Asking About Allowances

Eliza Clark
May 26, 2014

When children are still young enough to be in preschool, parents can get away with giving little or no thought to allowances. As our parenting expert Betsy Braun Brown has noted, preschoolers are simply too young to comprehend the value of money doled out on a weekly basis. Instead, they are delighted with the pennies they find on the street, they love helping you feed coins into the meter, and enjoy all sorts of pretend money games.

But preschool, alas, is just a short window of time, and before you know it, your elementary school student will be reporting back to you that so-and-so gets five dollars every week, and why don't I?

When that time comes, it's a good thing to have some sort of an answer prepared. Each family will want to do things differently, according to their own values and circumstances, but any parent can benefit from thinking through the following questions before our kids enter elementary school.

At what age do I want to start giving my child an allowance?

Parents will give a range of answers to this question, but many experts agree that at seven-years-old a child can begin to understand the concept of quantity (as opposed to counting). A child this age can grasp the idea of saving money over time, and can do the simple addition and subtraction needed to handle basic transactions. Some parents begin younger, while others hold off several more years. The interest of your child in the subject (or lack thereof) is another significant consideration.

How much do I want to give my child per week?

An oft-cited recommendation is to give your child a dollar for every year of age. But then, others say a dollar for every year in school. So would it be $1 or $5 each week for your kindergartner? That's a big range, especially for a five-year-old.

The most sensible way to figure it out, it seems to us, is to work backward. What do you intend for your kids to do with any allowance money? If you are asking that they divide it between saving, spending and giving to charity, then a larger amount may make sense. If it's simply pocket money so that they can save up for treats like stickers or a pack of gum without pestering their parents, then $1 per week seems like plenty.

Again, you will be amazed at how differently families do things. To ensure your child has roughly the same amount of spending money as his friends, you'll need to check in with the parents of your child's peers to see what they do. But chances are, they'll all have a different answer for you.

Do I want my child's allowance to be tied to performing certain household chores?

Parents tend to have strong opinions on this question, often based on how they grew up. Many parenting experts believe that children should be expected to do chores simply as responsible members of the household. They should be picking up their toys and clearing the dinner table because they are good family citizens, and not because they are being paid for it. Others feel just as strongly that rewarding work in the home fosters a strong work ethic and teaches about rewards and consequences. Whichever side you come down on, it's useful to think this one through during your kids' early years.

One final note: Before you introduce an allowance to your child, be sure to talk all of this through with your spouse, partner, or co-parent. Money can be tense topic in families, but a child's first allowance is an exciting milestone. To make the experience positive for everyone, it's important that both parents be clear and consistent about whatever system you decide to put in place.

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