Why You Shouldn’t Pay Your Kids an Allowance

by Jamie Simmerman · 14 comments

Girl doing the dishes

I’m a firm believer in not paying my kids an allowance. And no, I’m not just a meanie. It’s important to me to make sure that my kids understand the relationship between work and money. I’ll explain my unconventional approach below.

Why I Don’t Pay my Kids an Allowance

1. Picking up toys, clothes, books, and trash that belong to you is not an option in my house. It’s part of keeping clean and healthy. You wouldn’t pay your kids to take a shower, so don’t pay them to pick up after themselves.

2. The family serves as a sort of miniature model for the real world. We love and care for each other — without expecting something in return. This means my older son may have to take out the trash when dad works late, or the youngest may have to help with dinner if a client calls while I’m cooking. Making this concept an expected and normal part of life now will make it easier for my boys when they’re grown and have families of their own. We don’t keep tabs or a “you owe me” list, and we don’t feel cheated if all we get in return is a simple, “thank you.”

3. As part of the family, my kids are responsible for contributing to the well-being of the entire family. This may include doing dishes, folding laundry, or carrying in firewood in the winter. These are tasks that benefit the child and the family, and they are therefore not rewarded with money.

4. As a farm family, my kids are also responsible for many things that might surprise you. My youngest helps change oil and repair tractors and trucks, and my oldest has helped birth calves and carry bags of feed that weigh as much as he does. They also help maintain a four acre garden and assist with canning vegetables every year. These activities also benefit the family (and extended family) and are not rewarded with an allowance. While helping with these types of chores, they’re learning life skills that will help them as adults.

5. Pet care is another area of expected daily work without pay. We have two house bunnies, two farm dogs, and a load of cats that require feeding, watering, brushing, waste removal, exercise, love, and attention. These activities are performed every day, rain or shine. Just as the adults care for the farm animals in inclement weather, when sick, on holidays, and when we’re bone-weary tired, the children are expected to care for their pets, as well. Supper for humans is not served here until all the animals have eaten and are cared for. The farm animals and pets rely on us for their necessities. This teaches the kids responsibility and interdependence without extrinsic rewards.

So what DO I pay my kids for? I give them money when they go above and beyond what is expected. Get straight As in school? Help dad chop firewood in 10 degree weather on a Saturday afternoon? Walk your brother to the bathroom in the middle of the night because he’s afraid of the dark? Help mom by scrubbing all the kitchen counters after you spill jelly in front of the microwave? All these things are rewarded with a little extra money.

My kids also have a list of items that are on my to-do list that they can perform at any time for pay. These are MY chores that, if they so choose, they can take over to free up my time for other activities. This provides them with an opportunity to save for wanted items and to learn the true value of a dollar.

Do you give your kids an allowance? How do you teach them financial responsibility?

Btw, there's a pretty nifty tool that motivates your kids to do chores. It's called MyJobChart.com. With a free account, they can earn points for finishing jobs you assign them, good towards free merchandise. Give it a try. It's completely free!

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

jim January 31, 2013 at 7:40 am

YOU are ABSOLUTELY right about all of this. Can I hire you for a couple of weeks?

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KM January 31, 2013 at 10:02 am

I also agree with your approach as I never liked the idea of an allowance. As a kid, I got small amounts of money once in a while (perhaps if we spent less at the store than we were going to or right after my mom’s paycheck…I don’t even remember exactly anymore), then I saved it in a locked box that I had and took it out when I wanted something (I loved those Lego magic boxes that had a Milky Way and a few blocks of Legos). I also did a ton of housework and farm work (in the summer) for my age because it was just expected. I learned money management from my mom and grandma and watching them budget. But I grew up in a completely different culture, and I don’t think the same thing will work on my kids here. I don’t think I have decided all the details of what to do when my son is older yet, but I like your approach where certain tasks are simply expected without compensation.

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Mike January 31, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I normally don’t comment, but appreciated this article. My wife and I have two very young kids and a third will eventually be on the way. I like the whole idea of a family unit and paying for the extras. My dad always covered me if I really needed it, but I stayed a good kid and got in a little trouble here and there, but nothing big. I did get an allowance, but it was the smallest allowance in the entire world. I remember making a proposal in high school to get more money. It was approved, but it was a ridiculously low amount. I really was just expected to do things. It wasn’t ever “asking” for help, but more I asked you and your answer is automatically, “Yes, I will help.”

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Kate January 31, 2013 at 3:33 pm

My parents did pretty much the same thing, save that we didn’t get extra money for anything — Mom would dole out movie money once in awhile, but all five of us had to be going (there was a 10 year spread) and she had to approve of the movie. She had very catholic tastes though; we went to see a movie about the Mau Mau uprising, “Flight of the Phoenix” and a movie about a pianist named Eddy Duchin, whom none of us had ever heard of and I still don’t know who he was, as well as the customary Disney movies and musicals. Another thing that was stressed to us was that we had no private property, save for gifts, until we bought some thing for ourselves. Someone whining about “Susie took my sweater!” were greeted by Mama with, “Everything in this house belongs to your father and me.” But once you had paid for an item, that item was yours to do with as you wished, which included not letting your sister wear it. (We all swapped books; that was just common sense.)

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Kylie Ofiu January 31, 2013 at 9:05 pm

I had friends who got paid to make their bed and felt so ripped off my parents didn’t pay me to do basics like that. Things like that are just living and do not deserve to be paid.

I love your approach and it is what I do with my kids. They are only 4 and 5, but they only get money when they go above and beyond, not just for doing normal things that should be done.

Thanks for sharing your approach.

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Brad January 31, 2013 at 9:14 pm

This is exactly how I was raised. Today I have a healthy appreciation for the difference between REAL work and the kind of daily life maintenance that you should just do because that’s what civilized people do—clean up after themselves.

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Anne February 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Personally, I feel that giving kids an allowance gives them an opportunity to learn to manage money on their own. My kids are not paid to do chores, but get a small bit of money every week because they are part of the household. With that, they are expected to manage their money and when they want extras like books or treats, they have to budget and use their own. They have become excellent at saving for the bigger things and have a real sense of the value of each dollar they have. At the end of the year, they total their savings and give up ten percent for charity. It’s not for every family, but it works for us.

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Erin February 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm

This is how we do it too…he is expected to contribute to the household and do well in school, but the allowance is not a pay-for-chores arrangement. He is required to save a portion, donate a portion to the charity of his choice, and he can spend the rest. He knows that I cover basic needs, but he has to use his allowance for toys/games/extras. I’ve seen a dramatic difference in my son’s attitude toward money since starting his allowance…he never asks or whines for gifts while we’re out, and I see him being more critical when making purchases with his own money.

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Tom Wachowski February 3, 2013 at 4:14 pm

No allowance, that’s a rip off for kids. It’s a lost opportunity to teach money management. This is different than working for money… for that, their are plenty of jobs to hand out above chores.

Everyone who posted should re-read your reply, Erin. Well said.

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Holly February 1, 2013 at 2:21 pm

All these point assume that allowance is given in exchange for chores or some other service.

I received an allowance from my parents from age 9 until I was able to work (3 dollars a week), and it was untied. I feel that it made me more familiar with how to save, how to buy things, and certainly it was not hinged on any other exchange between my parents and I.

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S. B. February 7, 2013 at 9:05 pm

The overarching theme is that I want my kids to understand how money really works in the world. Hence, I don’t want to do anything that gives them a misleading picture of finances. So I don’t like to give an allowance or forgive debt because that is just not how the world works.

A few months ago I agreed to pay one of my kids a fairly substantial amount of money to perform some really difficult yard cleanup we incurred as a result of a major storm. My child was really excited to make the money, but when the work proved difficult, I was asked if we couldn’t just drop the whole thing or agree to the same price for much less work. I could not do that in good conscience. Instead, I purchased a few tools to make the work easier. Sure, the tools cost me something, but I felt it was more consistent with reality.

If an employee wants to quit or have their workload reduced at the slightest sign of difficulty, they are likely to be fired. On the other hand, if they request a better tool to do their job, it will probably be looked on quite favorably. That is the kind of lesson I want my kids to understand.

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Tom Wachowski February 8, 2013 at 8:29 am

S.B., agreed… it’s important to teach kids how money works in the real world. That’s exactly why they need an allowance – to teach how money management (a totally different lesson than working for money). This is a stepping stone, so when they are earning money on their own, they know how to save, share, and spend it. Too often we parents (I was totally guilty of this) use allowance as a reward for work, chores, etc… When we do that, the kids link allowance to work. Fine. But in that scenario we miss opportunities to teach saving and sharing… and while we get think we’re doing the right thing… meanwhile the spending message is working its wonders through media and TV. Kids link working for money to spending money. And THAT’S what get’s them into trouble later in life… never being exposed to the save and share part. It’s two different lessons, and allowance works good to teach one (managing money) while payment for work is useful to teach the other (earning money).

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Theora55 February 17, 2013 at 10:03 am

My kid is part of the family, and gets to share a little in the family’s income. My kid is also expected to pitch in to keep the house running by doing some regular chores, and my kid is allowed to know how are finances are going (depending on age and within reason) and to have a voice in discussing finances. Extra money for extra chores and projects. Not helping out is not an option, projects are.

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Melanie Jane Nicolas February 17, 2013 at 5:53 pm

I love this topic! We teach about allowances to parents in our camps because it is so important! My 4 kids are expected to do regular chores around the house because they are a part of the family. They do not get an allowance for this. It teaches them responsibility. I do not give my kids a set allowance…instead, they have the opportunity to earn an allowance for tasks that are above and beyond their regular chores. This teaches them that all tasks are different…just like in the real world. And we negotiate values for each task…teaches them the value of money and how to negotiate. The money I use to pay them is the money I would provide for them anyways, so I might as well run as much money through their hands while they’re young so that they learn how to manage money. If they make “mistakes”, the consequences are not as damaging as when they go off to college. I have a system in place where they allocate their earned “allowance” into called the 6 Jobs of Money: Living expenses (where even my 4 year old learns wants vs needs), Financial Freedom (for investments…yes, they are never too young), Savings, Education, Play and Donation. I disagree with just giving an allowance to spend and save. Kids will not learn other jobs of money. Make sure there’s continuous education around money management. To you and your wealthy kids!

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