Creditcards.com released a survey recently that found just 40 percent of parents with children under 18 give them an allowance.
I’m not bothered that the overwhelming majority of parents haven’t put their kids on the payroll. You shouldn’t bother giving your child an allowance if you aren’t planning to take the time to discuss what having money means. An allowance alone isn’t the best way to teach your children how to manage money.
Of course, for families living on the financial edge, an allowance is a luxury they can’t afford. But let’s say you’ve got the resources to dole out money to your kid. Should you? Will it work in teaching them to be good stewards of their own resources once they launch?
The answers to those questions depend not on how you transfer the money — via a savings/checking account, prepaid debit card or app — but on the values you deliver.
Your children probably won’t want to be taught. They just want the money and what it can get them. But you need to embrace a higher purpose for the allowance. You should see this free money as a means to an end. And that end is in-home financial literacy lessons.
There should be strings attached. Don’t give an allowance if you aren’t prepared for pushback when you want to talk about taxes, saving, giving to charity, delayed gratification or the difference between a want and a need.
Be thoughtful about the decision because you could do more harm than good. Children with cash and no lessons behind the payout just end up becoming consumers.
Creditcards.com also found that 1 in 4 Americans said their parents didn’t provide them with any financial education.
I asked Ted Rossman, an industry analyst for Creditcards.com, about the findings.
Q: What surprised you about the survey?
Rossman: I was surprised how few American kids receive allowances. I also think it’s notable that 39 percent of allowances are paid in something other than cash. If you choose to give your child an allowance, I like the idea of paying them via a mobile payments service or on a prepaid debit card because it meets them where they are. These digital payment methods are certainly the future, and they’re increasingly the present. I think you’re doing your kids a disservice if you’re only teaching them about money in terms of coins and bills. It’s important to show kids that these payment methods represent real money — not magic money.
Q: Do you think it's vital that a child get an allowance?
Rossman: I think it’s a personal decision. Speaking for myself, I never got an allowance growing up. I remember my mom saying she didn’t think it was appropriate to pay me just for being her kid. And I was expected to do certain chores simply because I was a member of the household. That said, it’s not wrong to give an allowance — that works for many families. My daughter is only 4 so she’s a little young for an allowance. But when she gets a little older, I’m leaning against an allowance for many of the same reasons my mom cited. I do think it’s very important to teach about needs versus wants, though.
I’m thinking of giving my daughter a set amount of money each week for extras at the grocery store. Of course, my wife and I will buy all the essentials, but for snacks, ice cream, candy, etc., I like the idea of forcing our daughter Ashleigh to make trade-offs. She can compare prices and figure out where she really wants to spend her $5 or $10 junk food budget.
That’s key for me — the trade-off aspect. The same logic applies to toys, video games, clothes, etc. Back-to-school shopping would be another good example. If you have a teenager, consider giving him or her a set amount for new clothes, shoes, a backpack and so on and when the money runs out, it’s out. That’s a great lesson to help kids to comparison shop and decide what’s really important. We joke with my youngest brother that he didn’t become frugal until it was his money, once he was working and renting his own apartment. The Amazon deliveries became a lot less frequent when he was funding them rather than Mom and Dad.
Q: If parents give an allowance, what should come along with the money? What lessons?
Rossman: Many parents like giving allowances because they equate work with money. That’s a valuable life lesson. There’s an app called RoosterMoney that helps guide kids and parents through this process. Maybe their standard $4 weekly allowance requires them to make their bed, set the table and feed the dog. If they want to earn more, they can tackle extras such as shoveling snow in the winter or weeding the front walkway in the summer. That’s a kid-oriented version of what we all experience in the workforce and with side hustles.
I also like prepaid debit cards targeted at young adults. Examples include Greenlight, Current and GoHenry. These come with helpful budgeting tools and training wheels like spending limits and even in some cases which stores are approved/disapproved. These lessons are great for teens who are already getting more independent — perhaps going to the movies without an adult, maybe even driving themselves — and on the cusp of even more independence once they head off to college and/or the workforce. I’d also refer back to the trade-offs discussion above — distinguishing between needs and wants is so critical.
Like Rossman, I never got an allowance. I didn’t need one. My grandmother Big Mama, who raised me, demonstrated how to be a good money manager. I just followed her lead. Although she was a low-paid worker in a hospital, she saved money from every single paycheck. She taught me to despise debt and railed against using credit cards to elevate your lifestyle. She was a giver. She always paid her bills on time.
Whatever you decide to do — allowance/no allowance — just know that children often learn what they live. Financial lessons can be imparted even without putting them on your payroll.
Color of Money Question of the Week
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Last week I asked: What personal finance issues concern you right now?
Ed Welch, a retiree living in the Philippines, wrote, “My biggest worry is that my state retirement fund might be raided. It is a large portion of our fixed income. If it is reduced for some reason, our plans will deteriorate. We are contributing to our mutual funds to diversify our long-term options. Am I paranoid?”
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