Elisabeth Leamy
5 minute read
18 Oct 2017
11:14 am

Why parents who pay their kids for chores are getting it wrong

Elisabeth Leamy

Pocket money should be for learning – not for earning.

Picture: iStock

Eighty-three percent of parents who give their kids pocket money believe their children should earn it by doing chores, according to an annual T. Rowe Price survey. Those parents are getting it wrong, if you believe a pile of parenting books going back a couple of decades that say pocket money should be for learning – not for earning.

Pocket money ought to stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool

For a recent one, Ron Lieber’s The Opposite of Spoiled argues that we shouldn’t give pocket money in exchange for chores because one day our kids will decide they don’t need the money and refuse to do the work. “So, pocket money ought to stand on its own, not as a wage but as a teaching tool,” Lieber writes.

Then there’s Positive Discipline A-Z, the classic by Jane Nelsen. Nelsen, too, argues that pocket money should be educational: “Chores are a separate issue and should not be connected to pocket money.”

Even the venerable Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare, first published in 1945, had come around by the eighth edition and proclaimed: “Pocket money is a way for children to learn about handling money and shouldn’t be used as payment for routine chores.”

So, does this mean our kids shouldn’t do routine chores? No. It just means that they shouldn’t get paid for them.

Children should help out around the house because it’s the right thing to do, not because they make money from it

These parenting experts – and more – argue that children should help out around the house because it’s the right thing to do, not because they make money at it. Many suggest that if you want to pay your children to do extra work around the house – your own work – that’s perfectly fine. Some parents encourage their kids to look for jobs that need to be done and name a price, as a way of encouraging entrepreneurship.

The T. Rowe Price survey also found that 34% of parents don’t give their children pocket money at all, and these experts say that’s another mistake. After all, to learn to ride a bike, you need a bike. To learn to play the violin, you need a violin. And to learn to manage money, you need money. Even in households where money is tight, parents can move a little bit of the money they spend on their children into an allowance for the children to spend on themselves.

So that’s the ‘why’ of pocket money. But what about the when, where, how, how much and how often?


In the T. Rowe Price survey, 20% of the parents who give pocket money, started doing it when their kids were six; that was followed by ages seven and eight, each with 19%. So, there is no one ‘right’ age.

The consensus among experts is that you should give your child pocket money as soon as he or she begins noticing and asking about money. Lieber gives the practical suggestion of starting pocket money soon after the tooth fairy first comes, as this will certainly make your son or daughter take a sudden interest in money!

How often

Once you start with pocket money, how often do you dole it out? The majority of parents give their children this money on a weekly basis, and the experts say that’s fine for little kids. However, for teenagers, some suggest a larger, monthly allowance to give them practice making their funds stretch over time.

How and where

Similarly, you could change your method of payment as your kids grow up. For example, kids in the single digits are learning to count and like visual and tactile stimulation, so giving them cash and coins is a learning experience. Some parents have their children divide that money into separate jars or multi-compartment piggy banks, allocated for ‘spending’, ‘saving’ and ‘donating’.

You may be able to reach your screen-obsessed tweens by giving them their money via various apps that allow you to deposit money, and allow them to group that money into virtual jars, instead of real jars. Some even enable them to make purchases straight from the app.

For older teens, money and parenting experts suggest a bank account with a debit card to give them practice for the real world that’s just around the corner.

How much

There’s one final, fraught category to tackle: how much.

The amount of pocket money you give depends, in part, on your financial circumstances. But experts do agree on a broad strategy: Give enough so that your children can buy small things they want but will have to save up for bigger things — great practice for real life.

Depending on their maturity level, you could pick age 13 or 16 to turn over much of the money you spend on your child to your child. I’m not talking about grocery money, because that’s a collective family expense.

The idea is to give your teens a heftier allowance to cover clothing, cell phone bills and other personal expenses. If you try it, you should let your older child sink or swim with that money – better to practice when they’re 13, under your protection, than when they’re 23 and out in the big, cold world.

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First published on Washington Post