One day, my 13-year-old daughter had an idea. “You give me $100 and I’ll pay for everything for the whole school year.” She had gotten this idea from her cousin who is, shall we say, more of a money saver.
“What exactly does ‘everything’ include?” I asked.
My husband said, “Write a proposal.”
She quickly took pen to paper, visions of a $100 dollar bill dancing in her head.
I was resistant for one reason: I didn’t want to part with a lump sum of $100. But it didn’t take more than a minute to realize her idea was definitely going to work in my economic favor.
Thirteen-year-olds crave independence; mine certainly does. She doesn’t like me buttoning up her coat, brushing her hair, or telling her to clean her room. She wants to decide when she goes to bed, what she wears to school, what she packs for lunch – and beware if you suggest a haircut.
The path ahead points to high school, college, budgeting, and motherhood. One hundred dollars? I hoped this might be a positive segue to independence.
Her $100 written proposal stretched far and wide: All clothing, shoes, movies, food, sporting events, and birthday presents for friends. I hesitated. There was no way $100 would cover all expenses. But she insisted she’d be fine and handed me a pen. I signed on the dotted line.
• $20 worth of school supplies including a splurge of multi-
colored ball-point pens
• A $5 shirt from American Eagle
• Two lip glosses for $7
• A pair of wedge shoes from Old Navy for $30
I’d like to say I kept my mouth shut regarding the wedge shoes, but when I gasped, “30 dollars!” she was irritated, reminding me that she was spending her money and I was raining on her parade. So, I apologized and promised to be quiet. Within thirty minutes, after looking back and forth between her shoes and her wallet, buyer’s remorse set in and the shoes were returned.
I continued to remind myself: Keep mouth shut. This was my daughter’s experience, her lesson to learn.
September was the honeymoon stage, spent with a happy leisure. My daughter felt rich and free to spend her large amount of cash. She bought a few candy bars, a pair of jeans marked down, and offered generous rewards to siblings for fetching items from upstairs.
October 1st: A stylish, shiny blue, soft and furry coat for $40.
And thus, the dream ended.
October 2nd: Broke.
October 5th: “I think we should reevaluate my budget,” she said, eyebrows knit in worry. I smiled sweetly as words were unnecessary. The dotted line was signed; there was no wiggle room. That’s when she got busy. When I was dropping her younger siblings off somewhere, she’d call out, “Can you ask if I can babysit?”
When she did a chore around the house, she asked, “Can I get paid for that?”
She distributed a flyer around the neighborhood advertising her services. With Christmas looming, a weekend dance, and new shoes needed for Spring track, she was adding and subtracting in her head. She started to plan ahead.
She picked up dropped change. She practiced the piano more faithfully as she gets money from Grandma for every book passed off. She stopped turning down less-ideal babysitting jobs.
Who else has this been a good lesson for? Me. I like shopping for my kids, finding sales, picking up shirts here and there. But after the allowance was given, I had to put shirts back, knowing I’d ruin the money lesson if I swooped in to save the day. I did buy her a Chapstick one day. “Thank you, Mommy!” she squealed, throwing her arms around me.
The tale didn’t end there, but in one month I saw a girl manage her money better. We didn’t have any scenes with her begging me to buy her a single item of clothing – she was on her own because she wanted to be. Unexpectedly, but wonderful, there was far more gratitude for the things her parents bought her.
Another unexpected consequence? Her three younger siblings want a $100 allowance as well. Rather than grimace, I smile. I’m going to have a lot more spending money.
Here’s a recommended plan:
• Make expectations clear: Who will pay for what (it can work well to have kids pay for all “extra” or “fun” things with their own money)
• Help your child make a list of wants and needs and discuss what goes on each list
• Help your child create a personal budget and write the plan down on paper
• Sign the agreement
• Keep a simple notebook ledger (or an spreadsheet on the computer): Money in, money spent
• Don’t buy stuff for them or bail them out!
My daughter has yet to take me up on my offer of payment for weeding the garden or shoveling out the chicken coop (that day may never come), but I’m keeping my mouth shut. I know that when she needs the money badly enough, she’ll ask me for a job.
My mother used to say she gave us chores to build our self-esteem, a connection I refused to make at age 14. But I know what she means now. There is a look of empowerment on my daughter’s face when she has worked hard to earn something she really wants. It’s equivalent to happiness.