You know who else needs a budget and money management skills? Your kids. Most families are familiar with the idea of giving an allowance for chores to introduce personal finance and responsibility. But what if we said household chores and a child’s allowance should have no bearing on one another?
Being deeply invested in budgeting with more kids than most, I’ve given this subject a lot of thought.
Giving a weekly allowance for chores has always been a huge hassle for us. It’s hard to be consistent, and it creates a lot of undue overhead…which makes it even harder to be consistent.
After interviewing Ron Lieber, the author of The Opposite of Spoiled, last year, I changed things up in my family. Ron has studied and researched for years focused on how to raise kids who are grateful, kind, generous, and just generally not spoiled. I asked him about his #1 biggest takeaway, and what he said surprised me: separate chores from allowance.
Huh. I had to think about that a little bit, but it began to make a lot of sense to me, and we’ve since implemented it with great success. Spoiler alert: It’s not about the amount of money you give your kids or making them earn it. It’s about the message you’re sending along with it.
Chores and Allowance Serve Different Purposes
Since we made the decision to separate chores and allowance, we assign our kids chores so they can learn to work and contribute. They are part of a family and it is important for each of them to do their part. Just like being on a team, chores also teach them to see and appreciate the contributions of one another. In my opinion, the younger kids are when they learn to contribute without monetary rewards for every ounce of effort, the better.
We also give them money—an allowance, totally independent of chores—so they can learn how to manage money, create savings goals, and develop financial literacy.
We used to attach commissions to different household chores. When we ran into some quality control issues, then we were paying based on how well your chores were done, how few times we had to ask you to do them, or whether or not Mom was in a good mood when payment came due. It was impossible to be consistent. Not to mention it felt like anytime we asked them to do some cleaning up, they were expecting to get paid. The balance was all off.
Now, we pay our kids a weekly allowance. It is the same amount, every single time. It has nothing to do with a chore list. You don’t get extra money for good behavior. You just get it.
Part of me still reacts a little bit like, “No! That’s not right! You don’t just get money. What are we teaching these kids if you just get money automatically for breathing?” But we are very disciplined when it comes to weekly chores.
Work Isn’t Just About Money
With household duties, we’re teaching them work ethic. Everyone does their age-appropriate chores, everyone is contributing to the family. This isn’t something you get paid for. You don’t get an extra gold star. It is just what is expected. It’s just a part of being in our family.
As Ron suggests, “The money that you get in the form of allowance, that’s a tool for learning. Money in that context is for practice, and we want kids to practice with money the same way we want them to practice their music, art, or sports. So yanking the money if they don’t do their chores doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
What About Quality Control for Chores?
You might be wondering, if we don’t give our kids an allowance for chores, what do we do if they’re not doing their chores well (or at all)? Instead of losing money, they lose privileges.
Think of chores and household responsibilities like team responsibilities for athletes. If a soccer player doesn’t do their job on the field, they sit on the sidelines. After hearing Ron’s wisdom on the subject, we now “take away the thing that they like to do as opposed to the thing that they like to get.” No chores? No cell phone.
We also use the age-old system of feedback! YNAB’s free printable chore chart download has a built-in weekly review column, so you can easily give kudos and discuss which areas could use improvement. See? There is still a system of work and reward…but it’s not based on a volatile allowance, moods, or quantity. Simply contributions.
Financial Responsibility Must Be Taught
We’re also teaching kids YNAB’s Four Rules. The whole point of the allowance system is to let them experience handling money, setting goals, spending money, and saving money. Managing money. These life skills take practice. Allowance—when separated from chores—teaches kids to battle their own emotions, weigh their own priorities, and experience the rewards (or consequences).
For us, raising young kids ranging from a high school student to 6-year-old, we’ve decided to draw a hard line between chores and allowance once and for all. It’s working very well, and I already see a difference in their money habits! For that matter, it has reduced my own money stress and mental math.
What kids allowance and chores system is working for you and your family?