Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chores: to Pay, or Not to Pay?

"Mom, Joey's parents give him a dollar every time he takes out the trash."

"Really? Why?"

"I don't know. Can I have a dollar for taking out the trash?"



"Because taking out the trash is something you do as a member of this family, something that benefits us all. It's not something I should have to bribe you or pay you to do. Are you going to give me a dollar every time I do your laundry?"


Busy parents sometimes take the "easy way out," employing outright bribery to get kids to help out around the house. Take it from someone who's been there, done that: It's not the easy way, in the long run. Everyone has a need to feel useful. When a child has a sense that he's not needed or valued, he becomes less motivated to pitch in and help. This is the point at which the exasperated parent often gives up and gives in. "Fine, I'll give you a dollar if you'll just take the stinky garbage out of the kitchen and put it in the garage." If money is the only motivator, the child still doesn't feel needed or valued. He recognizes that "getting the trash out of the kitchen" is something that has value, and that mom or dad is willing to pay for it. But it doesn't satisfy the child's need to be needed; it doesn't teach anything about the balance of give and take in a healthy relationship.

That said, there are times when payment may be appropriate. Times when mom or dad, weary from a long day, ask for something above and beyond the norm - such as doing another family member's chores, or a chore that doesn't benefit the one doing it. "Would you go into your brother's room and ferret out the dirty towels so I can do laundry? I'll give you a quarter for every towel you can find in that mess." Occasional bribery can be effective and rewarding, and may even encourage the enterprising child to take on additional duties.

Allowances ought to be tied to such "additional duties," and not be treated as an entitlement, unless they are meant to be a lesson in budgeting, and the child's "expenses" are clearly understood. The unearned allowance ought to come with obligations: a portion set aside each week for charitable contributions; a portion set aside to share in gas expenses when asking to be chauffeured somewhere, perhaps. I don't believe in asking a minor child to pay for room and board, no matter how miniscule the "payment" may be. Nor do I think they should be required to pay for necessary clothing, books, or family travel.

Accessories, make-up, movie tickets, candy, and video games are all things a child can save up for and use to learn the value (and the hardship) of saving money over time. Even so, parents should set expectations early on: no child should be entitled to spend his hard-earned savings "on anything [he] wants." If mom or dad disapproves of the purchase, then the money stays in savings. Imagine a child with a sense of entitlement: "It's my money! I can buy drugs with it if I want to!" Or "I'm going to pay for that piercing with my own money, and you can't stop me!" There are less extreme - more legal - examples: the short, short miniskirt; the t-shirt with a sexual come-on emblazoned across the chest.

I've given my kids a choice between their current deal: all reasonable expenses (including the occasional frivolous purchase) covered, or an allowance where all frivolous expenses become theirs. They're smart kids. Suddenly, "But Johnny gets five dollars a week!" doesn't seem like such a lucrative deal. And I'm not willing to pay my kids to clean their rooms, take out the trash, or do the occasional load of laundry. That's just "stuff we do" because it has to get done, and we're a family. But I'm also willing to pay a quarter a towel to the kid who didn't leave the dirty towels upstairs, to save me the trip up and down, as well as sparing me the aggravation of seeing a messy room.

What's your approach to chores and allowances?


  1. I don't pay directly for chores. However, when they take on additional responsibilities (for example, the boys do their own laundry), their allowance goes up. I have to say that my kids don't do enough around here, and that is really our fault - DH and I have evolved routines to do things since they were small, and it is hard to change to include them. But we probably should ;-).

  2. I can't recommend that strongly enough. It may mean extra work for you and DH in the short term, but in the long run it leads to less work for you, and more independent, capable young adults who know how to take care of themselves when they eventually move out. The part that often gets overlooked, though, is the human need to feel needed and to feel like an important part of the family (a valued player on the team, so to speak). A child's purpose isn't to be a servant - it's to pitch in and be part of the family, to support and be supported.

    Recent blog post: Chores: to Pay, or Not to Pay?

  3. My kids were expected to help with chores, including helping with laundry. When I went back to college so I could help the family after graduation, my hubby and I explained that since I had a limited amount of physical strength, that they had to take up some of the slack.

    When the boys were in high school, their baseball team when to Florida during spring break. By the end of the week, everyone was out of clothes. Randy and Bob loaded up their dirty clothes and told their teammates they were going to the laundromat and wash clothes. The others were shocked. They had no idea how to use a washer and dryer. My boys told them they could learn. So, Bob and Randy held a workshop on how to use a washer and dryer.

    Know what, the boys were proud they could.

    Recent blog post: Being Jacob: First Day of School trailer

  4. I'll bet they were! When you're capable and used to taking care of these things, people who can't or won't look pretty silly.

    Recent blog post: Relay for Life is This Weekend!

  5. I've found that the virtual version works of chore charts for me. I use a site called Handipoints to make printables and it's really been fun so far! Part of their program is rewards, so we do end up giving our kids a few rewards for their work. Sometimes it's allowance, sometimes it's a thing they want to work toward. On Handipoints, there's an area that lets you set this up easily, called savings goals.

  6. I think rewards are great - maybe not just for doing the chores, but maybe for doing them without being reminded, doing them with extra care, doing them cheerfully every time - we all want rewards. And tying rewards or allowances to savings goals or budgeting lessons helps teach valuable money management skills and patience. It's our job, as parents, to help our kids learn those things. But sometimes, the satisfaction in doing a job well and the gratitude or appreciation of other family members should BE the reward, you know? If it's always tied to money, money takes on an importance and focus it doesn't deserve, and you can end up with a little negotiator who will nickle and dime you to death.

    Recent blog post: Earth Day: Get the Kids Involved

  7. You and I think along the same lines, Holly! I do give my son a regular allowance,but he purchases all those "extras" 16 year old boys tend to want--with my approval. He's very good at managing money--and recently saved for nearly a year to buy a Ninetendo Wii--now he's saving for a new computer.

    Recent blog post: Dan Fogelberg--His Legacy Brings Others Hope

  8. Not a car? :)

    Good for him, Joyce - not too many 16 year olds are "good at managing money." (It's a skill more adults could use, too.)

  9. That's a sensible way of giving incentives to kids. They need to have a clear grasp first what things they have to do in the spirit of give and take. Not every chore needs to be monetized so they can be done. That's a sell out.

    Well, I don't have kids. But you've won me over on that point. Well done.

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  10. Well, you're not totally unqualified, Jan. You WERE a kid once, right?

    I think people will work harder for intangible rewards, sometimes - for the approval of people who matter to them - and feel more satisfied in earning it - than they will for money. Money is necessary for adults, but not deeply satisfying for most of us. For some, it becomes a substitute for the things we really need. For others, it is a proof of worth. I think parents do a disservice to kids when they don't see that potentially unhealthy connection.

    I give my son a small, weekly allowance - IF he remembers to ask me for it. I won't keep track of "back pay." We both forget. It's just not that important; no reasonable need or want goes unmet, and no unreasonable demand is going to be met whether he's got his own cash on hand to pay for it or not. That IS his "allowance," really, isn't it?

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