Allowance, Chores and Paid Work

I mentioned on Twitter that my son had earned $45 for a game in one weekend, and my house was sparkling. A reader asked for details, so here’s our current system.

First, you don’t get paid for chores. I didn’t get paid for changing diapers (at least not in money). Chores are something you do because you’re part of the family. They teach responsibility and they help the kids feel like part of the family unit. We all work together to keep our home comfortable. We clean up after our own messes (at age-appropriate levels), but sometimes, like after a family meal, it’s impractical for everyone to clean up their own dishes. Other things get messy slowly, like floors and bathrooms.

My kids are 8 and 11. They each do 5-10 minutes a day for the family, mostly taking turns setting and clearing the table. My eldest also takes out the garbage and cleans under the kitchen sink every month. During school breaks they look after the bathrooms. This March she’s taking 5 days and he’s taking 5. Each shift starts with a thorough cleaning.

Eventually, they’ll get more flexible chores. I don’t care which day you mop the floor, but it has to be done weekly. By the time they leave our home, they’ll be have all the skills needed to run their own, including how to plan and adapt.

Personal space is still a problem. My goal is you put away fifteen things a day until it’s tidy, in addition to anything you took out that day. Somehow, the mess keeps growing. A lot of it is things that have no home, so just moves from one surface to another. Son-11 is slowly seeing the sense in organizing things. He now knows where to find his Lego magazines. He’s also thrown out a lot of stuff that three years he insisted was super important, and wondered why he kept it in the first place.

You get allowance for being part of the family. Parents decide how much money is reasonable for you to spend on yourself over the year, subtract what we plan to give as gifts (they like money as gifts), and set your allowance based on that. We pay monthly on the 25th. (We kept forgetting weekly, and “month end” is too close to “month start” to keep straight.) Loans are rare, but we’ve had very few complaints when we garnishee allowances to pay them back.

Gifts are yours, but relatives often say, “Save it for something special.” Unless otherwise specified, we say it has to be something they’re already saving for, or put it away for a while. The main thing is it doesn’t get spent on the first thing they see, or let it trickle away unnoticed.

They also get $5 every two months for Scholastic books. Books are important, but we already have two filled shelves, a dozen packing boxes, and a very good public library. (In addition to their purchases, I’ve been known to buy reference books and classics, for me or for the house. The school is used to secret orders, especially around gift season.)

We pay for gifts they give to others, but discuss the money in advance. This year we gave them a total Christmas budget and helped them plan how to divide it between relatives before we shopped. It worked well.

As they get older and buy more for themselves, I’ll shift money from my budget to their allowance, along with responsibility. I know roughly how much I spend on their clothes each year. They’ll be able to choose whether to spend it on toys or clothes. (When Mom wasn’t under pressure to buy me what I needed, she started enjoying shopping. My birthday gifts shifted from toys to clothes she knew I’d like. Nicer clothes and more money for me, less stressful shopping for her. Win/Win.) The plan is, by the time they move out, they’ll get a rather large allowance, but I won’t buy anything for them.

Then we have paid chores. We pay minimum wage (rounded to $10/hour) based on how long it would take me — just like in the real world. This gets negotiated before they start. Nasty jobs might get a premium, easy jobs a discount. Again, just like the real world. What’s not like the real world is there’s no penalty for not taking the job, or for only doing part of it (as long as you leave it tidy).

Paid chores are extras. Some are things I intended to do anyways, some are rare. Some will eventually be changed to regular chores. (That’s usually at the same time we review allowance, but they aren’t related. As kids get bigger, they have more expenses. They also have more responsibilities.)

This arrangement gives us flexibility and predictability. They can earn money if they want to. They can shift their chores around within reason. (We keep a calendar showing who did what, just in case.)
When they’re ready for more flexibility, we’ll add “30 minutes per week irregular”. I’ll keep a list of ideas and be open to theirs. They won’t get a choice about some. Examples are taking down the Christmas lights, cleaning the garage, and cleaning up after a dog gets into the garbage.

It’s working so far. The kids are somewhat aware of the messes they make both in normal life and when they’re careless. They’re beginning to make each other clean up. They appreciate the work I do behind the scenes. I think they’re well on their way to appreciating the value of work, both in keeping your home comfortable and in earning money with which to buy other things.


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