The children’s allowance as an antidote to the gimmies

Over Christmas break, the entire extended family went to Cracker Barrel for lunch.  Since there were 14 of us, we ended up waiting in their store for quite some time.  All the other cousins asked for (and occasionally whined for) random trinkets and junk food, but our kids didn’t.  I wracked my brain as to why my kids weren’t and really never do, and when I asked DH he said, obviously it’s because our response is always, “Did you bring your allowance?  Do you have enough money saved up from your allowance?”  And that makes total sense.  Our friends in Paradise all gave their kids allowances and their kids never had the gimmies when we were out and about either.

DC1 saves up hir allowance to purchase big things like video games and board games (and holiday/birthday gifts for other people).  DC2 buys stuffed animals or candy every time zie goes to the grocery store.  In the end, I think they probably end up with as much random stuff as their cousins (or maybe a little bit less, I dunno), but all in all it is much more pleasant for us because we’re not put in the position of having to say yes or no.   We just give them a predictable amount each month (currently 20 cents per year of age, which is not that much money!) and they make their own purchasing decisions.  (DC1 also makes some money from doing RA work for me, and they both occasionally get $10 or $20 bills in cards from grandparents.)  They may also end up with stuff that they prefer because they’re the one making those yes/no decisions so they’re in the position to optimize rather than just getting what our more random choices give them.

DC1 did complain recently that hir friends who get allowances all get $5 or more per week but zie only gets $2.20.  Sorry, kid!

How do you deal with the gimmies?  Did you have an allowance growing up, and did it help?  If you didn’t have an allowance, how did you get little luxuries (if any)?

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22 Responses to “The children’s allowance as an antidote to the gimmies”

  1. Mary Says:

    The allowance thing doesn’t exactly work out the way I planned for my kids. One of them just saves all the money he gets (and occasionally asks me to deposit some in his bank account). He won’t spend any of his own money, but is an expert at persuading his sibling to spend her money.

    Example: we now have about 8 different varieties of Rubik’s cubes (pyramids, octagons, whatever) that sibling 2 paid for, but only sibling 1 knows how to solve. Or sibling 2 brings her own money to the school bake sale, and then shares the cookies she bought with sibling 1. Or sibling 1 draws a bunch of (admittedly very cool) pictures, then sells them to sibling 2.

    When I try to intervene, they both get upset. I feel like sibling 2 is being taken advantage of, but am not sure how to get her to stand up for herself.

    • Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

      I didn’t understand that I was being taken advantage of for a while by my older sibling either, but eventually I figured it out. I couldn’t say that I wasn’t warned, though. We both were. Mom told him that one day I would figure it out and he’d catch what was coming to him, and she wasn’t going to protect him from my wrath.

      It’s possible that Sibling 2 has figured out that she enjoys sharing more than she cares about unfair spending. I have friends for whom money is simply a means of bringing joy to themselves or others and they don’t care if it’s reciprocal when they have faith in the relationship. I prefer fairness, myself, but it’s a legitimate choice as long as Sibling 2 still learns about saving, I suppose?

  2. Sandy L Says:

    Our kids don’t get an allowance but have money chores where they can earn cash. Those are usually chores that are extra like mowing the lawn. Dishes, laundry, and general picking up after oneself do not count. It took a little figuring because for a while they started wanting money for every little thing and then I’d be like, do you pay me for cooking your dinner? Well then, stop whining and put away the dishes.

    Especially with my older one, his money is more precious than ours. So our catch phrase is “do you want to spend your own money on it?” Usually he will change his mind if it’s his money but sometimes he really wants something and will splurge. He’s naturally a saver and and likes the feeling of accumulating cash. The younger one spends more readily.

    I am not against allowances, it’s just one more thing to add to my week that I don’t have the energy to do consistently. Our solution is that there is always cash to be made if they want it. Our chores list is endless in a big ol house

  3. L.M. Says:

    Our kids have savings accounts connected to ours and we have automatic transfers into them each Saturday. We tried cash, but it just didn’t work. This means that we generally pay for what the kids want to buy and then take the money out of their accounts most of the time, which isn’t ideal but works. In elementary school, they get $.50/week per year of age; in middle school, $.75/week per year of age, and in high school $1.00/week per year of age. We expect them to buy toys and trinkets (for the older girls, makeup and jewelry) that they want with their own money. As they’ve gotten older, we give them a certain amount to spend on clothing a few times a year, and they pay for anything beyond that. We occasionally buy clothing in between if it’s really needed (something appropriate for a school concert or for a funeral) but not usually. My husband does a really good job of talking through their bank statements each month so they understand how to read them and how money comes in and out.

  4. Lisa Says:

    After trying several things that didn’t work so well, we’ve settled on a monthly allowance system, which has worked well for a couple of years so far. It’s much less stressful for me than trying to remember to have petty cash on hand every week! Once they start kindergarten, the kids get $2 per year of age per month. I put it in an envelope for them on a shelf and can record it on the envelope so I don’t get confused about whether I forgot a month. One of them has a ton saved up (that I should deposit in the savings account) and the other usually has a use for the money as it comes in. I often buy them things on Amazon and they pay me back. I’ll do the same if we’re out somewhere and they see something they can’t live without but don’t have their allowance with them. But I agree that making them buy it with their own money curbs some of the whining and some of the impulse buying.

    Money chores haven’t taken off as well as I’d hoped yet, but they’re always available and we’ll keep at it as a way to make more money. One thing we are adding as the kids get older is making them save a fixed amount each month (with the incentive that we will match their savings) on a schedule that will give them ~$10,000 by the time they are 18. Sadly, that’s not enough to buy much these days (i.e. college), but will hopefully teach them the importance of saving (and employer matching programs! too bad no one gets excited about compound interest on savings accounts these days… eventually we can use mechanisms with higher returns). This amount will slowly rise to more than their monthly allowance, so I hope the money chores will become more popular. We’ll also start giving fixed clothing allowances in the next couple of years. My oldest is already asking for this, because zie thinks it sounds fun.

  5. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I won’t give an allowance for doing chores because I consider them a non-negotiable part of living in a household that you don’t get rewarded for doing but we have been offering chances to earn small regular rewards for doing a full morning routine without whining or dragging zir feet. I didn’t *like* taking that route but at age 3, I’m told that the intrinsic motivation thing hasn’t been developed yet and it’s more important that they learn how to behave and do their chores.

    And I suppose there’s value in learning that whole thing about only needing to be really good at your job *or* fast at it if you are also pleasant to work with.

    I haven’t figured out how to do an allowance yet that doesn’t undermine my original thesis that if you live here, you do chores, but I’m going to use the No Whining rewards to teach zir how to save and spend, and that ties into the gimmes. Before ze even had the chance to earn money, when ze would ask for something, we’d ask if ze wanted that more than the thing we were saving up for. Usually the answer was no.

    • Lisa Says:

      I struggled with this same philosophical problem for a long time. Now we tie allowance to “learning about financial responsibility” and chores are something we all do to contribute to the household. For me, this didn’t work until the kids were a bit older (maybe 8-9?). With my 3 year old I don’t even try – what does a 3 year old need to buy, anyway? Until recently zie called all money “tuppence” in a nod to Mary Poppins. We’ll see how quickly they pick up on the fact that the older kids get allowance and want it, too.

    • Debbie M Says:

      My parents decided that when there were chores to do, we all had to help. And when there was extra money, we got an allowance. So that’s one strategy.

      In reality, we didn’t do very many chores–just dishes, our own laundry, and keeping our own rooms neat. And we didn’t do the last one very well, but no one did it for us, either, so we got the natural feedback.

      There were only two points in my childhood when we got allowance. I pretty much saved all of it, then my parents would borrow it and never pay it back. Yet I still like saving! Whew! My brother spent his immediately on small toys and junk food. We just had different personalities.

      I got my little luxuries mostly on holidays, but also other times. However, I learned very young that we couldn’t afford luxuries. I actually learned it too well–we could have afforded super cheap luxuries, like those big bouncy balls. It never even occurred to me to look up prices of things and thus to at least admit that I did want things if I knew they were cheap. Oops! Actually none of the three of us begged for things at the store–we all learned that our parents could not afford it (and our parents did not give in to us). I understand that this strategy doesn’t work for people who can afford it, but there could be some other kind of rule one could enforce.

      In college I started getting an income and I was very excited to get a few little things that I really wanted for myself such as my own scissors and nail clippers. Plus as a senior I invested in a knapsack! I also used post-HS gift money for a stereo, post-college for a tent, and post grad-school for a guitar. Now I really have too much stuff. I had to learn to stop buying everything cool that I could afford. I’m pretty good at not bringing home too much stuff but still working on getting rid of clutter I already have.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I used to hide things like school picture requests or field trip costs because my parents couldn’t afford them (or, worse, my mom would pay for something and my dad would yell at her for having done so, even though she would pay out of her paycheck, not the joint account).

      • Debbie M Says:

        Aw, that’s so sad. I never did that.

        I do admire your awesome thoughtfulness as a kid!

  6. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    We gave our son $1*(age in years) per month by automatic transfer to his savings account until he went to college, then we changed to a fixed $150/month (in addition to paying for tuition, books, computer, and room and board from his 529 account). There were no chores associated with his allowance. Before he was old enough for his own ATM card, we would pay for things he wanted to spend his money on, and then transfer the money from his account. As soon as he was old enough for his own ATM card (14, I think it was), he had full control of his money.

    He has never been a big spender nor has he ever demanded that we give him things. In fact, it has often been difficult to come up with ideas for presents for him, because he didn’t really want anything special.

    One of the few big purchases he has made was for a bicycle. The second time his bike was stolen, we made him pay for the replacement, because he had left it unlocked in a high-theft area. (The first time the lock had been cut, and we paid for the replacement.)

  7. Cloud Says:

    We give allowance at the $1 x age in years per month formula, too. It isn’t tied to chores, but the kids do have chores, and they amount we expect the to do increases as they get older in a somewhat random manner – i.e., when we think of it, we add a chore and claim it is because they are getting older.

    We still get the requests for us to buy things, but them having their own money gives an easy out, so it feels pretty manageable.

    Next, we want to work on encouraging savings, but with interest rates so low, it is hard to make a case for putting a portion of their allowance in a bank account: they won’t see it grow! We’re still discussing how to handle that.

    • L. M. Says:

      In our house, allowance is not tied to chores at all. It is just an allotment of spending money attached to being part of the family, just as my husband and I each occasionally buy things because we want them. We generally believe that chores are the responsibility of everyone in the house, and it is reasonable to ask each kid to do a 10-15 minute chore each day (really, most don’t take even that long). If I’m looking for someone to do something extra, I offer a bit of extra dessert or screen time.

  8. omdg Says:

    My guess is that setting limits and saying no consistently is the best way to get rid of the gimmes (your excellent parenting), but the allowance trick probably works too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Ha! Maybe! But it is definitely easier to say no consistently if it isn’t really a no so much as a, “you get to make this decision given your own budget constraints”.

  9. First Gen American Says:

    We also have one other unofficial savings tool, the 5 gallon water bottle. Extra change goes in it and we called it the car fund. The first one took 10 years to fill but had about $2K in it. Now the second one is being filled for kid #2. With interest rates are essentially 0 I don’t feel guilt over earnings and you can literally see your money grow. Our local Bank has a coin counter that charged very little. (I think it was 1 or 2%) so it didn’t sting to cash in like a coin star. Call around if you have coins.

  10. slnoonanj Says:

    We do the same with our kids, and they’re pretty good savers. The problem is now that they are teens and want to spend their money on stuff that is crazy. For instance, our oldest just bought a $70 designer t-shirt. We really struggle with this – on the one hand, it’s their money. On the other hand, $70 FOR A T-SHIRT? Not quite sure how to handle it. We’ve tried a lot of things – talking about value, how this might make others who can’t afford these things feel, etc. None of them seem to work – we just get a teenager rolling his eyes at his uncool parents. They are learning about the consequences of this though – after he bought that t-shirt, he wanted something else at another store, but couldn’t afford it.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Consequences is pretty good, so long as the allowance is low enough that there are some.

    • L.M. Says:

      Our kids have wanted to buy things we don’t really approve of as they’ve gotten older (in middle and high school). We have the same discussions with them – it’s not a good value, you won’t have money for something else more important. A few times, I’ve made them wait a week or two and then, if they still really want it, they can buy it. Sometimes, the desire fades. We also have a caveat that we can veto any purchase because we’re the adults, but we only really apply it to things that we don’t allow in the house in general (certain video games, slime – because I’ve banned it, etc.). It is better to learn the consequences of overspending for a t-shirt as a teenager than to learn from a larger purchase as an adult.


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