Allowance for Chores? Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Tie an Allowance to Chores as You Try to Raise Money-Smart, Money-Empowered Kids

Lots of kids got spanked when I was younger because this method of discipline appeared to work. The base reasoning made intuitive sense: My kid is being a total jerk and seems to deserve a good whacking. And spanking worked, at least temporarily. Now that I’m a parent, I understand the value of a respite from a child who may be driving you crazy.

But my wife and I don’t spank.

We now know that spanking does more than just redden kids’ behinds. Ultimately, spanking leads to more physical aggression and is ineffective in the long run. The American Association of Pediatrics’ (AAP) statement against spanking didn’t come out until 1998. It could be argued that up until that point, parents simply didn’t know. Now we do.

Which brings us to why I’m talking about spanking on a blog about raising money-smart kids.

I’d like to see more parents decouple chores and allowance. Just as I understand the impulse to spank—I want to smack my kids from time to time too—I understand the impulse that we should tie chores to allowance. Doing so makes intuitive sense. We have to work for our money, so our kids should have to work for theirs too. And they should learn that lesson. But it should be taught differently.

Financial literacy lacks its own AAP, but the closest thing is surveying the opinions of some of the experts of the field. Most have come out against coupling chores and allowance. But just as spanking persists, so does the tie between chores and allowance. It appears that this relationship is so for the same reason. Because that’s how it’s been done for generations.

This excerpt from my book, The Art of Allowance: A Short, Practical Guide to Raising Money-Smart, Money-Empowered Kids, provides some clarity:

If you’ve researched allowance prior to picking up this book, then you’re likely familiar with the hullabaloo about whether parents should tie allowance to chores.  Opinions abound.

Karyn Hodgens, a youth money expert, elegantly describes the reasoning behind decoupling chores and allowance in her essay “Motivation Theory Applied to the Allowance/Chore  Debate.” (See theartofallowance.com for the entire essay.)

I agree with Hodgens’ basic logic. Though paying a child for chores can teach him that money comes from work—a valuable lesson—allowance is more effectively used as a  money-empowerment tool. By providing him an allowance with money he mostly controls and by giving him proper parental guidance and nudging, he can learn the three core  skills: making smart money choices, distinguishing needs from wants and saving for goals. He will learn to handle money as a tool—including making mistakes with actual money—on his way to becoming money-smart and money-empowered.

He does basic chores, such as clearing the table or making his bed, because you’re raising a responsible member of the household. You can teach him the link between hard work  and money—a different lesson than the one afforded by allowance—by giving him what Hodgens calls “Above-and-Beyond Jobs.” These tasks, like mowing the lawn or cleaning  the car, are jobs that you might pay someone else to do.* Of course, what’s “basic” and what’s “Above-and-Beyond” will differ from family to family. Again, the art .

[Want to know more about The Art of Allowance?  Click here.

Motivation theory teaches us that allowance, when not controlled by chores, is controlled by your child. Via intrinsic motivation, essentially self-motivation, your child is exerting  his own power over the choices from which he will learn. The control is in his hands.

Extrinsic motivation—driven by external factors—has consistently been shown to have decreasing motivational power the longer those outside rewards are used. Kids (and adults)  become desensitized to extrinsic motivation.**

Some individuals argue that an allowance not tied to chores is akin to an entitlement.*** That belief assumes accountability only comes from working for money. Of course, just giving  him some money and calling it an allowance is an entitlement. Granting him a purposeful allowance with a plan as described  here is not a handout.

There will be time for him to learn the lesson that money can come from work, but the primary purpose of an allowance is to teach him to become a responsible user of money as a  tool. When you intentionally craft your own Art of Allowance using strategies identified in this book, you turn money into a  teaching tool.

One additional benefit which Hodgens doesn’t mention is that decoupling chores and allowance helps reduce money negativity. As any parent who assigns chores knows, they  often lead to conflict. This negativity inevitably spills into money conversations. If your kids do chores as ours do, then you can probably relate to this fun exchange:

“Honey, it’s time to clean the dishes.”

Her eyes protrude.

The blood drains from her face.

Her mouth opens. “Nooooooooooo!”

With allowance and chores intertwined, this exchange likely devolves into a money threat: “If you don’t do your chores, then you’re not getting paid!” When possible, we should try to limit money negativity. Money conversations  are already often burdened by persistent societal taboos that promote silence about the green stuff. These taboos are fed by negativity, which is fueled by many issues, including the  embarrassment about our own use of money, the guilt of having too much or the desperation of not having enough. By tying chores and allowance together, you’re setting the  stage for more money conflict. Decoupling can help change this outcome.

[Want to know more about The Art of Allowance?  Click here.

So, are you wrong to tie chores to allowance? Not necessarily. There are some authorities who think chores must accompany allowance. The case is not closed. In fact,  there are researchers who question an allowance in general.**** If you feel uncomfortable providing your child an allowance without tying it to chores, then tie away.

My opinion on this issue has evolved over time. I now believe that your giving an allowance to and beginning a money dialogue with your child are more important than my  trying to convince you that decoupling allowance and chores is the better path. Whatever you decide, remember, choosing some form of allowance is important. Without real money,  teaching money smarts is just an abstraction.

As the end of this section of my book implies, there is not research that I’m aware of that confirms that decoupling chores and allowance will keep your 6-year-old from becoming the next Great American Spendthrift. That’s why I make an allowance (pun intended) for differing thought. And yes, I’m hopeful that we’ll see research done about the tie between chores and allowance. It would be wonderful to run a long-term study or meta-analysis to help us control for factors like class, education, etc. and provide a more research-based statement about the importance of decoupling chores and allowance.

To be sure, part of the problem is in the word itself. “Allowance” is a weighty term in American society that suggests “a handout.” As I note above, without purpose, an allowance is a handout. I thought of trying to rebrand allowance as some money experts have done. However, I determined that despite its baggage, “allowance” is still a most useful term because parents immediately know that a discussion about it should be a conversation about raising money-smart, money-empowered kids. So playing the semantic game would take the same—if not more—work to educate folks about how to rethink their approach to raising their kids.

As always, I wish you all the best as you work to raise money-smart, money-empowered children.

-John

Works Cited

*Hodgens, Karyn. “Motivation Theory Applied to the Allowance/Chore Debate.” KidnexionsSeptember 2010, http://kidnexions.com/pdf/MotivationTheoryAppliedtotheAllowance.pdf.

**Pink, Daniel. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Penguin Group, 2011), 34-37.

***Kadlec, Dan. “Why Giving Your Kids an Allowance May Not Teach Them Anything.” TIMEFebruary 15, 2012, http://business.time.com/2012/02/15/why-giving-your-kids-an-allowance-might- not-be-teaching-them-anything/.

****Mandell, Lewis. “Child Allowances – Beneficial or Harmful?” Lewis Mandell, Ph.D., August 12, 2017, http://lewismandell.com/child_allowances_-_beneficial_or_harmful.