Chores and Allowance

Should parents pay kids an allowance based on doing chores? Paying kids for chores is one of the most hotly debated parenting topics out there, especially at a time where everyone is more concerned about their finances.

The logic behind tying allowances to chores is that since grown-ups get paid to do their jobs, we should pay kids to do their jobs—in this case, everyday household chores.  If they don’t do their jobs, the children don’t get paid, therefore teaching them that a good work ethic shall be rewarded and that a bad work ethic will get you nothing.  Paying kids for doing chores around the house is preparing them for the real world and life as an adult outside the family.


But there is a hole in that argument: Unless it is their profession to do so, adults- parents- don’t get paid for doing things around the house like taking out the trash, making beds, and washing dishes.  These things are just good life skills, tasks that need to be done day to day whether you are a child or a grown up.

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Why Parents Should Not Pay Kids an Allowance for Chores

Parents do need to teach their kids financial responsibility and that money is earned, not just doled out once a week.  Still, many child-development experts agree that tying a child’s allowance to chores can be a slippery slope.  Here’s why.

Keeping Up the House Is a Team Effort- for the Whole Family

Susie Walton, master instructor at Peace In Your Home who has taught the Redirecting Children’s Behavior course since 1991, advises to keep chores and allowances totally separate.

“Allowance is one thing.  When it comes to chores, life skills, responsibilities—that’s a whole different venue,” says Walton.  “Say to your kids, chores is what we do to keep the family going.  We all live in a house here.  These are things we do together.  We do it as team.”

Furthermore, what happens when those chores don’t get done?  If Billy doesn’t feel like feeding the dog one day, he may think to himself, “That’s fine; Dad will just take it out of my allowance.”  But beyond docking Bill’s pay, who is going to feed the dog?  And what message are you sending about personal responsibility?

Walton says, “When kids aren’t doing a chore, you don’t say, ‘Well, there goes your allowance’. You’re going to sit them down and ask what’s going on.  ‘We’re a team.  We’re a family.  How can we make this work for all of us, because we’re not willing to let the dog go unfed.’”

“How Much Will I Get for Doing This?”

As children get older, what they are capable of contributing around the house will increase.  For every new duty you introduce, or even for small favors, you might find your child asking, “How much will you give me?”  You shouldn’t have to negotiate “wages” for responsibilities that are shared or for things that just need to get done.

By paying children for chores with an allowance, you may be teaching your kids the value of work, but you’ll also be sending the message that work isn’t worth doing unless they’re getting paid for it.  Suppose you’re giving your son an allowance for mowing the lawn, but then your neighbor offers him slightly more for mowing his lawn. Does that mean your son should stop mowing your family’s lawn and mow the neighbor’s instead?

As your children grow and mature, they may find other avenues to earn money for themselves—babysitting, after school jobs, even birthday money.  The fact that they may have outside sources of money should not excuse them from having to do their basic household duties.  By keeping chores and allowances separate, parents can avoid this conflict altogether.

When Is It Okay for Parents Pay for Chores?

There are times when it would make sense to pay kids for chores.  Most financial and child-development experts agree across the board that it’s a fine idea to pay children money for extra jobs that are outside their normal set of chores, such as washing windows, washing the car or helping to clean out the garage — especially if the child is saving for a big item.

Says Walton, “If a kid wants to buy something that’s a bit more expensive and that might take a while for him to save up for with the allowance he’s getting, you can make a list of optional jobs he can do to earn a quick $2 here and there.  So when he wants that bigger thing of Legos that costs more than he has, you can just refer him to that list to help him along.”

Offering odd jobs that are outside the list of normal everyday must-do tasks can give opportunities for children and teens to earn a little more money aside from their regular allowance.  This may even foster an entrepreneurial spirit to think outside of the box to earn money.

Family Dollars and Sense

For parents who are concerned that their children won’t learn the value of a dollar if the allowance isn’t tied to household chores, note that there are still plenty of money management skills to be learned from a straight allowance (meaning a set amount of money given weekly or monthly, not dependent on chores). Depending on the age, kids can be made responsible for paying for their own toys, snacks, mall excursions—even cell phone/texting bills.  Some parents even require that kids set aside a percentage of their allowance toward savings.

“I really like having my own money,” says Kevin, 9.  “It’s up to me if I want to buy the cheap toy now, or save and get the better toy.” And that’s a good lesson to learn at 9 years old.

No matter which allowance route you take in parenthood,  kids will feel empowered by being able to handle their own money.

by Pamela Laney

Read the first two articles in our Allowance Series:

Allowance 101: A Parent’s Guide to Giving Kids Allowance
3 Simple Allowance Rules for Parents

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