Should chores be tied to allowance?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 6, 2011 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

What are some good chores a 10-year-old can do? My daughter wants more allowance, and I've already told her:
-Clean your room
-Wake up early
-Sweep
-Dust
-Organize your things
-Feed the dog
-Help cook
-Make your bed
-Clean up after your bath
-Empty trash
-Fold your clothes
-Clean mirrors

From: Hopee, Forsyth, GA

Dear Hopee,

Wow, that's quite a list; I have nothing to add. In fact, let me try to get you think about this a little differently: That a child gets an allowance because she is a member of the family. No strings attached.

Before you all throw your hands up in horror, here's the counterbalance: She also does chores for the very same reason. Every child is expected to contribute to the family's well-being by performing age-appropriate chores in a predetermined time frame, to a preestablished level of satisfaction and -- and this is important -- with an agreed-upon consequence for failure to do so.

Obviously, there are particulars to be worked out, and they will be different in each family, but in general the amount of the allowance should depend on the needs a child has (bus fare, lunch money), and on what's typical in his friendship group. But allowance happens no matter what, good behavior or bad.

Whether to tie chores to allowance has long been controversial, but I've been convinced of the wisdom of separating them.

We all want our children to learn how to manage money, right? Here's the only way a 10-year-old learns what it means to budget: He stops at the convenience store on the way home from school on Wednesday and spends Thursday and Friday's lunch money on gummy bears. On Thursday morning, when he asks you to bail him out, you shrug, "That was your week's money, honey. You chose to spend it. That was your decision. I guess you could take lunch from home...."

When chores are tied to money, the message kids get is that everything has a price and they tend not to want to do anything around the house unless there's a price tag. (Some seasonal chores -- shoveling, raking, painting, cleaning the basement -- may be "extras," for which you do pay.)

By the way, when a child asks for more allowance, evaluate her expenses together. She may have a legitimate request, especially if you expect her to pay for a movie on her own. Middle schoolers tend to have more opportunities to spend money than third graders. If she has something she wants to buy that's beyond the norm, help her figure out how she can save a certain amount per week. Offer to match or supplement what she can earn.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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10 comments so far...
  1. I agree with Barbara on separating chores from allowance.

    That said, the chores my kids have are as follows:

    The 9 year old sets the table for dinner, empties the dishwasher and puts things away.

    The 11 year old clears the table after dinner, including putting food away, is responsible for taking the trash out of the kitchen, and brings the barrels back from the curb on trash day.

    Both kids are responsible for getting themselves ready for school in the morning, including all grooming and packing backpacks, keeping their rooms in order, keeping their things put away, folding and putting away their clean clothes, and helping with whatever tasks they are asked to do.

    My 11 year old started shoveling neighbors' walks and driveways this winter for money. He's considering offering to rake leaves in the fall. At 10, your daughter could also be old enough to be a 'mother's helper' - keeping toddler/preschool aged kids occupied while a parent is in the house doing other tasks.

    Posted by akmom April 6, 11 07:01 AM
  1. Totally agree with Barbara on this one. The child should be expected to contribute to the household chores in a reasonable age appropriate way. If they do not do their chores then they will lose privileges (screen time, play dates, etc, whatever is important to them). In our case, our daughter would not care if we withheld allowance because she never spends it anyway, she is a saver. Other things are much more important to her at age 9. We give her reasonable chores which she is expected to do, no questions asked.

    Posted by Dad April 6, 11 08:15 AM
  1. OK. Very much disagree with Barbara here, except on one point: certain chores should not be included in the allowance. Making the bed, feeding/walking pets, cleaning your room, washing dishes...these are definitively part and parcel of basic responsibilities and family inclusion.

    BUT - an allowance isn't just about teaching kids how to manage money. It's also about managing responsibility and what the consequences are not doing so. It's a lesson that ties right in to moving into the workforce. No production = no paycheck. And people don't take jobs to loaf about and be part of a team only to be paid as a "thanks for being one of us!" gesture. That's called a "gift", not an allowance.

    I also disagree that it's on the child to pay for bus fare or lunch money out of their allowwance. Food, transportation...these are parental responsibilities. If a kid decides to use lunch money on something else, then they get no lunch and maybe they'll have to brown bag it after that as a result...but to tell them that it's coming from their allowance to eat or get to school? Ridiculous.

    LW: I do think that your list is way too long and includes things that shouldn't be under an allowance clause. But without knowing what she already does, it's hard to say what to change. I would definitely remove waking up early, feeding the dog, cleaning your room, making your bed and keeping your things organized. She should be doing these, just like every other member of the family is responsible for cleaning their own room, making their bed, caring for the family pet, organizing their own things.

    But...sweep what? Dust what? Clean what mirrors? Be specific here. Dust the living room. Sweep the porch. Vacuum the dining room...whatever. The bigger chores that are typically handled by a parent are the ones you should be including for allowance.

    At age 10, I would stick with dusting one or two rooms once a week, vacuuming, taking out the trash. If she already does these things, look to yard work if you have it...or let her start recycling bottles and cans for the depoist refund. Suggest that she offer her services to neighbors as a dog walker perhaps.

    Raises are also not uncommon without an increase in chores. A raise may be contingent on getting all of the work done on schedule, and done well, for a period of time. If she's like we were when we were 10, putting off a chore until we got yelled at or doing it totally half-arsed were honed to an art form. We got raises for excelling once in a while though, rather than for doing more work.

    Posted by Phe April 6, 11 09:06 AM
  1. For a 10-year-old, an allowance should be for "spending money", not for lunch, bus fare, school supplies, doctor visit co-pays, or other necessities.

    I agree with Barbara that an allowance is not a paycheck. Children should do a reasonable amount of chores because they are members of the household. They should receive an allowance to enable them to learn to manage money for things they want but don't "need".

    Parents can give children the opportunity to earn extra by doing "extra" chores like washing the car, cleaning the fridge, or other periodic things.

    In my personal opinion, the letter writer's chore list is too much for a 4th grader, when you consider homework, outside activities, and playtime.

    Posted by cause and effect April 6, 11 09:23 AM
  1. I might be a loner here, but I actually don't believe in allowance. I like the way my parents handled money with my brothers and me and will model after them.

    My parents always made sure my brothers and I had the right amount of money in appropriate situations. How we contributed to the family and household were tied in, I suppose, in that if we weren't pitching in OR we were pitching an attitude, they'd be less likely to give us $20 for the movies. But money for lunch, bus fare, school supplies? Never a question. If there was something expensive I wanted, we'd figure out a way to make it work within reason...whether I earned it doing a special project at home or whatever.

    Posted by RH April 6, 11 04:19 PM
  1. How about something completely different altogether? I absolutely agree chore-duties belong to every member of the household. Besides helping our homes run more smoothly, they teach kids valuable life skills they're going to need long after they're living under our roofs. What my daughter and I do instead is my Earn My Keep program (www.earnmykeep.com). She earns her allowance the same way adults do: by having a "real" professional job. She's been a Toy Designer, Curator, Photographer -- last week she was a Chef. The program's been a hit with families nationwide and may just be the allowance alternative you're looking for!

    Posted by Alisa @ Earn My Keep April 7, 11 07:35 AM
  1. My parents philosophy was to keep us, "Poor, hungry and home." Money was doled out sparingly, with no allowance, because they didn't want us spending ourselves into trouble. They did feed us, but they didn't supply a lot of junk for us to eat. And they were very welcoming of our friends because they would rather have us at home where they could monitor us. It worked for us, so I expect we'll model ourselves after that.

    Posted by Big Daddy April 7, 11 11:19 AM
  1. Hm, it sounds as though child was getting an allowance before these chores were tossed in for extra money?

    In any case, I think child should be expected to do chores around the house, allowance or not. And size of allowance could be tied to number of chores (with agreement from kid), though some small amount should be given no matter what for developing money management skills. I always chose to spend my allowance on presents for my family on holidays or birthdays. So don't be quick to assume your kids will spend unwisely, or not see the value of saving.

    Posted by momof2 April 7, 11 03:16 PM
  1. I like your approach, but I also think the alternate approaches mentioned in the thoughtful comments can work well too. Personally, I think the keys are (1) having an explicit, consistent system (2) communicating with your child openly and regularly about your money values (3) letting your kids practice and make mistakes before they're let loose in the "wild".

    In our family, we do a bit of a hybrid: regular allowances tied to budgets that are mostly decoupled from chores, but we assess $ penalties when chores are brazenly blown-off (yeah, lots of teens with attitude in our household now ;-)

    Posted by Bill at FamZoo April 7, 11 06:10 PM
  1. Sounds like two life skills are intermingled - Managing Money, and contributing to the family.

    They don't need to be intermingled. There's other ways to teach money management...have the children help balance and spend the family budget. For example, Chicken or Beef or Tofu at the grocery store. $2 a week for a treat... save till $4, or get small amount for $2?

    And if chores aren't done, life becomes unpleasant; no TV shows, no internet... ext.

    Posted by Kicking_cans April 12, 11 12:36 PM
 
10 comments so far...
  1. I agree with Barbara on separating chores from allowance.

    That said, the chores my kids have are as follows:

    The 9 year old sets the table for dinner, empties the dishwasher and puts things away.

    The 11 year old clears the table after dinner, including putting food away, is responsible for taking the trash out of the kitchen, and brings the barrels back from the curb on trash day.

    Both kids are responsible for getting themselves ready for school in the morning, including all grooming and packing backpacks, keeping their rooms in order, keeping their things put away, folding and putting away their clean clothes, and helping with whatever tasks they are asked to do.

    My 11 year old started shoveling neighbors' walks and driveways this winter for money. He's considering offering to rake leaves in the fall. At 10, your daughter could also be old enough to be a 'mother's helper' - keeping toddler/preschool aged kids occupied while a parent is in the house doing other tasks.

    Posted by akmom April 6, 11 07:01 AM
  1. Totally agree with Barbara on this one. The child should be expected to contribute to the household chores in a reasonable age appropriate way. If they do not do their chores then they will lose privileges (screen time, play dates, etc, whatever is important to them). In our case, our daughter would not care if we withheld allowance because she never spends it anyway, she is a saver. Other things are much more important to her at age 9. We give her reasonable chores which she is expected to do, no questions asked.

    Posted by Dad April 6, 11 08:15 AM
  1. OK. Very much disagree with Barbara here, except on one point: certain chores should not be included in the allowance. Making the bed, feeding/walking pets, cleaning your room, washing dishes...these are definitively part and parcel of basic responsibilities and family inclusion.

    BUT - an allowance isn't just about teaching kids how to manage money. It's also about managing responsibility and what the consequences are not doing so. It's a lesson that ties right in to moving into the workforce. No production = no paycheck. And people don't take jobs to loaf about and be part of a team only to be paid as a "thanks for being one of us!" gesture. That's called a "gift", not an allowance.

    I also disagree that it's on the child to pay for bus fare or lunch money out of their allowwance. Food, transportation...these are parental responsibilities. If a kid decides to use lunch money on something else, then they get no lunch and maybe they'll have to brown bag it after that as a result...but to tell them that it's coming from their allowance to eat or get to school? Ridiculous.

    LW: I do think that your list is way too long and includes things that shouldn't be under an allowance clause. But without knowing what she already does, it's hard to say what to change. I would definitely remove waking up early, feeding the dog, cleaning your room, making your bed and keeping your things organized. She should be doing these, just like every other member of the family is responsible for cleaning their own room, making their bed, caring for the family pet, organizing their own things.

    But...sweep what? Dust what? Clean what mirrors? Be specific here. Dust the living room. Sweep the porch. Vacuum the dining room...whatever. The bigger chores that are typically handled by a parent are the ones you should be including for allowance.

    At age 10, I would stick with dusting one or two rooms once a week, vacuuming, taking out the trash. If she already does these things, look to yard work if you have it...or let her start recycling bottles and cans for the depoist refund. Suggest that she offer her services to neighbors as a dog walker perhaps.

    Raises are also not uncommon without an increase in chores. A raise may be contingent on getting all of the work done on schedule, and done well, for a period of time. If she's like we were when we were 10, putting off a chore until we got yelled at or doing it totally half-arsed were honed to an art form. We got raises for excelling once in a while though, rather than for doing more work.

    Posted by Phe April 6, 11 09:06 AM
  1. For a 10-year-old, an allowance should be for "spending money", not for lunch, bus fare, school supplies, doctor visit co-pays, or other necessities.

    I agree with Barbara that an allowance is not a paycheck. Children should do a reasonable amount of chores because they are members of the household. They should receive an allowance to enable them to learn to manage money for things they want but don't "need".

    Parents can give children the opportunity to earn extra by doing "extra" chores like washing the car, cleaning the fridge, or other periodic things.

    In my personal opinion, the letter writer's chore list is too much for a 4th grader, when you consider homework, outside activities, and playtime.

    Posted by cause and effect April 6, 11 09:23 AM
  1. I might be a loner here, but I actually don't believe in allowance. I like the way my parents handled money with my brothers and me and will model after them.

    My parents always made sure my brothers and I had the right amount of money in appropriate situations. How we contributed to the family and household were tied in, I suppose, in that if we weren't pitching in OR we were pitching an attitude, they'd be less likely to give us $20 for the movies. But money for lunch, bus fare, school supplies? Never a question. If there was something expensive I wanted, we'd figure out a way to make it work within reason...whether I earned it doing a special project at home or whatever.

    Posted by RH April 6, 11 04:19 PM
  1. How about something completely different altogether? I absolutely agree chore-duties belong to every member of the household. Besides helping our homes run more smoothly, they teach kids valuable life skills they're going to need long after they're living under our roofs. What my daughter and I do instead is my Earn My Keep program (www.earnmykeep.com). She earns her allowance the same way adults do: by having a "real" professional job. She's been a Toy Designer, Curator, Photographer -- last week she was a Chef. The program's been a hit with families nationwide and may just be the allowance alternative you're looking for!

    Posted by Alisa @ Earn My Keep April 7, 11 07:35 AM
  1. My parents philosophy was to keep us, "Poor, hungry and home." Money was doled out sparingly, with no allowance, because they didn't want us spending ourselves into trouble. They did feed us, but they didn't supply a lot of junk for us to eat. And they were very welcoming of our friends because they would rather have us at home where they could monitor us. It worked for us, so I expect we'll model ourselves after that.

    Posted by Big Daddy April 7, 11 11:19 AM
  1. Hm, it sounds as though child was getting an allowance before these chores were tossed in for extra money?

    In any case, I think child should be expected to do chores around the house, allowance or not. And size of allowance could be tied to number of chores (with agreement from kid), though some small amount should be given no matter what for developing money management skills. I always chose to spend my allowance on presents for my family on holidays or birthdays. So don't be quick to assume your kids will spend unwisely, or not see the value of saving.

    Posted by momof2 April 7, 11 03:16 PM
  1. I like your approach, but I also think the alternate approaches mentioned in the thoughtful comments can work well too. Personally, I think the keys are (1) having an explicit, consistent system (2) communicating with your child openly and regularly about your money values (3) letting your kids practice and make mistakes before they're let loose in the "wild".

    In our family, we do a bit of a hybrid: regular allowances tied to budgets that are mostly decoupled from chores, but we assess $ penalties when chores are brazenly blown-off (yeah, lots of teens with attitude in our household now ;-)

    Posted by Bill at FamZoo April 7, 11 06:10 PM
  1. Sounds like two life skills are intermingled - Managing Money, and contributing to the family.

    They don't need to be intermingled. There's other ways to teach money management...have the children help balance and spend the family budget. For example, Chicken or Beef or Tofu at the grocery store. $2 a week for a treat... save till $4, or get small amount for $2?

    And if chores aren't done, life becomes unpleasant; no TV shows, no internet... ext.

    Posted by Kicking_cans April 12, 11 12:36 PM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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