Monday, June 15, 2009

APing Older Children: Allowances

Kids and money. Kids and stuff. Gimmee, gimmee, gimmee! 

People talk all the time about American kids and how materialistic they’ve become. Frankly, I haven’t seen this to be nearly so noticeable among the attachment parenting families and homeschooling families that we know. Maybe we’re in a little bubble here in Austin, but I doubt it. Instead, I think that the strategies of attachment parenting and the personality traits of homeschoolers tend to steer their children away from consumerism, rather than toward it, generally speaking. 

Yes, yes, I realize that this is totally unscientific on my part and purely anecdotal, but that’s what I’ve come to believe, right or wrong. (And since this is my blog, I can believe what I want to! haha!)

People get weird when it comes to money, no doubt about it. But if we stick to the “respect” issue regarding allowances, things tend to go smoothly, at least in the long run. What I’m about to say won’t seem like respect at first, but bear with me.

Kids need to learn how to handle money, and it’s easiest - as is many things - to have them learn and fail (and thus experience success later) at an early age. Giving a child an allowance, without designating how much they’ll donate and how much they’ll save, grants them complete control over their personal finances. Obviously they’ll need some guidance along the way, at least early on, to know how much things cost and how to calculate tax, as well as how to compound interest and what constitutes a good sale, for instance. These things all come with time.

Here’s what won’t seem like being respectful of them: letting them lose, squander, or fritter away their money. Like I said, people get weird when it comes to money. While you might not bat an eye if your child tried tackling a difficult physical task, say climbing a rope to a gymnasium ceiling, and got some bruises, and while you might not second-guess yourself if your child had his toy smashed by the car because it was left in the driveway overnight, you might freak out if she wanted to spend $20 on a cheap, plastic, light-up, gaudy, play-with-it-for-a-day, vastly overpriced tiara from the circus. (Do I sound bitter? Nah.) Or if he chose to spend $25 of his $40 (total in his allowance) on a cheap, plastic, light-up, gaudy, play-with-it-for-a-week, vastly overpriced, twirling toy thingy from the same circus. (Bitter? Me? Nah.)

Yes, my kids chose to spend their hard-saved money on those two things, while I inwardly cringed. In fact, I would have caved to my miserly upbringing (thank you, my "Depression-era baby" parents) and forbidden it if not for my incredibly wise husband, who said, “It’s their money.”

He was right. They learned so much more from spending their money - which they’d saved for a long time - on crap than from any lecture I could have given them. Of course, they've had to learn this lesson in a number of different versions, but that's okay. They're getting it now, for real.

Now, when they choose to spend their money, it’s usually wisely done. Granted, they’ll occasionally choose to splurge on something that they know is wasteful, but they do so with their eyes open, knowing full well that they’re making a frivolous choice. (After all, don’t we all do that sometimes? Except for me, of course, my spur-of-the-moment two-tiered silk skirt, library fund-raiser handmade glass earrings, and red trashy super-high heels notwithstanding. Hey, I don’t wear them together!)

When it comes to allowances, I find that what’s worked for our family is to give our kids an allowance, let them use it as they wish, and let them suffer or benefit from the consequences. This is respect: respect for their choices, respect for their intelligence, respect for their wishes ... and respect for the learning process.

One thing that was an unexpected pleasant result from giving my kids control over their own money is that they almost always think of "voting" with their money. They choose greener options when buying and really think about where their money goes once it leaves their hands. (Does it go to the local artist, or does it go to a huge conglomerate?) This surprised me at first, but it makes sense when I think about how homeschooling gives my kids the opportunity to learn through living rather than strictly through textbooks. Since we talk about this kind of stuff all the time, it makes sense that our discussions will spill over into their daily choices.

I’ll talk more about this tomorrow, and I’ll give you my take on a book that talks about this kind of allowance. It’s called The First National Bank of Dad and it was the book that gave me the idea.

If you liked this post, you might like this one on natural consequences

Photo of Money Shirt by Rob Lee from here and photo of coins in Trevi Fountain, Rome by David Paul Ohmer from here


  1. Cool! Sounds like what we do, although I have one who spends it all and one who never spends! I hope that my children, like yours, will pick up on my remarks about where our money goes, trying to support those who make things, etc. Tough as more and more, the ubiquitous label: Made In China. :-(
    I want to see those trashy red heels. Can't picture you in super high heels! :-)
    Speaking of wise husbands, check out Tim's post today: . You'll love it, and he can use the pat on the back!

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  3. Internet Explorer (the browser) does not like comment forms in this blog! Once I switched to Firefox (which's the right thing to do anyway!) it was fixed.

  4. My daughter once spent $20 of allowance on a fancy raspberry elegance cake from the local supermarket bakery. Dad always refused to buy it because of expense and... it's just cake.

    Well, she bought it, and shared it with us. It was delicious. She hasn't bought any more cake though, hmmmm.

  5. Hmm. Maybe it wasn't delicious enough. Next time tell her to splurge on the $40 cake from the bakery and share it with you. :)