Chores, Allowance, and “Above and Beyond” Tasks

I’m often asked about our allowance and chore policies for our children. Recently, some snow on our driveway made us carefully think about these policies and decide exactly how we wanted to handle them.

About two weeks ago, we had a snowstorm that covered our driveway with about two inches of snow. While it wasn’t really enough to require us to get out the snowblower, it did need to be cleared off so that our driveway didn’t turn into ice.

When my six year old got home from school, I handed him a snow shovel, grabbed my own, and the two of us went out there to clear it.

He’s six. He’s not as strong as I am, nor does he have the endurance of an adult. However, he stuck with me the entire time we were shoveling, then suggested that we clear the driveway of one of our neighbors that might have some difficulty clearing their own driveway.

When we were finished, I told him that he had done a good job. I also considered financially rewarding him with a dollar or two.

I decided not to.

This led into a series of discussions between Sarah and myself concerning the role of allowances and chores and how exactly we should handle “above and beyond” effort.

In the past, allowances were not tied to chores, and we’re going to keep it that way. Our children receive a trivially small allowance – $0.50 per year in their age. The reason it’s small is so that if they want an expensive toy, they have to actually save for it.

To us, allowance is not compensation; it’s a tool for teaching about money management. They learn the value of saving from it. They learn the challenge and reward of putting aside money for charity. They learn a little bit about investing, too.

What about regular chores, then? We’re already starting these, but these are things that are just expected of them due to the fact that they’re living here. If they protest, we don’t pull away allowance. We explain to them all of the things that Mom and Dad do around the house – as well as our professional work – to keep a roof over our heads, food on the table, and the things we enjoy.

Their role in that is their chores. It’s simply expected that there are certain things that they do as part of living at home. It’s not tied to allowance.

If they don’t follow through on their chores, there are non-monetary consequences. Prized toys are put away for a while. Time-outs happen. Taking away their allowance deprives them of the opportunity to learn about money management, while taking away toys or free time doesn’t deprive them of anything of significant importance.

What kind of chores do we give them? We’re talking about a six year old and a four year old here, so chores are pretty basic. They clear the table after dinner. They pick up any items that they left out. They aren’t physically strong enough or dexterous enough for many tasks, though our oldest is starting to grow into some of them.

This leads us to the “above and beyond” tasks, like the aforementioned shoveling of the entire driveway. Much like regular chores, we don’t compensate for these. They’re simply irregular chores that need to be done for the upkeep of our home. Irregular challenging tasks are part of everyone’s life, and thus they should be part of their lives, too.

In short, we don’t believe in compensating our children for regular household tasks. We aren’t compensated for those tasks, so neither should our children be. Also, compensating them sets up a precedent where they expect compensation for those tasks, which stretches out for as long as they live here and perhaps into their adult life.

The thing to keep in mind is that a parent’s goal is to raise their child to be a fully functional and independent adult, if possible. By giving them an allowance, we’re teaching them saving and basic money skills. By requiring household chores but not tying them to compensation, we’re teaching them that there are just things that a person has to do in their daily life. These are valuable money and life lessons.

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