Giving your teenager an allowance is like offering them free money just for being part of the family, isn’t it? It can be if they aren’t required to do anything in return and they aren’t required to use their own allowance for extraneous purchases. There are all kinds of allowance system in play and some of them work better than others. Most of us as kids wanted to get to that magical age where we received an allowance. Most of us also had to earn that allowance, suffer deductions for missed chores or bad grades, and learn to earn just like a true to life job situation. So if you’re thinking about handing over a weekly sum to your teenager, or you already have one in your budget, perhaps now is a good time to review what lessons are being taught and learned through your own personal allowance system.
If you have a weekly allowance budgeted in for your teen but are still handing out money for things like CDs, makeup, the tenth pair of sneakers this year, and movie night with their friends, what is the point of their allowance? An allowance, by definition, is the money allotted to the child to spend or save as he or she sees fit. That means that once they receive an allowance, they have already reached their maximum for the week. Offering additional money for purchases outside of necessities sort of contradicts the intended term. However, some parents feel that their allowance system is of their own making, and thus the definition is rather moot.
When I was a child, five bucks for washing the car (an additional five for detailing the inside) was a great way to make money. I didn’t have a regular allowance for doing my chores. Chores were done because we lived there and we created a mess. At one point, my mother came up with a systematic chart that spelled out what each additional chore would pay at the end of the week. For about two months she had the cleanest house and cars on the planet when I wanted something. As soon as I purchased it, however, my participation in additional chores disappeared until the next time I needed some cash. The system had many flaws and many good points, as does everyone’s individual allowance plan.
Many of us start handing out an allowance as a method of teaching money management skills. If your child wants that most amazing—must—have—can’t—live—without—or—they—won’t—be—cool new CD, then they have a system in place to make sure they have the funds available to them. It also forces them to make choices about what is really important to them. If the must have CD is cool during the same time that the must have cell phone jacket is introduced, and he lacks enough cash for both, then he needs to make a choice about what is more important to him. Of course, this can be frustrating for a kid and a parent should be prepared for some seriously sophisticated negotiation skills to surface. Kids want what they want and they usually aren’t happy waiting for their next three allowance payouts. These situations present realistic opportunities to teach preparation for the real world.
Trading chores for an allowance is a two sided equation. On one side, a child should help out around the house simply because they live there and contribute in one form or another to the general mess, mayhem, and chaos that can quickly overcome a household. Yet, if we are trying to teach responsibility, concrete forms of responsibility and consequence are easier to grasp than abstract “should’s.” Not every parent is on board with this idea, and that’s fine. There is no one right answer for all and each position has a positive and negative side of the fence.
However, “employing” our teenagers to take care of the basic living space that they inhabit is questionable. Their bedroom, for instance, is their living space. Keeping it clean and orderly might fall under the category of…because you live in it and are the only one messing it up. But chores that go beyond their original living space, such as housecleaning and yard work, might be areas of negotiation for a reasonable allowance or even additional allowance. Giving your teenager an allowance should be a process that everyone feels is fair, reasonable, and has a point to it. All too often kids receive allowances for doing the tiniest tasks but when asked to help out around the house during a particularly stressful time they suddenly want to sit down and hammer out new business terms like an old pro.
Interestingly enough, if you talk with your kids about what they think is fair they are likely to come up with some pretty good compromises and ideas. Most kids aren’t interested in being tied to the house for a daily chore program. Some kids feel that as long as their parents are doing a good job buying clothes and meeting their basic needs, they feel very relaxed about issues like an allowance. Kids might not understand the value of a dollar, but they do understand the importance of the dollar. It’s great to watch a teenage mind at work as together the two of you probe into the possible scenarios that an allowance system might offer all of those involved. Many kids over the age of 14 want actual employment, at least for the first month at a new job.
As you visit and revisit all of the possible allowance systems that you can implement, it’s important that you feel your teenager is gaining more than just money from the experience. Whether your goal is money management, earn and reward lessons, enforced higher responsibility, or a combination of all of the above, giving your teenager an allowance offers never ending options, drawbacks, and life lessons that you can monopolize upon to teach him fiscal responsibility.