The 100 Dollar Allowance Part II



Read the The $100 Allowance, Part I here

Sweeter words a mother never heard: “Mom, can I have underwear for my birthday?”

When I laughed, she said, “I’m serious!”

And she was.

A year earlier, upon entering eigth grade, my 13-year-old requested a lump sum allowance of 100 dollars for the entire school year. She announced that, with this vast amount of cash, she wouldn’t need a dime more – for anything. She giddily wrote out the contract herself, and after much discussion, parents and daughter signed on the dotted line.

She was rich for exactly eight weeks, and poor for exactly eight months.

But her eight months of poverty were not all bad. In fact, they were very, very good.

Here’s what she learned:

1. To hustle. My daughter began to work. Never before was she so quick to accept a babysitting job and so anxious for the next opportunity to come along.

2. Creativity. With friends, she opted for free activities over those that cost money. At Christmas time, she made her own gifts for friends and family or bought them second-hand. We enjoyed them just as much or more.

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3. Frugality. My daughter didn’t want to buy a yearbook because it was too expensive. She stopped buying fast food on athletic trips and ate at home instead. She didn’t even want to go on her eighth grade trip to New York City because it would wipe out her cash reserve. In the end, she took a babysitting job with me, and we watched three children all weekend. (We both earned the trip, but only she got to spend two days on a bus with 26 other eighth graders. I suppose it all worked out?). She brought little spending money on the trip, something I felt conflicted about. The upside, though, was that she didn’t buy any junk food. The downside was that there were no cheap plastic souvenirs we could throw away a year later. Or maybe that was a plus, too? She did, however, create some pretty superb memories.

4. Independence. Gleeful to be responsible for her own finances, my daughter even looks more confident. Earning that New York City trip was hard work, but there were times during the babysitting weekend that she asked me to go home so she could “be in charge” and “earn her own trip.” I liked that.

5. Gratitude. The change began immediately. Whenever I bought something for my daughter – even if it was just her favorite can of soup at the grocery store – she was elated. For Christmas, she asked for running shoes and some tall brown boots. Before the allowance, these were items I would have bought her anyway, but since she was now the one responsible, she was thrilled on Christmas morning with two basic items.

6. Peace. Our clothing arguments stopped. When at the mall, she didn’t beg for the cute dress or plead for that perfect pair of earrings to match her favorite pair of skinny jeans. At times, she would hint that I would look “really good” in that American Eagle top she could immediately inherit, but absent was the debate, the cajoling, the pouting, the extreme disappointment when mom said “no.” Shopping was actually a pleasure as we browsed together, weighing the pros and cons of a purchase. Upon occasion, she still tests me, just to keep things interesting. “Please, Mommy, please, please, please–I’ll pay you back!” It’s hard to resist. My husband often bolsters me with two words: “Stay strong.”

7. The Budget Queen? “Queen” might be overstating it, but there is a ledger. My daughter hand-writes what is coming in and what is going out: 10% goes to charity, 20% goes to college savings, and 70% is hers to spend. ( is just one on-line website that helps kids and parents monitor cash flow.)

The $100 dollar allowance changed to a bigger sum when my daughter started high school. Even with the amount she was given, we still had to help out with the required ipad, athletic expenses, and unexpected trips and fees. There are costs like team sweatshirts that she can’t cover by herself, so we often pay half. But there is still more peace and gratitude than before. When she absolutely needs or wants something, she requests rather than demands.

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The darling dress and matching shoes she bought for semi-formal wiped out all of her hard-earned cash, but it was worth it to her – and that’s what matters. She used her own judgment to purchase something she wanted.

This weekend she’s babysitting after a long week of school and sports and she recently lined up a summer job because she needs the money. I sometimes worry that she works too hard, that she’s become too responsible, too independent. I worry that my 14-year-old should be lounging more, sleeping in, traveling to summer soccer and lacrosse camps like she’d prefer. Then I wonder if this is just the very strange lament of the American mother?

Our family life is far from smooth all the time. Routines and systems are constantly implemented, then revamped or dumped. But the $100 allowance worked for two reasons: My daughter came up with the idea, and she wholeheartedly bought into it.  Literally.

P.S. Yes, did get that underwear for her birthday. And she was happy.


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    • Meadow FIchera says

      I can only speak from my point of view. I am 31 years old and I have been working since I was 13 years old. I worked on the weekends, through the Summers, babysat after school, etc.

      I do lean toward frugality and have always been reasonably responsible with my money.

      However I missed out on a lot. A LOT. And at 31 (with three kids and a LOT of respnsibility) I really wish that I had worked less and enjoyed ‘Life’ a little more before I had so much non-negotiable responsibility on my plate.

      I am also tired. I love L-O-V-E my job. But I am burnt out. Taking on jobs for the last 18 years (while attending school for a lot of that time) has left me feeling exhausted at the end of each week. Naturally there is no end in sight… I may retire in my mid sixties….

      I suppose the point I am trying to make is that you might want to consider sending that girl off to camp for a month each summer. We live in a society that no longer values play. Life is short. Play is essential.

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      • says

        Meadow, I hear you. Kids do need to play and not feel the heavy weight of money on their shoulders too early. I definitely don’t want to kill creativity and the joy of life. I know you can’t have any way of knowing what our family life is like, but we have plenty of play around here :) I’m also sorry you are feeling burned out. Best to you.

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      • Nicole says

        I feel exactly the same as Meadow–I am also 31 and have been working since the age of 13 (and to be honest, I’m slightly bitter about it). I learned how to be responsible with money incredibly early and a good portion of the money I earned went to necessities/helping my mom pay the bills. I saved up all year to go to camp for 2 weeks in the summer.

        I don’t think that your daughter deciding to work to afford fun treats is a bad idea overall, but I do think if your family could afford to pay for her to “travel[] to summer soccer and lacrosse camps like she’d prefer,” you should consider giving her that opportunity. She won’t be able to have those experiences once she grows up. Now that I make a good salary as an engineer, I really regret all the hours I spent making $3-5/hour instead of having freedom to participate in activities that are impractical as a working adult.

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  1. Andrea Miller says

    YOU ARE AMAZING!!!! My SIL needed this blog post 10 years ago or so! Her daughter who are now 20 &23 bleed her dry and she continuously lets them. Each daughter could own her own department store and yet they never have anything to wear. I swear 1 of them only wears something once!! And my poor SIL is stuck, as she created these monsters she sees no where out! I really hope I can do what you have done when my children reach this age.

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  2. Justine says

    This is excellent! When I was a kid, my parents bought things that I needed, and nothing more. Anything extra (unnecessary clothes, fast food, etc) came out of my allowance (which I earned doing extra chores, not just keep my room clean etc) and odd jobs for family and neighbors. this was all out of necessity, my parents simply didn’t have the cash to spend. I learned the value of a dollar early on. My younger brothers on the other hand, (born in a more prosperous time) have no idea how to save. You may be worried your daughter is missing out, but this is a great lesson, and one she will take with her the rest of her life. She knows she has to work for the things she wants, which is something a lot of people her age don’t understand. Props to you, mama!

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  3. says

    This is AWESOME. My daughter’s just learning to crawl, but I am totally saving this idea for later.
    I brought this up to my family the other day and everyone around the table thought it was a fab idea. Because it is. Kudos, and thanks so much for sharing.

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  4. findingtheearth says

    My parents made me work – first as a babysitter than getting a job when I turned 15. I paid for most things with my own money. It has taught me to be resilient and creative. They know that if I actually ask them for help, it is because I have used all my other options.

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    • Keri says

      I love this! My parents didn’t have much money for extras when I was growing up, so I became an entrepreneur in order to get things teens “need.” I babysat, had after school jobs, and learned to bargain shop. I always felt a sense of pride at my work ethic and *maybe* a tad smug that I had earned my clothes, my car, my college education whereas other kids had these things given to them. Heck, listen to me. I am still proud.

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  5. Adriane says

    My kids are 8 & 10. They get $20/month for doing their chores. That is their fun money. I buy the necessary stuff. If they want something extra but don’t have the money, they do without. They don’t fuss and whine, they ask for extra chores. Working pretty well for now

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  6. Sam says

    YES, YES, YES!!! I actually had a similar experience in my youth, though I don’t remember who came up with it. Twice a year, in the spring and fall, I would put together a list of clothing items I thought I would need. Together with my parents we came up with a reasonable per item value and that become my clothing allowance. It all started when I wanted a complete outfit from the Gap. Needless to say, I choose NOT to purchase that outfit when it was my money. This worked for us from sixth grade through high school!

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