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By Deanna McFadden

When I was small, my mother was very clear about many things–we weren’t to eat a lot of sugar, and we were never to have an allowance. Her rationale was that we never wanted for anything (true) and that she didn’t believe in allowances.

My mother had a tragic accident when I was fourteen so I’ve never been able to ask her why she felt that way, and when I ask my father his response is usually, “I don’t remember.” I do clearly remember having some “mad money,” a spare bit of change that we could use at the corner store for treats (never sugar, chips were okay) but it was never called an “allowance” and it was never tied to any kind of chores we did around the house.

Our chores were our chores. Mine was dusting on Saturday mornings while CHUM FM played in the background. I will forever equate Phil Collins with weekend housecleaning. That said, I agree with the opinion that giving kids an allowance based on work they do around the house teaches a certain respect for how the world works, and I believe that’s important.

For me, growing up, the issue was that I never really understood how money worked. We had things, and our parents were generous, but I had no real experience with it as a larger concept. What little money I made – babysitting when I was older and cash for birthdays and Christmas – was mine to do with what I wanted. And with no structure, by the time I became a young adult, I had no sense of how to manage it.

This equalled a rough few years at the beginning of university before I really learned how to budget and ensure that I had enough to buy things like, well, food. Whether or not you philosophically believe that an allowance is right for your family, it’s important to still be teaching your kids some basic skills when it comes to money management, to talk about it and to include some basic lessons that will help them as they grow older.

Explain the concept with young kids through play

We’re working with our two-and-a-half-year-old to understand the difference between a nickel, a dime, a loonie, etc., and while he doesn’t know what to do with them, he’s starting to recognize how and why they’re different. We keep a small amount of change in an elephant piggy bank that we empty out occasionally and divide all the change into its proper piles.

Allowance

Often this ends up with a lot of change spread around, but I’m okay with it as long as the change doesn’t end up in his nose or his mouth.

Use board games like Monopoly to help older kids with more advanced concepts

It’s the quintessential family game night — those hours-and-hours long, seemingly never-ending sessions with the monocled man. But it’s terrific in terms of learning the concept of buying, selling, saving and strategizing about finances.

Talk openly about options, expenses, and resources

Every family has their own approach, whether they’re savers or spenders – whether money is important or not important – and it’s a good exercise to sit down and talk about the philosophical questions of the world we live in. Explaining how money works is one thing, but there’s a whole underlying discussion that needs to happen about the value of work and of resources: the real cost of the goods we buy. The $100.00 sneakers mean a lot more if you have to work three part-time jobs to afford them, and that’s something I didn’t learn until far too late.

I think that I’d like to give my son an allowance when he’s older, in return for chores that are outside of the “regular” things that need to be done around the house. We all contribute to the basic day-to-day upkeep of the house: emptying the dishwasher, clean bedrooms, tidying up toys. But maybe I’ll come up with a creative list of “chores” that sit outside of the regular household grind that we can chart in the kitchen and let him decide to do or not to do.

And I think I’ll follow these basic rules about allowances that I’ve seen in various places:

1. Cater the amount to the child’s age. So if the child is three, they get three dollars. Easy-peasy. And it means they’ll look forward to getting a raise on a yearly basis, just like mom does at work.

2. Split the allowances up into three distinct piles. For us, it’ll be: saving, spending and giving — you’re never too young to learn that charity is important.

3. I will not judge what he chooses to spend his money on. That will be a hard one for me. I’m not sure I’d be supportive of some of the choices that he’ll make, but part of learning money independence is making mistakes too. I mean, who isn’t still learning this today? Who doesn’t have an entire closet full of regret, some of them with the tags still on them.

That, however, might be a column for another day.

Deanna McFadden works in publishing and lives with her indie-rock husband and son in Toronto. She writes about about life, love, books, rock and roll, and living with Wegener’s Granulomatosis here

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