Paying an allowance to older children and teenagers

In my last post, I talked about how you can get started on an allowance program for your child. Allowances are a great tool to teach your kids how to spend, save and give.

However, as your kids get older and more mature, you might need to think about how you can evolve your allowance program. Not only will your kids get smarter about money, but their tastes and attitudes will change. Other factors could also come into play that affect how they handle their money.

Here are some ideas and approaches to consider when paying your older kids an allowance.

They might start earning money from other sources

Our kids had a paper route from the time they were in elementary school. The money they earned from the route – which amounted to about $30 per child per month – was paid by cheque and went directly into their bank accounts. As the kids got older, they also earned money from refereeing, babysitting, and pet sitting.

So why do we still give our kids an allowance? Mostly, it was because we still wanted to put real money in their hands, and while doing so, have those important financial discussions. With money coming from us – their mom and dad – we could also make sure the experience was a positive one. The hard lessons – like getting negative feedback for cutting across a lawn on their paper route – would come in due time.

What was interesting was that earning a guaranteed allowance didn’t take away their motivation from earning money from other sources; in fact, they kept the paper route for five years.

Should you pay your kids for chores?

One of the questions other parents asked me a lot was: should kids be paid to do their chores?

It’s a question that vexes many parents. Some use money to motivate their kids to get their jobs done. Others see it as the basic economic exchange that it is: you work, you get paid. It’s as simple as that, right?

In our family, our kids were responsible for a lot of chores; they had to make and change their beds, clean their rooms, pick up toys and crafts at the end of the day, fold laundry and put their clothes away, and empty the dishwasher in the morning. Sometimes they mopped and vacuumed.

But their allowance had nothing to do with their chores. And here’s why:

We expected our children to help around the house. As a family of six, we got pretty messy. We made a lot of laundry. We made a lot of dishes. We often reminded the kids that if we all work together and help each other out, we’ll get things done that much faster. There’ll be more time to play, to read and to spend with Mommy and Daddy. We also made sure all of their chores were done before they could enjoy privileges like TV or video games.

We wanted our kids to become self-motivated. Though money can be motivating to kids and adults alike, I think most will agree we should be teaching our kids there’s more to life than money. We want to teach our kids to take pride in a job well done, and to be satisfied seeing something through from start to finish. And what would happen if they were no longer interested in the money? The incentive to the chore is gone.

Not every responsibility comes with a paycheque. You don’t get paid for washing the dishes. You don’t get paid for mowing the lawn. There are plenty of other things you and I would rather be doing, but there’s always work to be done that we get paid butkis to do. That’s life.

It’s hard – and unrealistic – to link daily chores to an allowance. “So on Tuesday, you didn’t make your bed, and on Friday, you forgot to fill the cat’s water bowl, and you know when you set the table yesterday? You didn’t put out all the forks. So I’m deducting $1.25 from your allowance.” Paying work piecemeal is not only too sophisticated a concept for young children to grasp, it can be downright complicated to track.

More money, more responsibilities

As our kids grew older and more adept at handling their money, and their allowances grew, we made them responsible for contributing to some ongoing expenses for purchasing decisions they had made. For example, when my oldest daughter was 12, she wanted a hamster. After long discussions about her responsibilities as a pet owner, we also agreed that she would help pay for some of the supplies.

We stopped their allowances when they were old enough for “real” jobs...

When they reached working age (14-16 years old), we stopped paying them allowances altogether. If they wanted to find an after-school job, we left that entirely up to them. Without a source of income, it didn’t take them long to find work.

...But we didn’t cut off their allowance entirely

One way you can evolve allowances – without cutting your kids off entirely – is to give them money for a specific expense you are already paying for. We chose clothing. When our kids started working in after-school jobs, we started giving them a clothing allowance. But not only did we give them money for clothing, we made them fully responsible for all their clothing purchases: school clothes, outerwear, and footwear.

Every three months, we gave them $125. With that money, they had to plan and budget their purchases out by several months. If they knew they needed a new winter jacket, for example, they had to save up two allowances, or buy a jacket on sale or secondhand. If they wanted to buy expensive brand names, they could top up their allowance with their own earnings. Having full discretion over their spending gave them new skills they might not have otherwise had to learn.

Learning about money is an experience, not an event

As adults, we know that money isn’t just a means to buy groceries. Our money – or lack of it – can be a source of anxiety and stress, or joy and fulfillment. Our relationship with money can be as complex as our relationships with food, work, and people.

Your kids’ money skills, attitudes and habits will change over time. They will have their ups and downs. And your attitudes and habits can influence your kids, whether you mean to or not.

There’s no one way to teach your kids about money. The key is to get started, listen and talk to your kids, adapt and change course as needed – and hopefully watch them grow into financially capable adults.

Kim Whidden is an award-winning copywriter and content marketer. In her 25 years as a marketing professional, she has worked in communications roles in high-tech, healthcare and higher education. As a consultant, she has been the lead copywriter on website development teams, written and edited countless web pages, and has developed successful email campaigns. She was drawn to writing and marketing from a young age, and would often TV commercials and leave the room when the show came on. Kim lives and works in Surrey, BC and the Okanagan, and is the mom to four teens.

Kim Whidden is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.

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