When Jake was 4 years old, he enjoyed looking at bargain shops, especially perusing the toy aisles and all their strangely fascinating plastic junk. Inevitably, each time we went into a bargain shop, he would want me to buy something for him. I never did. He had enough toys. Also, I wanted to teach him that we can’t buy everything we want and happiness isn’t found in our material things. I figured it was time for Jake to have some pocket money both so that he would stop pestering me to buy him junky toys and to learn that “money doesn’t grow on trees”.
It seemed logical that he should have to earn his money by doing jobs because that’s how things generally roll in the “real world”. So, I would give Jake a job to do each weekend to earn a little pocket money, such as helping to clean the car or wiping down the bathroom vanities. There were also chores I expected him to do purely as a contribution to the family, such as emptying the cutlery rack of the dishwasher and taking his plate to the kitchen bench after eating.
When I first told Jake that he’d be getting pocket money, his eyes lit up. And, at first, he enjoyed the responsibility of doing jobs that, until then, he’d only seen adults do. You can probably predict what happened over time, though. He started refusing to do jobs unless he was paid for them and, eventually, any jobs at all as he decided that not having to work was even more favourable than having money to spend.
It was time to reconsider our system. I asked other families how they approached chores and pocket money with their kids. It seemed few had settled on a system that they were really happy with and many had experienced the kinds of bumps I had. Then I realised that the point was this – what did I want doing chores and having pocket money to teach Jake?
There are many different concepts we can teach our children through chores and pocket money but it gets confused when we try to teach all of them through one system. When we narrow the outcomes down and get specific about know what our intentions are, it becomes a lot clearer how to go forward. Here’s what I decided –
– I wanted Jake to do chores to develop a sense of his capacity to make a contribution and to learn practical life skills.
– I wanted Jake to have money to learn how to manage it.
I was willing to forgo trying to teach him that money is earned or to develop a work ethic through chores and pocket money in order to focus on contribution, life skills and money management. There are plenty of other ways he can learn about earning money and having a good work ethic, such as through the example my husband & I set and through the discipline he needs for his school work and sports practices.
So, I realised that, to achieve the aims we’d settled, on, I had to separate the money from the chores. Now, just as Jake does jobs to share in the family’s workload, he also shares in our family income. While the money and chores are no longer linked to each other, they are both linked to his position as an equal member of our family. This reflects one of my essential spiritual values – that everyone, regardless of age or any other factor, is equal and must be treated as such.
Now that he is 4, Thomas is old enough to also be involved in our system. I have recently made Jake and Thomas each a visual “Helping Chart”. We’ve scrapped the terms “chores” and “jobs” to make it explicit that the tasks they do are to help our family. On the chart are the ways they help in the mornings, the ways the help in the afternoons and the ways they help ocassionally, as needed. Thomas does tasks likes feeding the cat and getting the mail from the letter box. Jake vacuums and empties the bottom rack of the dishwasher.
One new addition to our routine is that Jake and Thomas each help me to make a meal once a week. I let them choose what they’re going to make (I fear we may be eating more pasta than I can take!). One side effect of giving them this responsibility has been that it gives me a little extra one-to-one time with each of them. And, all going well, in a few years, my husband and I will be able to sit back with a glass of wine while our boys take care of dinner.
HOW MUCH MONEY SHOULD KIDS GET & WHAT DO THEY SPEND IT ON?
Then there’s the question of how children spend their money. I’ve always been quite fond of the 3 jar system in which a child is given 3 jars, labelled “Save”, “Spend” and “Give”. They put a third of their money in each and use it accordingly. I guess I thought the jars were cute (particularly when you’re looking at Pinterest) But, when it comes to saving and giving, I think life will teach them better about this than being forced to save or to give.
Having a jar for giving makes it an obligation, not a genuine act of kindness. I prefer to invite my boys to share their money when opportunities naturally occur rather than to insist on it. Our local hospital has been appealing to the public to donate new Winter pyjamas for children who arrive at the hospital without them. So, last weekend, I took Jake and Thomas shopping to each choose a couple of pairs of pyjamas which we then delivered to the hospital. The day before we went, I explained to them what we would be doing and why and I suggested that, if they wanted to, they could use some of their own money to help pay for the pyjamas. I left it for them to think about. The next day, before we left to go shopping, I asked them each what they had decided. They were both adamant about their decisions. Jake wanted to give some of his money. Thomas didn’t. I acknowledged Jake’s generosity but I didn’t praise him or judge Thomas for not contributing.
As for saving, already, Jake and Thomas have both found themselves in the position of having spent one week’s worth of money on something small and later wished they had saved it so they could buy something more satisfying. Equally, last year Jake had his eye on a small Lego set. We put a picture of it by his money box and he saved up until he was able to buy it for himself. He learned about delayed gratification and prioritising how he spends his money.
Most of me believes that it is their money to spend as they choose. However, I have put my foot down when they’ve wanted to buy really unhealthy food. I couldn’t bear to watch them consume a whole chocolate bar after the efforts I go to give them a nutritious diet. I’m unsure if I should be restricting their spending in any way so I’m still mulling that one over.
How much pocket money they get isn’t, I think, too important. We’ve chosen to start small. 4 year-old Thomas gets $1 a week. 7 year-old Jake gets $2 a week. They have no need for more money and they can learn just as much about handling money at the bargain shop as they can at a department store. Making mistakes and learning lessons when the stakes are low is good practice for when the stakes are higher.
I can imagine that our system will have many reincarnations as the boys get older. Thomas will not be happy if he’s still only getting $1 a week when he’s 13! And that wouldn’t be enough to teach him what I’ll be wanting him to learn at that stage. Certainly, by the time they’re in their teens, I anticipate that we’ll be giving them quite a significant amount of money with which to budget in order to learn money handling skills. Perhaps they’ll have to use it to buy their own clothes and entertainment, really having to separate their needs from their wants.
I don’t think that there is one right way to manage chores and pocket money. My lesson has been to let our values guide me and get clear about what are the most important things I want to teach my boys. I have chosen to use it to pass on spiritual values such as their sense of belonging and contribution and to develop some early money handling and practical life skills. As my boys get older, my intentions may well change and the system itself definitely will to make it age-appropriate.
Much love to you and your little souls,
PS – There are a number of books available about how to manage money and chores with kids. There are many also that about values that relate to money, such as gratitude and non-materialism. I am hoping to read some of them and have just started reading The Opposite of Spoiled by Ron Lieber which is great food for thought. (I am not an affiliate for Ron’s products)
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