Saturday, October 4, 2008


Today in a torrent of pouring rain, I rushed into Target with six children scurrying behind in my wake. (Yes, we had one extra today.) Our purpose: spend the kids’ allowance money.

Mark has a wonderful system for the kids’ allowance. Your allowance is your age in dollars. So if you’re 6, you get $6.00, and every time you have a birthday you get a raise. In theory, allowance is your reward for all your contributions to the family, including chores. But we keep the link between chores and allowance pretty weak. We feel that in a family everyone should contribute without expectation of monetary compensation. Sometimes when a kid asks me for pay for a job they’ve completed, I say, “Are you going to pay me for making your dinner?”

Mark goes to the bank each month to get allowance money. He gets piles of golden dollars and silver half-dollars and sorts them into envelopes so each child has the perfect change to divide their allowance into 10% tithing, 40% savings, and 50% spending money. He calls each child to the kitchen table—including Jesse--and lets them open their envelope. They plink their coins onto the table and he asks, “Now, how much is your tithing?”

From last August, 16-month-old Jesse counts his allowance with Dad.

As you can see, no one ends up with all that much spending money. Thirteen-year-old Roscoe only gets $6.50 per month. But we’ve had the long-standing rule that Mom and Dad pay half for durable goods. If you want to blow your wad on candy and silly putty, you’re on your own. But if you’re saving for a cool Bionicle or remote control wasp or DVD, we’ll match your funds. This is intended to help encourage the kids to save for more meaningful items. (Our next step would be to up the big kids’ allowance and put them in charge of buying their own shoes and clothing and school supplies. But then, I’m quite sure, Roscoe would turn into a total scarecrow and I’m just not ready for that.)

The negotiations and calculations in Target’s toy section are intense. Today Levi sprawled out on the floor to take each coin out of his wallet and count it—again. I could get two packs of Yu-gi-oh cards. But then I couldn’t afford a Bionicle. I could save for that huge robot, but then I couldn’t buy anything today at all. In truth, they didn’t really need any of the things they finally bought. But they’re learning to balance the desire to spend with the need to save, they’re learning to assess value, and sometimes they’re experiencing buyer’s remorse. All in a lower-stakes venue than a college credit card.

So we went through the checkout with frantic kids shouting, “Where’s my ring pop?” and “Mom, here’s my $2.00!” I piled change into neat $1 piles on the conveyor belt, but the checkout girl wasn’t in my groove and let the coins pile up and then fall onto the floor. Then Jesse dropped his Skittles, and the kids scrambled to sort everything out while I concentrated on looking serene, because there’s nothing worse than a mom losing her cool at the checkout.

On the way home, we analyzed the receipt and realized Logan had accidentally bought the “gigantic” hair ball instead of the “large” one and therefore owed me an extra $4. We recorded our balances in the allowance ledger book. Now Haley and her friend are sucking on ring pops, Levi isn’t totally thrilled with his two packs of World of Warcraft cards, Logan has assembled his new Bionicle, and Roscoe is driving a remote control car across the ceiling.


  1. I like the idea of doing allowance once a month. Every week is just too much to remember! That makes tithing easier too!

  2. Sometimes I go awhile and read several of your posts at once, and I'm so struck with the similarity of our experiences. I just want to comment "me too!" about all of it!

  3. OK, A: That picture of Jesse with his pudgy baby arms is killing me! When do they grow up?

    B: Once again I am amazed at how together you are. That is such a genius program. Your kids will benefit from it so much! And I'm sure it's a pain but I'm also sure you already know how worth it it is.

  4. That red hair! I love that red hair! I'm really liking this system. I've never liked tying money to chores for the same reasons as you.