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Kids and Money – Part 2

Origami Elephant Dollar

Last week I started addressing the questions related to allowance.  I wrote about the money management side of the equation in Kids and Money – Part 1.

Today I want to talk about the work side of this equation.  I know a lot of people tie allowance to chores, which is why I’m addressing this here, even though we don’t pay for chores in our house.

I’ve already written a post on jobs we find kids can do (by age).  If you are interested in that list of suggestions, click here.

Community Responsibility (a.k.a. Chores)

I have a couple of kids who were born with developmental challenges.  A friend passed along some advice at one point about chores in that context:  there is a chore for every problem you face with your kids.  Does your child need to develop visual discrimination?  Weeding a flower bed is perfect therapy.  Be prepared to lose some flowers in the process.  Does your child need to strengthen their ankles?  Standing on tip-toes to dust way up high is perfect therapy.  Be prepared for the occasional tipped vase. We had a lot of early intervention therapy with occupational, speech, and physical therapists.  Many of the exercises they recommended could be accomplished through chores.

Chores are an excellent way to develop character strength as well.

Chores are about using our gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10), expressing faith through work (James 2:14-17), looking for ways to intentionally do good to others (Galatians 6:10), contributing to the needs of others (Romans 12:13), practicing hospitality, and developing generosity (Matthew 25:35).

Chores are the little things we do to help our community thrive.  For us they are neither a lucrative opportunity to gain material wealth and possessions nor are they a punishment for a crime or offense according to a penal code.  We have severed the relationship between chores and allowance.  Chores are simply an expected contribution to life in the Quillen house.  We even invite guests to join us.  🙂

Wholehearted Work

On the other hand, as I mentioned last week, with limited resources our kids get an allowance of $10 every two weeks.  Let’s face it, $5 per week is not a lot of money at this point in history.  And our kids don’t even get an allowance until they are nine years old.  It can be tough to save birthday money and pennies found in the parking lot when there is a larger purchase you’d like to make or a need to which you’d like to contribute.

If our kids want to earn money for a large purchase, a gift, or a charity, we provide opportunities for gainful employment.

Here’s how it works:

There are a lot of “chores” which fall within my realm of responsibility.  I have the freedom to hire someone to do my work for me, and sometimes I do.  It’s a bad example in our house, because we all work to clean the house together, but it’s not unlike a busy household hiring a maid to do the cleaning.  Basically, I just hire from within the house if at all possible.

For instance, my oldest daughter (7 years old at the time) offered to potty train my youngest daughter (almost 2 at the time).  We agreed on the price (equivalent to one box of diapers at Sam’s, including tax), the rules for accomplishing it, the result expected, and how we would measure success.  We provided all the needed supplies and training for my “employee” and she showed up to work.  One week later, I had a toddler who was completely potty trained and she had $43.  It was hands down the best $43 I ever spent!  It was the most money she’d ever made.  And as a bonus, her relationship with her baby sister had taken on a sweetness and connection she didn’t have before.

We might hire a child to do any number of tasks which fall under our responsibility.  We also allow others to hire our children – to babysit, rake leaves, move rocks, weed gardens – anything at which we have seen them excel in our home, we are willing to let them earn money doing for someone else.  Serving our household community is a great way to learn skills for which they can be compensated.

However, we also encourage them to volunteer for some things even if they could get paid.  I may simply ask them to help me paint because they live in our house.  They might pick trash up from a neighbors yard because they see it blowing around. Maybe they pet-sit for free if the owners are gone for a short duration or when a crisis arises and charge only when it requires an extended period of responsibility.  (Since we don’t have pets, they learn this skill by helping us when we pet-sit for someone else.)

The difficulty is there is not one answer which fits all the time.  It would be nice if there were!  Parenting with respect to money is like anything else in parenting: I have to make decisions on a case-by-case and child-by-child basis.  It requires wisdom.  A child who is hoarding because he is struggling to trust God to meet his needs needs different guidance than a child whose bank account is empty because of impulsive generosity.

I want my children to look for opportunities to serve others.  I also want them to learn to work to earn money.  Mostly I want them to work wholeheartedly and to the best of their ability whether they are a paid employee or a volunteer.  If they can learn to see Christ as their “boss” and work in a way that he would be pleased regardless of the circumstances, I think we’ve done our job.  Working to please Christ instills the idea that even our work is an act of worship.  Learning to worship through work not only develops good citizens fit for this life, but also citizens fit for a heavenly kingdom, where I pray they’ll spend eternity.

Photo is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kids and Money – Part 1

Several people have recently asked me to chime in on allowances.  OK, maybe not so recently – it has taken me months to write this post.  Thank you for your patience!

I have to admit I was surprised by the intensity of feelings out there on this subject.  There are legitimate concerns about encouraging entitlement on one hand (“If you don’t pay your kids for chores, they’ll develop an entitlement mentality”) and greed on the other (“If you pay kids for chores, they’ll develop a greed mentality”).

Wherever you fall on the continuum, it seems everyone is agreed that allowances will teach kids something about money and work.  Nobody wants their kids to grow up feeling entitled.  No one wants to have the greediest kids on the block.  

I wish I could say, “Do this, don’t do that.” or… “In Genesis 58, the Bible says, “allowances….” There is no Genesis 58.  There are no verses about allowance.

Since there is no explicit instruction about allowances in the Bible, I want to be sure you hear me say this:

We have not found a one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  We’ve only found the one-size-fits-Quillens answer.

And it’s not a simple answer, either, because it is not a simple question.  There is not even a single question about allowances, there are many.

Do you tie allowance to chores?  Is it earned income?  Is it free money?  Will paying my kids for chores teach them good work ethic or entitlement?  Will giving my kids allowance teach them generosity or entitlement?  Can I withhold allowance for poor performance?  Should I give advances on allowance?

When do you start giving an allowance?  What do kids do with their allowance?  Can/Should I dictate what my kids do with their money?  What about tithing?  Saving? Giving money to others?  Spending?

How much allowance should we pay?  How often should we pay it?

What other ways can kids earn money?  Do we give them money for other things they’d like to buy?  Do we give them money to go out with their friends?  For gas?  For food?  For spending money at camp?

I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Perhaps the best place to start is by deciding what you do want your kids to learn.  Maybe we need to focus on what character traits we want to develop rather than concerning ourselves with what we want to avoid. 

We found it helpful to address money and work as independent concerns.  By looking at the two topics separately we could decide what we want our kids to understand about each and come up with a comprehensive strategy for “allowance” which accomplishes our goals.

We decided we want our kids to learn to manage money according to Biblical principles.  We also want them to actively help their community thrive and to work wholeheartedly at whatever they do as if they serving the Lord.

Today let’s talk about the managing money part.  Next week we can talk about community involvement and gainful employment.

Class Materials

In the Quillen house, basic principles we want our kids to understand about money (in no particular order) include:

  • All money comes from the hand of God – through the work you are able to do as a result of his grace to you or through the gifts of people he moves to offer assistance.
  • Money is not the end of blessing, it is a means to bless.  
  • We show we trust God’s provision by giving back a portion of what he has given to the local church, knowing he will provide for our needs through what remains.
  • We may need to sacrifice our comfort and convenience for the sake of others, but it is also legitimate to use what he has given to meet our own needs.
  • We need to plan for generosity as much as we plan for our future.
  • Money doesn’t grow on trees.  It is not unlimited.  We must make choices about how we will use what we have.
  • We don’t get to spend what other people have.
  • Err on the side of generosity.

What you decide is important for your kids to learn may look a lot different.  That’s OK.

Some practical realities to consider:

  • To manage money, you have to have money.
  • If you are going to live within your means, you have to know what your means are.
  • Establishing a periodic, specific allowance provides a context for setting a budget.  It allows them to plan for generosity, unexpected expenses, and future plans.
  • Allowance tied to chores and performance may result in an erratic pay schedule, which makes it difficult to learn how to live within a limited income.  Yes, there are life lessons tied to keeping a job through excellent performance and living within income in commission based work, etc.  We address this as we teach them about work and responsibility to the community.

In practice, in our house it looks like this:

  • We give our children an allowance, it is not tied to chores.
  • We pay them every other week on Monday.
  • We start giving an allowance on their ninth birthday.  We also give them a bank account on their ninth birthday.  There is nothing magical about nine – it’s just when we do it.
  • We have limited resources, so their allowance is not large – $10 every two weeks.
  • We direct deposit $7 into their accounts as “long term savings.”
  • They receive $3 in cash.  We expect them to give at least 10% to the local church.  The rest is “pocket money” for buying gum, toys, gifts, contributing to others… whatever.
  • We require them to plan their purchases – I don’t shop without a list, they don’t either.
  • If they don’t have money with them, they cannot buy something.  (e.g. I don’t loan them money until they get home or until the next allowance…)  None of the stores are that far away, they can always ask me to take them to the store again or put it on the list for the next time we are going.
  • Handing over cash or seeing your bank balance drop after a purchase is a great visual teacher.  We make sure they see their account balance before and after a purchase, if they are purchasing something electronically.
  • We help them to set a budget.
  • We encourage them to have a plan for their long term savings.  Somewhere (and it depends upon their preference whether it’s on paper or the computer) they need to keep track of their thinking with respect to that money.  If they have $100 in savings, I want them to have documented $20 is college savings, $30 is for a car, $40 is for gifts, $10 is for compassion towards others, etc. As their balance changes, so should the balances in their categories.
  • We don’t tell them what their categories must be – I know one child has a Lego fund, another likes to save to fill a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child, and another just likes to set aside money in case a need arises.  Of course they can shift money around, but they need to see they are buying gum with their Lego money, and the Lego fund will, by default, have less.
  • We encourage them to give generously to others – whether it is contributing to gift purchases or supporting a missionary.
  • We encourage generosity with time and possessions as well as with their money.  We model this, too.  If a parent gets updated technology, we often “gift” the old version to someone else in the house.  If our needs are well supplied, we give it outside of the house.  We maintain a “give away” pile by the door – items that are in good repair that we no longer use go into it.  When it is full, we donate it appropriately.  We rarely sell our unneeded or used items.

These are some of the things we do to communicate money management to our kids.  It may look a lot different for you – but if you are looking for a place to start, maybe our system will help.

Next Wednesday, Lord willing, I’ll post on the “wholehearted work” part of our kids-and-money equation.