Thursday, March 28, 2013

Our Journey with Allowances (so far)

When I was in my mid-twenties I spent some time babysitting for a wonderful family with two boys under six years old. I remember vividly pausing to marvel at a bookshelf full of parenting guides in their study. I confess (with a great deal of cringing) that I wondered if the Mama ever actually read these books and applied them, based on the behavior of her wild ones.

Oh, how time brings humility! My triple dose of reality check has come in the form of three children, raised with the same values under identical family circumstances, who respond absolutely uniquely based on their personalities. I am reminded daily that there is no one-size-fits-all system, chart or book for this parenting gig.

While there are many examples, the most current one for us is money management. There are different schools of thought on how to handle this issue and at what age, but we elected last year to start giving an allowance based on chores. Our trio is required to do certain things without compensation each day--just as a part of the community of family. Making their beds, packing their own snack, clearing their own place at the table and straightening their rooms are expected daily. In addition to these chores, they each have a 'money maker' each day.

When we started this system, I put 31 one dollar bills in a big clear jar for each child. If they completed their required and 'optional' job each day before 7pm with only one reminder, that day's dollar stayed put. Failure to complete the task meant I withdrew a dollar. (I read in Kay Wyma's book that this visual aid and feeling of loss had worked to motivate her children.) 

The first couple of times I withdrew a dollar there was a great deal of crying and protest, but the point was clear that I meant business. Within a week we seemed to settle into a good rhythm. On 'payday' at the end of the month payouts ranged from $20-$29. We require each child to put 20% in a giving jar, 20% in a savings jar and the remaining 60% is spending money. (This means they are only actually receiving $10-$16 a month which is more than enough for their age!)

I have committed myself to not buy them impulse 'treats' any more (other than books, my downfall) and require that they spend their own money for these types of purchases. We are firmly 'anti debt,' so we do not allow borrowing and lending with each other or with us.

I learned rather quickly 7-8 year olds don't have much will power when it comes to saving money they can see. We went to the bank and opened real savings accounts, in order to help alleviate the temptation to use the savings, and as an exercise in teaching them how bank accounts work. It is a meaningful reward each month when their statements arrive and they see their little balances growing. (The children decided to make these their 'car funds' for when they turn the rate we are going they might be able to afford to share a banged up farm truck, but every little bit helps.)

After a couple of months I determined that the dollar bills in the jar didn't work very well for our family. Two thirds of my trio always perceived they had 'plenty of money' in their jar. They weren't motivated by the negative removal. R, the one who really seemed to grasp the loss, actually took it a bit too hard. It felt like punishment and made him angry.

So, we amended our system again. As we approach 9 years old, the children are responsible for recording their chore in a check register each day. It doesn't count if it is not written down. This has (mercifully) gotten me out of the policing role.
I researched, pondered, planned and tweaked...and yet, I am raising three very different little people.

Our little Alex P. Keaton, R, is diligent and incredibly motivated by systems, charts, competition and cash. He sleeps on top of his covers many nights so that making his bed will be faster in the morning. In 7 months he has missed his chore less than a handful of times.

K, on the other hand, lives life by the moment. She is eager to please, but if the sun is shining she'd simply rather be outside--and the loss of money isn't strong enough motivation to convince her otherwise. My heart can't help but celebrate that about her personality, even though it thwarts my system!

P is our creative, cerebral kid. He is content whatever his circumstances and not only is he not motivated by money--it actually seems to stress him out. Valentine's Day he saw a card in the mailbox from my grandmother. With sheer panic he said, "Oh, no. Grandmama Dobbs always sends money. I hope it's not too much. I am just a kid. I don't need to be rich." (I am pleased to report that the $5 bill inside was met with an enthusiastic response: "This is the perfect amount of money for a kid!")

This system has not been remotely effective for him. Last month he was quite content with a payout of $6. He does his required chores because I ask him to--but my prompts for the extras are often met with a polite, but frustrating, "No, thank you."

Hence, the most recent amendment: Chores performed on the assigned day earn money, but anything not done must be made up on Saturday morning before anything fun can happen--with no reward. In other words, the work still must be done.

After two weeks we were feeling like perhaps we'd finally arrived at a system that works for the whole family--until last night when my reminder to P to do the dishes was met with this response:
"I think I am going to wait until Saturday. I don't care about money and I am usually looking for things to do on the weekends anyway."

And now I know why there are so many books written about parenting...


Cheryl said...

This just made me laugh out loud.....thank you for that!!!!! P's response is priceless!!!

Melissa C. said...

What a great ending to a great post! Laughed out loud at my desk.

Katy said...

That is funny, the I will wait til saturday because I am usually looking for things to do on the weekend. That's priceless.

As a mom of boys, ages 13 & 10, we always have to have new tricks up our sleeves that will motivate the children.

I struggle with allowances & actually paying the child because who carries cash and singles anymore. My husband has taken over the allowance thing because it just came up in conversation last week.

My theory is "just do it if you want me to feed you today" lol.

Amy said...

Thanks for sharing on how chores are going at your house. We have been trying to tweak a system at our house over the past 6 months. Always nice to hear someone else is in the same boat and we aren't alone.

Appreciate you sharing your heart in all your posts.

Lil Light O Mine said...

love it! this encourages me so much to know we aren't the only family changing and trying new systems. cute jars! :)

dee said...

This is so interesting and funny(P)! On a similar note, when each of ours started 6th grade, they received a monthly allowance through the rest of school years. They had to pay for lunch and any entertainment for the month out of their allowance. The best part about that was they NEVER asked us for money. They knew they either had the money to go to movie with friends or they didn't. It was great! Our daughter took her lunch in high school to save her allowance for more important things, such as clothes. Haha. Fun times!

JMom said...

Dee- That's exactly what my husband's parents did. They worked their way up to annually by the end of high school and when he went to college, he had a pot for the whole four years. Talk about a sink or swim lesson in money management. It made him a very frugal guy who actually finished college with a tiny nest egg.
Hope we can get there with ours in the next 10 years!

Bailey's Leaf said...

I laughed about the bit about R sleeping on top of his covers to make bed making easier. My K did that very same thing last night for the exact same reason. She is 9, so it must be in the 9 year old genes, huh?

K works for her allowance that I have direct deposited in her bank account from mine. We subscribe to the 1/2 of their age rule for allowance per week. If K doesn't do the work (we are like you with somethings that are just required and those payable tasks) I don't deposit money.

I'm pleased to say that K is now taking archery. She just started in January and loves it. She has taken an interest in competitive archery some day and wanted a bow. She used the money that she saved to buy the bow, a case and a guard. From her account, it was about $150.00 and since it was hard earned money, she takes very good care of her new bow.

Wendy said...

I have almost 6 yr old twins and this post really hit the nail on the head. Even though they all came out at the same time from the same Mom, each kid is hardwired in their own way. No ONE system works for everyone! Glad someone else experiences this also. Thanks for your great posts.

Lauren & Eddie said...

Amazing how different each child can be! We did "checks" when we were kids at my dad's house only. We got $10 a month (I don't recall there even being chores at that point) but it was written in an FAO Schwartz check register. If we bought something at a store our checking accounts were checked first, we "wrote" a check and gave it to our parents when we got home. It was actually VERY helpful later in life. Now if only I'd learned to budget...