Sometimes I wish I could forget everything I’ve ever learned about parenting. From the moment we announced our first pregnancy (though let’s be realistic here—it was MY pregnancy; Pat never threw up on the side of the road, choked down a gallon of unnaturally pink goo, or wore flip-flops in the snow due to swollen ankles), I inundated myself with books, research articles, web sites, and blogs about how to be the Best Mother Ever.
I didn’t expose myself to all of it intentionally—I’m actually kind of a slacker and procrastinator when it comes to studying, more of an A- student than an extra credit girl. In fact, most of my parent friends did way more research and reading than I did in order to prepare for their own little bundles of joy. But thanks to the digital revolution, I found exposure to parenting advice and information to be unavoidable. I couldn’t help but click on the BabyCenter link about choosing the best preschool, I felt serious peer pressure to research cord blood banking due to my Facebook feed, and I just had to read the breastfeeding article emailed to me by a well-meaning friend.
But despite all my involuntary research, I recently learned that we have failed in a major way on one parenting front—ALLOWANCE.
Giving our kids an allowance shouldn’t pose a huge challenge—one of us majored in economics and finance for goodness’ sake (I’ll let you guess who). And yet, we’ve neglected to even start the allowance process.
At this point, the boys really haven’t complained, haven’t even noticed that they don’t get an allowance. I’d like to think that’s because they’re selfless kids who value family above material possessions, but I think that might be a hard sell. Especially since one of them looked at me the other day and said, “Mom, I just really want to get something new. I don’t care what it is, I just want it to be new.”
So yeah, we’ve basically taught the little jerks to be consumerist vampires. The real reason they don’t care much about allowance is because they’ve found other ways to get what they want, mostly through begging and not-so-subtle hints dropped to their grandmas. All the more reason to teach them the value of a dollar.
So why haven’t we started allowance?
Because it’s one more thing. In addition to the daily grind of sticker charts, activity schedules, school events, and overdue library books, allowance is One. More. Thing. And it’s one more thing that I don’t really know how to do.
Everyone seems to do allowance differently, and no one seems to know if they’re doing it right. How much should the kids get? Does an allowance mean we never buy them anything outside of Christmas and birthdays? Should allowance be tied to chores? Does allowance teach kids anything, or does it just make them more money-hungry? If I make my bed, do I get an allowance?
Since these questions aren’t nearly as fun to research as our other favorite topics (e.g., What kind of pizza should we get? When does the next season of American Ninja Warrior start? Does red wine really prevent Type II Diabetes?), we’ve never endeavored to find the answers.
But I can only handle so much parenting guilt, and some recent articles on the topic put me over the top. So I decided to figure this thing out.
First, I’ll tell you what we’re NOT going to do. We’re NOT going to follow the advice of Suze Orman, the financial advisor with the sassy haircut and the sacred blessings of Oprah Winfrey. Orman recommends that we don’t give our kids an actual allowance, but that we pay them for individual chores—three dollars for walking the dog, fifty cents for making the bed, etc. She also recommends that we require the kids to start out with low-paying chores, then allow them to work up to more complex ones, sort of like earning a promotion and a raise.
Ugh, Suze, are you serious? If I want to torture myself, I’ll ask Jenny McCarthy to enlighten me about her views on the causes of autism. Or start drinking decaf coffee. Or buy my kids a hamster. I’m trying to make this allowance thing less painful, not more.
Just imagine the complexity of managing Orman’s system, all the questions and challenges that would arise:
“But I cleared my dishes some of the nights, so can’t I get some of the money?”
“I did make my bed, it just got messed up when we were jumping on it!”
“I should get more money than he does because I picked up more toys than he did!”
Nope, Orman’s system ain’t gonna cut it.
Instead, we’re going to try a system suggested by Ron Lieber, a personal finance columnist for the New York Times. We will pay the boys their age-based allowance—the same amount every week—but we will NOT tie it to the chores they do. We will require them, however, to split the amount equally into three separate pots, one for spending, one for saving, and one for giving. Our Ayn Rand-loving friends will insist that’s Communist nonsense, but Lieber suggests the pots can teach our kids the qualities of thrift and generosity.
And fear not, we won’t let our kids become freeloaders. We will still expect them to help out around the house; they will just lose other, more salient privileges (screen time, treats, etc.) if they don’t complete their chores on time.
I have high hopes for the Great McIntyre Allowance Experiment. It’s clean, it’s simple, and it makes me feel like I’m teaching my kids something. And best of all, I’ll finally have someone besides my husband to hit up for cash.
Why you need to give your kid an allowance (Money Magazine)
Should you give your kids an allowance? (Psychology Today)