Q.Our 16-year-old daughter used to hold a part-time job. She spent most of her money on Hanukah/birthday presents for her many friends and on an endless collection of earrings, records and knicknacks, as well as an occasional outfit or two. Some of it went to her college savings account.
During that time, as well as now that most of her earnings have stopped, she received an allowance from us.
Would you please address the following questions:
*What is a fair amount for an allowance and what should it cover? Should it cover clothing, etc.?
*Should a child be made to save a portion of her outside earnings and/or cash gifts from relatives, birthdays, etc.? Or is that her money?
*Should parents pay for all the clothes? Should a job-holding teen-ager be expected to cover some of her own expenses?
*Should parents of a non-job-holding teen pay for presents for friends?
*Assuming parents cover all the child's expenses, the question is, how do you avoid "over-spending"? Do you set a specific clothing allowance, for example, and let the child "withdraw" from it for a much-wanted "mod" outfit?
We want to rear a child who isn't spoiled and who knows values and money management.
A.A. If your child is going to be A. responsible about money when she's grown, she shouldn't have much of it now.
Teen-agers (and adults) who have too much money often spend it on rather silly things -- like costume jewelry. When money loses its value, it cheapens everything, including the child's image of herself. Teachers often report that the students with bucks to burn are often the first ones to try drugs, simply because they can afford them.
An allowance should be merely a token of your affection, a way of thanking your daughter for being part of the family and giving her a share of its bounty.
A fair allowance is more than the bare minimum, but much, much less than her richest friend gets. It should cover the necessities of her life: transportation to school or extra activities; the school lunch -- without money for candy bars or cigarettes -- and a few more dollars, if possible, out of which she is expected to contribute to temple or to a charity.
The extra dollars won't pay for many pleasures, but they will let her buy an inexpensive present for a friend occasionally. This is as it should be. A gift comes from the giver -- and the giver's own pocketbook. Or her own handicraft. Otherwise, your daughter would be spending your money to buy gifts for her friends and signing her name to them.
This tighter budget will put your daughter back to work, but that's all right. She has earned money before and she can do it again, but she shouldn't be paid for working at home -- unless it's for some extra job, like washing down the kitchen walls -- or for getting A's at school. Everyone in a family is expected to do the best they can, at least most of the time.
The money she earns is hers with no strings attached and so is her gift money. However, she will know how most of it must be spent if you set the parameters.
You do this by paying only for the basic clothes your daughter needs and letting her buy the rest and by having her make up the difference if she wants a better grade of clothing or a designer label. Parents are required to protect their children, not pamper them.
This way, your daughter will learn to buy classic clothes rather than faddish ones and to take care of those she has.
A clothing allowance, with its wide discretion, can help, but be careful. To make it work, you and your husband must have the money to spare on a regular basis and the nerve to say no when she asks for more. What you don't want is a situation where clothes become the center of every power play in the family.
If you do set up this extra allowance, you'll find it works best if she puts the money in her own checking account -- so she can learn to manage it -- and if she gets the money on a quarterly basis, timed for the sales. Steer her to the best stores then -- where the quality and the bargains are usually much better -- and to the outlets, where the quality varies enough for her to recognize the best.
Your daughter's savings account will grow faster if she knows she must pay for at least some of her college. Although you (and college loans) may be paying for her tuition, room, board, books and the trips to and from school at the start and end of each semester, she should be expected to pay for her day-to-day expenses. This usually comes to at least $1,000 a year, to cover off-campus meals, long-distance phone calls, gifts, fooling around and extra trips home. She can save that much in a summer job, but she'll need to save still more -- starting now -- if she's going to buy more clothes when she gets to school or take an occasional ski weekend or a trip to the beach.
By helping your child focus on her tomorrows, she'll keep her spending under better control today.