"Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life."
- Mark Twain
Deciding on a child allowance is a time honored tradition as old as, well, having them make their beds or set the dinner table. But it turns out that for many of today's families, the ritual of child allowance giving can create a lot of stress and apprehension. A recent field study by Kidworth.com found very few parents are actually giving their children a steady allowance. It was as if a child "allowance" had become the new dirty word in parenting. That's right, the "A" word.
The most common fears they shared were that it would lead to power struggles between the kids and parents or would just amp up the materialism that kids today can already possess. One mom said her kids don't need a child allowance, she buys them everything and that way she can control what they get - but that doesn't teach her children financial literacy. How are kids going to learn to be responsible at 18 with their own credit card, if they're not trusted and taught how to manage a few dollars a week at age 10?
Most financial and parenting experts agree, a child allowance is a healthy way to give your children financial skills that they can carry on through their adult lives. It's only a dirty word if you make it one.
Here are five tips on how to give your a child allowance:
(1) Don't tie a child allowance to doing chores! That's right, your parenting fears are well founded. This instantly turns a child allowance into a power struggle --something parents have enough of already. A child allowance should be an independent stream of income, used as its own learning experience, not a facilitator for others.
(2) Start at the right age, with the right amount of money. Most experts suggest one dollar for every year of a child's age. So a five year old would get five dollars a week. Five and six year olds can start to grasp the concept of saving and spending money. Seven to 12 year olds are really in the sweet spot for starting healthy financial habits, they want to buy things and are becoming increasingly good at math.
(3) Have some short term goals--toys, candy, games, etc. But suggest some long term spending goals that you know will come up -- electronic gear, a bike, expensive clothing.
(4) Use a child allowance as a real teaching opportunity. Let your child pick a charity and donate to it every few months. Start a college or private school savings account that they can contribute to. Even if it's only a small portion of the real money you'll need, let them feel what it's like to save for these important life goals. Money guru Warren Buffett says he bought his first stock at age 11, so you can never think too big.
(5) Develop a system and stick with it. Some people use a three jar method for saving, spending and donations. Others have bank accounts. The goal center at Kidworth.com offers tools to help families manage their financial habits online and it starts with a child allowance.
The most important thing to do is be active about your children and their money. When approached correctly, a child "allowance" doesn't have to be a dirty word, it can be a positive partnership between parents and their kids that will last a lifetime.