This year, I focused on achieving big and small things, and I tracked my progress. Sure, I was hoping to show I could meet those goals but I hoped I’d learn a few lessons about myself along the way. So in a few posts before year-end, I’d like to wrap my arms around some of the personal successes and struggles of 2017.
First up: the allowance experiment.
The whole idea of giving our girls an allowance started with a benign conversation about smartphones. My older daughter is obsessed with the circumstances that will facilitate access to her very own device. Plenty of her friends have their own devices and we have devices we share across the family, so we haven’t given the kids their own dedicated screens. My husband and I haven’t had a conversation about that in a while and I don’t think there’s any smug convictions behind that decision. It’s just not time yet in our family.
So one day, she asked innocently, “If I save for an iPhone, can I buy one?”
And I answered swiftly, “Sure, honey, but they are very expensive.”
The only issue: she is motivated (or at least, at the time she WAS motivated).
So I thought, if I can capture this willingness to be helpful, to be engaged in the household, then maybe it will be good for everyone.
What a rookie mistake.
I did some research about allowances, the best age to start, appropriate amounts, among other things. Like any parenting quandary, ask one question, you’ll get seventeen answers. It was like asking about best practices in potty training. There seemed be a few points of agreement: best not to tie allowance to chores or kids could decide later to boycott chores (especially then they earn their own money), be consistent, and encourage savings goals. There was loose guidance about appropriateness of allowance amounts. And that was all.
I made a plan to give the girls an allowance every week, I took out tons of one dollar bills and arranged envelopes for the first six weeks of the year. And then I patted myself on the back and waited until the first of the year. I was so excited to help them save, spend and give.
There were some short-term and medium term issues with this plan.
First, I did research but not the math. The girls were 7 and 5 when we started this experiment and conventional advice said pay them either $1 per year they were born or $.50. With odd ages, I didn’t want to be dealing in quarters so I just made up little envelopes with seven singles and five singles in them, neatly dated in the corner (and sealed with stickers). I didn’t do the longer term math–$12/week amounted to $624/year. That was just too much money for two little girls to handle. And if I gave them a raise on their birthdays (which was my original plan), we would exceed that total for the year.
A second issue: setting savings goals for some children is a challenge, requiring a level of patience that my own daughters don’t currently possess. We knew we might have to match some savings in the beginning to help them feel as though they were making progress towards their goals, but my youngest quickly got frustrated because it was taking her a long time to save for the Lego toy she wanted. I had forgotten that my oldest had a head start with savings from tooth fairy visits as well. There was also the tension between saving everything for one big goal and leaving nothing in reserve, which we didn’t want them to do. I tried to mitigate the frustration by picking super small items they could use their allowance to purchase that would allow them the satisfaction of having paid for it themselves without blowing the bank. We had limited success using this strategy,
Third, while experts may say that children can handle money math early on, my children were not quite there yet. For us, there was too much confusion over what the money represented. Our oldest has learned some money math but our youngest is still working on the basics so she didn’t understand that a stack of 5 one-dollar bills is the same as one five-dollar bill. So ones would pile up in her wallet making it impractical (and slightly unsafe if we lost them) to take her wallet with her out in the world.
Fourth, helping children learn to be philanthropic is a new experience. The idea of giving to something is not a new concept–they have been giving tzedakah since they could walk–but they have never been able to direct their charitable giving. I helped them identify a charity that they would support, but it took a lot of coaxing and explaining. After a few long conversations, my oldest picked Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and my youngest picked “an animal shelter.”
Finally, a little competition emerged that defeated the entire purpose. It is natural (I hope) for children to compete and compare to their neighbors and friends and sisters. And after a few weeks, I did see the girls counting their savings (to see if they were close to their goals) and getting frustrated (especially the little one) if they fell short. And I also saw a few ugly moments of competition over who had more money–this was not the plan!!
Needless to say, my diligence fizzled out after a particularly fiery Friday night allowance distribution situation. I can’t remember when I needed to put the brakes on the experiment but something about the confusion and the crying, I thought it was time to take a break.
So in summary: Started allowances too high, didn’t allow room for growth, confusion and competition.
2018 is around the corner and I’m ready to try this again….