How to Teach Your Children That It’s NOT an “Allowance”

Teaching Your Children About Money Series - Kristen's Story

Does putting our children to work versus handing them an allowance make THAT much difference?  Will they grow up telling everyone their parents were tyrannical?  Or will they grow up with a greater appreciation for what they’ve earned?

My friend Kristen, a talented and hard-working mother of four, joins us today to tackle this subject of the ALLOWANCE.  She shares many personal examples that worked in her family – some that didn’t – and some she is learning right now.


Please tell us a little about yourself and your family.

Hi!  I’m Kristen and I raise chickens and children on a 35 acre hobby farm in NE Indiana.  I am married to Jay (for 19 years) and have 4 children aged 12, 9 1/2, 8 and 6.  We also have a flock of 13 chickens and I’m petitioning for goats.  It’s not going well.  Alpacas?  Llamas?  Nothing.

I am a full-time wife and homeschooling mom, a part time instructor at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, a free lance writer and virtual assistant, and a jack of all trades.


What teachable moment regarding your children and money would you like to share? 

I am not a fan of allowance.  I was never granted one nor was my husband.  Both of us were taught that earning money was the best way to learn the value of hard work.  Our parents took care of our daily needs and allocated funds for us to use for necessities (school clothes, supplies).  Any additional fun things we wanted outside of birthday or Christmas gifts were on us.

Jay will often tell the kids about working to mow lawns and saving hundreds of dollars to purchase a 10-speed bike (that was later stolen, it is a sad story for another post).  He saved every penny in pursuit of that bike.  It helped him to fully appreciate how hard it is to save for a big purchase and how satisfying it is to take your own money to the store.

I had similar experiences as a child.  We both wanted our kids grasp the concept of being part of a family where everyone must play a part while also instilling an understanding that in the “real world” you have to earn what you want to spend.

We have a chore chart.  Chores are listed each day and sometimes assigned depending on age/ability of the child.  These are as simple as:

  • gather and wash the eggs from the coop
  • empty the dishwasher
  • gather and sort the laundry

Each chore is usually rewarded with a quarter.  Bigger (sometimes more disgusting) chores can warrant 50 cents.  These might include scooping the litter box or helping in the garden.

The children also have a to-do list that must be completed before they can earn any money for the day.  This is a short list:  get dressed, brush your hair and teeth,  ship-shape your room, etc.  The to-do list is not optional.

I keep a bank of $20 in quarters, singles, and five dollar bills.  As the chore is completed, I hand off the quarter.  I tried stickers and tally marks, but this usually ended in me forgetting to pay them and frustration all around.  Having immediate payment helps the kids see how much they have earned and reinforces that work means pay.

Goal setting as a family:

This summer we’ve also tried incorporating Jon Acuff’s DO SUMMER chart.  Goals are broken down in manageable 15 minute increments and the chart is a 10 x 10 grid of boxes to check when the task is done.

This summer the older kids are focusing on writing skills.  The 2 younger kids are focusing on reading.  We are still trying to get the 6 year old interested in reading anything without acting like we are dipping her in boiling oil.

So… the charts went up and the incentive is this:  finish the entire chart before mid-August and you earn $15.  (1500 minutes=$15.00 a penny a minute, right?)


All the kids are looking forward to a family trip with cousins and are working to earn money for this trip.  So far, it’s marginally successful.  I think I’ll have to make the charts part of the morning to-do lists or nobody will finish.  Including me.

(My goals are 1500 minutes of writing which I’m knocking some of that out now and 1500 minutes of training for the Insane Inflatable 5K in August.  I’m doing it with the 12 yo daughter who will likely kick my butt.)


What is the most rewarding part of the experience for you?

The kids are getting it.  They have goals they want to reach and they work to get there.

The boys recently accumulated $5 each and they wanted to add to the thousands of Lego already dotting the floor of their room.  After getting approval for the purchase, they patiently waited until the next trip to Meijer and they paid for small kits with their own money.  They know they will get clothes and other necessities, but toys and treats are their responsibility.

Fair vs. Equitable:

They also understand the difference between “fair” and “equitable”.  Fair means treated the way you should be treated.  Equitable means being treated the same as everyone else.  Is it equitable that the boys bought Lego?  Nope.

The girls have different goals and to force everyone to spend money on Lego wouldn’t be right.  Is it fair that the oldest, most industrious and therefore wealthiest child got to buy her own popcorn at the movie and nobody else got any?  Yes.  (and thankfully she has such a giving heart she shared!)

Leading by example:

They see us tithe and give cheerfully so they want to follow our example. My oldest recently bought her younger sister a stuffed toy for her birthday-just to see the joy on her little sister’s face.  And the younger sister used her birthday money to buy a gift for her older sister.

All 4 kids are also now tithing from their earnings.  It is a joy to see them hold their money loosely and to share it.


What is the most challenging part of the experience for you?

There are several challenges:

1.  The “burning a hole in your pocket” syndrome.  I have 2 kids that must, must, must spend their money the moment they earn it.  They will frequent the vending machines found in lobbies of Meijer where you can get a toy or trinket for 50 cents and BEG to be able to spend their money.

I had to instill the rule that prior to purchases you must inform a parent of your intention, show that you have earned the money (no IOU), and wait until the next visit to said store. I am hoping to eliminate impulse buying and wasteful spending by discussing the merits of each purchase and giving the decision a few days to sit with the child.

If the desire is still there and the money has been earned (and I endorse the purchase) the child has the freedom to buy.  One child insisted on buying a car model that was beyond his ability even after much discussion.  He couldn’t complete the model and ended up throwing away a gluey mangled mess of Roscoe P Coltrain’s  Dukes of Hazard Sheriff car.  Lesson learned.


2.  The lazy, lazy whining boy challenge.  I have one son who is brilliant.  He really is.  The kid can put together small appliances without instructions.  He builds intricate Lego models from plans he creates.  He memorizes Scriptures with ease.  And he is capable of work beyond his age-which is 9.

But when it comes to the dreaded chores, he whines, procrastinates, gets distracted, and fails to complete even the simplest of tasks.  Our motto is, “I obey right away, without complaint, until complete.”

For him, this is like Kryptonite.

He becomes paralyzed if it’s not fun work.  It is not a matter of ability-but attitude.  So for him-big goals are necessary.  Since he is addicted to Lego he wanders the toy aisle dreaming of the next kit he can acquire.  I have to hold these goals over his head and remind him, often with every assigned chore, that each chore means one step closer to that next purchase.  And I will not pay this child if he whines the entire time he is doing it; nor will I allow any further chore opportunities for the remainder of the day.

Needless to say, we are both trying to figure out what will work better in this situation because the whining is prevalent and at times constant.


3.  The challenge of finding appropriate chores for the kids.  I can’t ask them to change the oil in the car, and they aren’t old enough to use sharp knives, mow the grass or sign complex insurance forms.  I did switch out my cleaning products for non-toxic, water-based alternatives (Norwex) so I can hand off almost any cleaning job to my oldest two.  My youngest can do simple tasks like wiping down the toilets and cleaning the mirrors.

But with 4 kids, there just isn’t enough age appropriate work every day.  I try to get creative, but often find frustration in asking beyond their ability or doling out the mundane every day.


When you were a child, what was your favorite money moment? 

I started babysitting when I was 11.  My parents paid for a safe-sitter class at the YMCA so I could be certified.  I took care of neighborhood kids as well as my younger sister.

When I had finally earned $100 I was in awe.  One hundred bucks!  I would count and recount it from my bank.  I didn’t really need or want anything so my mom offered to start a savings account.  Wow.  I was almost like a real adult; and I was only 11.

I began to grasp the concept of long-term saving.  I used babysitting money, scholarship money, Christmas and birthday money as well as money earned from jobs in high school and college; and the school fund set up by my parents to pay all but $2000 of my college expenses.  I did not have to take out a student loan.

I repaid my parents the $2000 I owed them from my first paychecks after graduation.  My first bonus check went to start an IRA.


Let’s say a young couple with a newborn sits beside you on a bus.  They lean over and ask you, “What are the three most important things we should teach our child about money?”  What do you tell them?

  1. It isn’t yours to begin with.  Yes, you earned it; but it ultimately belongs to the Lord.  He is the provider; not a corporation or a job.  Hold on to it loosely.
  2. Money is a tool and should be used as such.  There shouldn’t be an emotional attachment to it.  If your problem can be solved with a checkbook-is it really such a big problem?
  3. There is this great magical power called “compound interest”.  Start saving as early as possible and watch this wondrous feat unfold with every passing year.


Kristen will soon be blogging at Untold Ministries – a team of Christ followers who create short videos that tell the “untold” stories of God’s unfailing love.  Find them  at (the site is still under construction…) or on Facebook.

This article is part of an ongoing series called “Teaching Your Children About Money”.  If you have a teachable moment to share, please feel free to tell me about it at lauraharris(at)piggybankdreams(dot)com.


Join the Discussion:  Should children get an “allowance” or should they earn every penny?


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8 thoughts on “How to Teach Your Children That It’s NOT an “Allowance”

  1. Wow. OK, I’ll admit it. This interview humbles me a bit too much for this time in the morning : ) Very impressive, proactive parenting! Too late for us – our children are in their teens and 20s. I really do wish that we had set ourselves up differently right from the get-go. That being said, there is wisdom in here that I can still glean and apply : )

    • I wouldn’t say it’s too late, Ruth. I just got back from a family reunion, and when I took a turn driving, my dad and I spent much of the time talking about driving techniques and how to improve (and I’m nearing 30). I wouldn’t want him to do that every time I got behind the wheel, but I was receptive to his teaching because he talked to me like an adult, and he’s one of the smartest drivers I know. Your sphere of influence hasn’t disappeared completely. You may just have to wait for the right “window” of opportunity to speak on the subject again with your grown children. 🙂

      • That is good advice, Laura. Waiting for the window of opportunity is far more effective than just blurting out my “wisdom” when it’s not necessarily welcome.

  2. Great non-allowance teachings. With our 3 children, we don’t even call it allowance, it’s the commission system in our home and based on the amount of work/chores they do they have the potential to earn more.

  3. Great tips! I love the pay right away! That would be so much easier, because I often don’t have cash on the “official” payday, and then they have to wait longer. I’m going to apply this and more. Fantastic! Thank you for sharing, Kristen!