I Might Need To Reconsider My Views On An Allowance

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty

Hanging in our kitchen is a laminated sign with a list of chores each of our children are expected to accomplish each day. There is a different list for weekdays and weekends, with some overlap. Each day our children are expected to brush their teeth, pack their lunches, pickup after themselves, and be creative and active. They are supposed to finish their homework, and on the weekends, they each have a couple chores they must finish. My daughter is expected to clean the family van, while my son is expected to sweep and mop the kitchen and bathrooms.

Naturally, there’s a bit more to it than that, but for the most part it’s a mix of what they really should be doing as youngsters, paired with what should be done to help around the house.

The only difference is, we don’t pay them to do their chores. Well… not in money, anyway. Our children are working for screen time. This might be the most 2019 article ever written, but we used to try to motivate our children with money. And it didn’t really motivate them, so instead, we turned the one thing they loved more than anything in the world into currency: screen time.

I honestly cannot describe to you how much this motivates our children. It’s ridiculous, really. And it doesn’t cost me anything, which I love. In fact, one of the best parts about not paying my children in actual money is it can make it a lot easier to “pay” my children to help out around the community. At our last house we had some elderly neighbors, and I often gave my son screen time to take in their garbage cans, shovel there walk, pull weeds, whatever they needed. I gave him screen time for whenever I helped a friend move, or to help his younger sisters with homework when I was about to crack. It showed him how to be a good community and family member without impacting our finances.

Many parents still give their children an allowance in money, however. I don’t know if we are trendsetters with this screen time as currency thing, but what I can say is that my son is 12, and my daughter is 9, and I have a feeling they are going to start looking for spending money very soon. My son probably sooner rather than later, because his friends are starting to invite him out to movies and such, and I’d like him to pay his own way with his own money.

So how much should I pay him? And for what, exactly? I will admit, it doesn’t bother me to pay my children in screen time to brush their teeth and get ready for the day, because it doesn’t cost me anything. It also eliminates a morning battle. But paying them actual money for that sort of thing seems ridiculous. But after listening to an interview on NPR on allowance, I wonder if I’m looking in the wrong direction.

The American Institute of CPAs ran a survey and found that parents on average pay their children $30 a week in allowance. That’s $120 a month. $1,440 a year. If this seems high to you, you are not alone. I’m 37 years old, and this is what I made cooking up pizzas in high school. What you pay your children in allowance is up to you. What I found most interesting about this study was not how much was being paid on average, but how much children can learn about finances by receiving an allowance.

During the NPR segment, Michael Eisenberg from The American Institute of CPAs mentioned that one of the most important parts of giving your children money is teaching them how to spend it wisely.

I don’t want to speak for all of your children, but when my son gets money, his pockets actually catch fire, and he wiggles and shakes his leg, and asks me to take him to the store so he can spend it before burning to death. Okay, that was exaggeration, but not all that far from the truth, and the way he acts with a little money makes me worried about how he will act as an adult with an actual salary.

Eisenberg recommends “parents take the young person into the bank themselves. And if you set up a savings account with them and you make deposits into the child’s account, you can show them it’s getting bigger and bigger. They can see it in black and white, and that’s what happens when you start to save.”

I know this sounds like an old-fashioned trick, but I can say that it works. In my teens, I lived with my grandmother. Every two weeks I’d get paid from my pizza cook job, and my grandmother would drive me to the bank and make me put 10% of my check into a savings account. I hated it. I hated it so much until I used it to help pay for my first two years of college.

Now, of course, not everyone can afford to pay their children an allowance. If that is the case, Eisenberg recommends, “parents sit down and talk with the kids and show them. We have a little budget, and we’re spending money here and here and here. But the other thing the parents can do which I think is really important is — you start to talk to the children and say, you know what? Here it is in May or June, and, you know, we’re going to be going back to school in August or September, and you would love to have that new backpack. How about we sit down and we say we’re going to put away X amount of dollars each week or each month towards the purchase of that backpack or pair of sneakers or whatever it’s going to be?”

I suppose the big question for me isn’t whether I’m going to pay my children $30 a week? Because there’s no way. I can’t afford that. But will I be moving from screen time to actual money? After reading about the benefits of allowance when it comes to teaching our children about money management, I think I will start to give my children a traditional money allowance. But I do enjoy the flexibility of using screen time as well, so I will probably do a mix of both.

Naturally, there are many ways to motivate your children, and it doesn’t always have to be with cash. However you choose to run your home, I think it’s best to sit down and really think about what your children can gain — whether it will be becoming a good community member, a helpful member of the household, or financially savvy. But most importantly, as parents we need to realize that we have more options than simply handing out money, and we also have potential learning opportunities that we should be, dare I say, cashing in on.

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