as if people (other than my parents) saw me as a trustworthy, capable, individual. When I got a job as a supermarket cashier a couple of weeks after turning sixteen I was not only able to buy an ugly suede jacket for myself, but I learned how to overcome shyness and be friendly toward strangers, as well as overcome it enough to use the paging system. I made a lot of new, different, friends at the store as well. Most importantly, perhaps, I learned what it feels like to have a reputation as "one of the best and reliable cashiers".
Having one's "own money" is very different from being handed money by one's parents.
Parents can obviously teach their children about money in the way they sit fit, and I don't think allowances are the worst thing in the world. Its just that I don't think an allowance is always the best way to teach the value of money and good money management, and there's at least the chance the offering an allowance can blur the line between "providing for" and "own money". There may also be the chance that kids who are handed a fixed amount of cash each week could actually miss out on learning some of the ideas about money that most of us hope they will learn.
Ok. There, I've said it. If nobody with tar and feathers shows up by tomorrow I'll assume I'm safe.