To Allowance or Not To Allowance?

Do you give your children an allowance?

This is a topic I have struggled with off and on since my oldest child was about 7 years old.

A bit of background about my own angst with money.

Growing up we had a very precarious allowance system. Sometimes we would get it, sometimes not depending if there was enough money left over once all the bills were paid. Money was tied to completing our chores. Some months, we would get an allowance and then asked for it back by our parents to help buy milk at the corner store. There was never any consistency. All allowance stopped when I was old enough to start babysitting and made my own money –  around 11 or 12 years old. I never wanted for anything. I had a clothes and supplies every school year. But if I wanted extras, I was on my own.

Post childhood, into university. I was completely dependent on my own self to fund university, pay my bills and start a life. I was left with no sense of how to budget, manage a student loan or credit cards. I had just enough sense to know paying my bills on time was paramount and if I had to work two jobs while at university so I could pay my rent and have money for books for class, I did it.

Looking back it’s no surprise my heart races when anything to do with finances, allowances and money comes up. This topic was a contentious issue with my parents. Bills always led to an argument and money was a stressor in our family life. Arguments about money filtered down the vents in whispered arguments at night. So my relationship with money, budgets and allowance has always been fraught with tension.

Back to present day, with all of the above in mind and still grasping a bit blindly but not unsuccessfully with budgeting and money as a woman starting her forties – when my eldest child was old enough to start thinking about an allowance, for obvious reasons, I panicked.

How much, what age and most importantly, how do I start teaching my children about money so that they are more educated and better financial planners than I was and am? How can I help them so they have to struggle less and have a healthy relationship with money when I’m still trying to figure it out?

Opinions are plentiful on the subject. From the internet, articles, parenting experts and of course, other parents.

I tried the go-to allowance method at the time with my oldest. I explained about the three planks: save, spend and charity. I opened up a savings account in her name and put in the first $50 dollars.

She was eight years old.

To give her credit she tried, but a few things became clear at once.

  1. She was way too young to fully understand what I was trying to do.
  2. I could not keep up the monthly allowance – with three or more kids. In turn, all of the children wanted some sort of allowance and there were times I just simply forgot. There was no consistency.
  3. Unless it was completely unreasonable, (For example a $40 Collectible Barbie that she would never play with!) she (and her siblings) got pretty much got anything they asked for. Want a book? Sure, I love bookstores and things are going well that day. Let’s go. Want that special candy, have you been good today? All right.

The word no was used too in my futile attempts to teach them they could not get EVERYTHING they wanted.  (No. We are buying a birthday present for your friend, you do not need another book today!) But the yes’s and the no’s are often evenly matched.

Needless to say, allowances have been inconsistent and I feel and felt like I have failed to start them off on a strong footing with money. The intent to teach is there – but my follow-through needed some work.

I started an allowance with Elizabeth. Stopped when life got busy. Started again with the two younger kids. Stopped again when we moved and life got buys. Started again this year with the youngest being 6 years old, was foiled again within two months as work picked up.

Except this time, they are all old enough to realize I stopped.

“Mom! You owe me $11 dollars for this month.” (I took the rule of thumb in most opinions out there, $1/week for each age of the child.)

“Mom, you forgot my allowance again.”

“Mom – buy me this, just take it off my allowance.”

This went on and on, driving me crazy, making me feel guilty that I was failing a major life learing event –  until I stopped. Cold turkey. Trying to play catch up, listening to three little voices and keep track of the amounts owed in my head gave me a headache. The system I tried so hard to implement that I thought would teach them wonderful things about budget and money – it simply did not work for me.

“No more allowance,” I stated and tried to ignore the slack-jawed mouths open in shock.

“But how are we going to buy a new book this month?”

Hmmm..how about I already bought you a book via Scholastic from school last month so that should be enough and it helps out your classroom?

Then I started asking other parents about the allowance situation. Especially those with three or more children. The more experienced parents laughed.

“Allowance? I can barely keep up with the laundry.”

I asked if they tied allowance to chores. It was a mixed-bag of answers just like any information out in the general public. But the consensus came back as this:

Yes, allowances are great. For older kids who want more stuff. (10 years old seems to be a general starting point.) Younger kids get what they need and then some. Why do they need to buy more stuff? (In this day and age of gift cards younger children do get opportunities to spend and consider costs. Save any they get for one big shopping trip or reward.)

No, not tied to everyday chores. But sometimes tied to extra work done around the house for older children. Sometimes. The importance of learning how to take care of the house coupled with learning the art of pitching in outweighs any allowance. Why should you pay them for doing what they SHOULD be doing anyway?

Yes, debit accounts for kids are a necessity – once they start working at a part-time job but not before. Savings accounts are a good alternative for those cash-only birthday gifts but only if you want to – not a necessity. Alternatively, keep the cash in a safe place until you are ready to open the account.

Yes, they usually kept back part of a cash gift and put into savings account/safe unless the child requested a big-ticket item. (New iPod or game system.)

All of this information came from other parents I respect who are in the same boat as me. It gave me an out but still – why did the thought of allowances and opening bank accounts make my stomach churn?

The answer –  there is so much information out there about what is the right and wrong approach. It is overwhelming, especially for a person who 1) Did not have much guidance growing up on how to handle money. 2) Has a fear around money. 3) Is desperate to do something different or more right with how to approach allowances and money with children.

We all want the best for our children, and sometimes, what works for your family is different from what works for another. Sometimes, there is no money for allowances. And sometimes, it’s just too much work when you have three or more kids.

After much waffling, I decided the best approach was no approach. I cut off the allowances for everyone after I had been asked for the hundredth time when was allowance day coming? If I couldn’t be consistent, than it was best just to stop and take stock of the situation at my own pace.

The children were not happy but in truth, the complaining lasted a day.  As I mentioned, it is not like my children are suffering from lack of well, anything.

Instead of focusing on allowance, I decided helping around the house was a bigger mountain to tackle first. Baby steps.

Are allowances gone forever? No. I do see the importance and value of teaching them about budgeting, earning money for a job well done and not to be afraid of it. I started using the term, budget instead of snapping at them when they asked for another small toy that would fill their already full toy bins that money doesn’t grow on trees. Instead I calmly try to say, “Sorry, not in the budget this week.”

And I stopped tying the items they were lucky enough to get each month, (a new pair of shoes they were eyeing, a book, hair accessories), to behaviour. Good behaviour and manners were a necessity, not a bribe. They get stuff when they need stuff or I see something that I think will make their day.

But they are learning too. Along with my new “not in the budget” proclamation, they actually sit and think about the best way to spread out that birthday money or gift card they have received. How much do they want that item if all they have is a set amount and have to wait until their next birthday?

Want to know a great thing I noticed when I took a step back? My kids are generous.

With no probing from me and left to their own devices, if one of them is out of birthday cash on a special trip to the local mall, another will buy them the coveted item. No strings attached.

And these trips to the mall or book store or even time with on iPad to get that app – that IS tied to behaviour. Not the actual thing they covet, not an allowance – but the experience of going out together. I’ve cancelled and drove away from stores or restaurants that we were just about to go in with a shrug and firm parent tone when any kind of established breaking of house rules like respecting each other, hands off and manners is broken. I have also taken them on a spur of the moment when they are behaving well and we have had a relatively stress-free day. (AKA –  no one arguing with each other in the back seat of the vehicle.)

Dumping the allowance discussion allowed me to really address other things first. How to treat each other. Manners. Responsibility for your own things. Expectations around household chores and pitching in. I also got to see them start to budget in their heads, really think about what they wanted because there was no regular influx of cash each month.  Lastly, I am starting to see the natural charitable side of my children. Towards each other or when my eldest pulls out a five dollar bill of her own  money for a homeless person.

Are these not the very lessons an allowance is supposed to teach?

We will circle around, now that other work is going well and the time will come to address an allowance. But instead of an all in one approach – I think tying to their age makes the most sense and is less overwhelming for a parent.

Elizabeth is now 11 years old. She is ready to start with a more regular allowance as she begins to want to hang out with friends on her own or really wants that particular piece of clothing or book. I figure by the time she is 12 years old, we will have a regular allowance system in place to set her up for those teenage years. The other ones will have their turn when it’s time.

The difference now? Me. I can take my time and teach instead of rushing to do it the “right way” and in my opinion, way to early. Introducing an allowance systems at an age-appropriate level with a person who is beginning to understand the world is bigger than our family makes the most sense to me.

And I’ll do it again and again with each child as they hit a milestone birthday but this time – it will be done right.

How do you manage allowance with your family?

 

 

 

 

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Exhaustion Sets In

November. How did it get to be November?

That question is what everyone is asking. I’ve gotten so used to people stating out loud wherever I go that they cannot believe how fast time is flying that my response is automatic in nature.

“Yes, it is. Crazy eh?”

Although personally I don’t think life is moving any faster than last year. Life has moved fast since I had kids. Sure there are slower periods but generally, the last nine years have sped by faster than my poor tired brain can process. I think anyone with school age children will tell you that generally September and October are a blur. Now it is November. November is the “quiet” month. Or it should be. It is the month of waiting. Waiting for winter to start. Waiting for ski season. Waiting for the beloved craziness of holiday season. However, when you have three or more kids, quiet is a term not often used at any point in the year and waiting is a word not one person in my family likes to hear.

My theory is, November is also the month to recuperate. Recuperate from Halloween and wean ourselves off unnecessary but beloved treats. Rejuvenate from late nights and trick or treating with a coffee and irish cream in hand. Rest from the onslaught of cold and flu season hoping it all passes before December. Rest. What a lovely word. One of my favourite words and a concept foreign I am not sure what it means.

Halloween was a Friday night this year. A fun night, albeit cold and a bit rainy, our costumes this year were well suited. We were the candy family. All three kids wanted to be M&Ms, two greens and a blue. But easy costumes to put overtop of layers of clothes or warm jackets meaning we didn’t have to stuff them with the huge mound of cotton batting I had desperately searched for the week before. It also meant two things for our household. The kids had school and Halloween parties, so they were exhausted. But being good sports, we had dinner (hot dogs upon request) and chocolate cupcakes and off we went. Halloween with three kids means both parents go out. All the preparations and decorating that I did were for our own amusement as we placed a candy bowl on the front steps with a note to please use the honour system and take one or two candies. We were off off quickly joined by our regular neighbourhood crew, all sporting rain jackets and umbrellas. But the kids didn’t care, running with abandon down the quiet streets, all we could hear were their voices carrying in the night air, “Trick or Treat!”

IMG_2403

Kandy Korn witch and her M&M children. Halloween 2014

 

Jacob, not to be outdone this year, waddled from house to house leaving one of his friends behind so he could be with the big kids.  I couldn’t blame him and stopped reminding him to wait for his friend about halfway through when my spiked coffee ran out and I realized how cold it truly was outside. An hour later, Jacob, having opted to forgo the “scary house” looked up at us with his little cheeks bitten with drops of cold rain and said, “I’m done. I’m tired. Can I go home?” Screams from his sisters resulted. “We’re not done yet!!! It’s early. It’s a Friday night!”

Mr. L and I played rock, paper, scissors and I lost. Feeling my active, phlegm-soundin cough resuming I tried my best to look pathetic and thankfully, Mr. L (who had scored a refill from a neighbour on the drink) told me to I could go home, he would take the girls further around the block. Bless him!

So, Jacob and I ran home as the raindrops grew bigger just in time to dole out candy to the onslaught of kids. He thought it was great and he tossed in handful after handful into waiting bags. Rejuvenated, he tore off his costume (showing his glow in the dark skeleton shirt) and declared he was sitting on our stairs to wait for more kids. Thank goodness. It allowed me to peel off my damp clothes and change into snug dry ones and sit, blowing into a kleenex. A half hour later, the kids stopped coming and we started to go through his candy. The little helper deserved a treat. The girls and Mr. L arrived, soaked but happy. As I made hot chocolate for everyone, the kids declared it was the best Halloween ever. Exhausted Mr. L and I high-fived each other trying to convince them that it was time for bed. I shut down the house blowing out the jack o lanterns and shutting off the lights, we showered and changed our candy children back into regular little kids and I piled the wet costumes in the mud room and closed the door. By 9:00 pm we were settled on the couch, Mr. L snoring while I tried to watch a scary movie. A Halloween tradition.

The rest of the weekend was a blur. The damp night had turned my cough into a full-blown sinus cold sapping whatever energy stores I had in reserve. I know the kids got to their activities and I started writing attempting to participate in NaNoWriMo 2014 with a fuzzy head deciding best to start and try to make sense of what I wrote later drinking a lot of coffee which did nothing to help. Exhaustion set in. That along with red wine at a family dinner Saturday night meant I was toast the rest of the weekend.

From jazzlinguist.blogspot.com

From jazzlinguist.blogspot.com

 

By Sunday morning, I was happy the kids had their iPads to keep them busy while I dozed on the couch trying to figure out the bare minimum to be done that day and hoping my ears would clear so I could hear. Mr. L had thankfully taken one kid to work with him. When you have three or more kids, any help in keeping one occupied makes those hours a little more manageable.

As Mr. L returned from work on Sunday afternoon, he announced he had errands to run but to be glad, because he was taking the girls. Awesome. Jacob and I dressed for the outdoors enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. Thankfully, our neighbours were also out and he was happy playing with his friend while I mindlessly chit-chatted. Afterwards, we cleaned up the rest of the backyard, getting the kid’s playhouse ready for winter and putting toys back inside the house that had mysteriously made their way to our backyard. The fresh air helped clear my head, for a bit and just as we finished, I heard the girls calling from inside the house.

“Mom!! We’re home. Come inside now.”

I yelled back, “Just a minute, my arms are full of your toys.”

“No Mom! Leave it! Come now!”

Curious, I climbed down the ladder heading into our kitchen. Jacob had already plunged inside dropping his muddy boots and gear all over the kitchen floor. Then I saw it. The girls stood with wide grins holding a carrier case.

“Happy early birthday!!”

A tiny noise emanated from the cage and a pink nose peeked out. “Meow?”

Tickled pink grabbing a tissue to blow my nose hoping it will clear my head for a moment, I looked up at Mr. L (the acclaimed cat hater) who shrugged.

“You said it was too quiet here with Jake gone. She is your present from the kids. The girls picked her out.”

As I scooped out a tiny, ten week old gray and white kitten who won me over as she nuzzled into my neck I blew kisses of gratitude to my crazy family.

Then it hit me. A kitten.

Exhaustion set in.

Sally the kitten.

Sally the kitten.