Pay Your Kids and Put them to Work!

Let me preface this post by saying I don’t have this parenting thing figured out. I yell at my kids sometimes and I can’t get them to clean their rooms. But I do know one thing: Kids want to earn money.

Think about it. When you were a kid, do you remember how much that random check was from your aunt and uncle for Christmas? I don’t. (Checks were weird!) Do you remember that hard-earned $10. Absolutely.

When I was eight, my friend and I decided to run a weeding business. We spent a few hours in the morning making flyers. We started knocking on doors. We were surprised that we were put to work right away at the first three houses (it could have been our $2/hour rate!). By late afternoon, we had each earned $4. We declared we were out of business, and we headed to the corner store to blow our dough on giant milkshakes. It was a wonderful, memorable day.

I’ve gone into detail over at Millennial Money Man about how we handle paying our children. Short version: our kids have jobs they have to do for free. If they can do those, they can be hired on Saturdays for extra chores for pay.ย There is no “allowance.”ย Penny spent all Autumn working on Saturdays to earn enough money for her waterproof camera before our Hawaii trip. She earned the money herself and is so proud of that camera. (And look at all the fun she had!)

no allowance

Why do I bring this up? Last week, I got Penny’s classroom newsletter. The teacher was working on persuasive letter writing and had each kid write a letter to their parents about something they wanted to change. The newsletter only included five examples (all signed “anonymous”), but here were two of them:

  1. “Please consider giving me chores I have to do every week. I wouldn’t be on the ipad and computer as much as I usually am. And your reward is being able to talk with Dad without me asking what to do.”
  2. “I would like some chores because sometimes people brag that they got a new toy because of the money their parents give them. I would like money for each chore. I think that if you give me chores I can finally stand up for myself. If you give me chores I will help you fold socks and make your bed.”

These quotes prove you’re doing your kids a disservice by not making them work. “If you give me chores I can finally stand up for myself.” When we keep all the jobs away from the kids, the kids are powerless. They see that. What we can interpret as shielding them from hard work is actually suppressing them. When they have no part of the work of what it takes to run the home, they feel disconnected from the home. They don’t learn consequences of their actions (mess!) and they don’t learn that their actions impact everyone in the house (mom stepped on toy in kitchen, mom is stressed, baby is crying, everyone is stressed!). And they don’t understand the value of work.

These are conversations that we should be having with our children. My kids know they are expected to help around the house. That’s part of living here. We work together because we’re a team. But if they want something, they earn it a little at a time each Saturday. If they don’t want to earn money, they can finish their jobs for the week and be done. No questions asked. They have complete power over their earning potential. When Penny realized Saturday chores weren’t going to cut it before Hawaii, she asked if she could do bigger jobs for more money. Of course!

As a parent, it’s easier to just do the work ourselves (or hire out!). Kids are great at being terrible cleaners. They’re great at pretending they’re worse than they really are (I remember doing that, hoping I’d never have to clean the bathroom again!). But they need to learn. They need to help. And they need to know they have power to be responsible and earn money when they want to do that.

I was furious and saddened and confused when I read those quotes. I talked to Penny about it. “A lot of your friends said they wanted more chores.” Her response: “I know. I guess they can’t earn a camera like I did.”

Pay your kids, but not for being alive. Pay them for a job well done.

Want to know what Penny’s said? It was anonymous, but I recognized her right away and she proudly pointed it out as hers:

“I want to stay up later, please. You get to do it, so why not me? I can’t get to sleep until 9:30, so what’s the deal with going to bed at 8:00? If you let me stay up later, I’ll give you all the money in my piggy bank.”

It’s a tempting offer, though I know it’s got less than a dollar in itย after the camera purchase. I’ve also tried to explain that doing advanced acrobatics off her bed may be one of the reasons she can’t get to sleep until 9:30. See? We don’t have parenting figured out at all!ย 

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  1. We just implemented a chore chart for Goofball (5 years old), but I wasn’t sure how to handle the issue of rewarding him and/or an allowance. I like your technique, it makes sense. He should do the basic chores to help out, and can do “overtime” to earn money. Do your kids ever not do their chores? Do you handle that with punishment?

    • MaggieBanks

      My five-year-old is not motivated by earning money at all. She likes the idea of it, but not enough to not throw a complete fit about her chores during the week. For her, she gets a small treat (a gummy bear or chocolate chip) if she does her chore without complaint. If she complains or refuses, she loses the treat, but still has to do the chore. That’s the punishment. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. We don’t have chores yet (kids are 2 and 4) but they love helping. our youngest helps put away her clothes, puts her dishes in the sink, and picks up when asked. She loves helping out. Just this weekend, she helped weed in the front flower bed for some $$ even though she just knows it as “coins!” Our oldest has many ways he can earn coins or more by helping out. Actually, he should be old enough to start chores now – mwahahaha. I digress…
    At the stores, he’ll ask how much something is and if he ahs that much money for it, and when we tell him, he’ll reply with, “That’s a LOT of money!” or when we put it to him that he would need to use ALL/Half/some etc… of his money, he really thinks about it before he spends it.

    I agree that basic chores shouldn’t get you an automatic allowance. I like the concept of above and beyond stuff gets $$, which is about what we do now. BTW, our youngest out-earned our oldest yesterday because she helped out, and he just played and goofed off, lol. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s primarily why we set up our “job interview” style payment process… so that any age in our house is capable of earning the same amount of money. I was always so nervous about what “Age” was the right age to give them money. Now I don’t have to decide! If they are capable of doing their weekly chores without complaint and then approach us for extra jobs on Saturday, they’re old enough to earn the money that comes with that maturity. It’s entirely up to them!

  3. Your approach to paying your kids for extra chores makes so much sense to me. One of my biggest regrets from childhood is that I didn’t have specific chores. My parents were married for a while before I was born, and had all the chores down between the two of them, and didn’t feel the need to re-divide them when I came along. (I say that last part to specify that it was more about “they had a routine” than me being pampered. Though of course I was privileged in many ways!) When I did start doing chores, I always got paid for them. And I completely agree with you — I did not understand the value of hard work and money. I had to learn that much later in life than your kids are, and I wish that had been different!

    • MaggieBanks

      As a parent, let me agree with your parents that it would be so easy to clean my house. If I turned on a movie for the kids, I could get this entire house cleaned in the length of that movie while they all left me alone! Giving the kids jobs to do is entirely for their sake. They have a stake in this house and our family because they are a part of the work involved! I hope it’s working. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Aaahhhh, I totally remember asking my mom for chores when I was a kid! I reeeeeally wanted them. I remember actually proposing a whole plan to her on a whiteboard about the different chores I could do, and the schedule, and she said ok and went along with it for a couple of days, but then she totally forgot about it and didn’t enforce it, so I guess I just gave up. I don’t blame her — I think most likely she just wanted to do the chores herself so she could make sure they were done right. But I definitely remember wishing that I could have chores like other kids. I can’t even remember how much money was involved in my proposal, if any. I might have just wanted more structure in my day. I also remember that kid characters in books always seemed to have chores, so maybe I just wanted to be like them. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Anyway, I love your setup of required chores and elective chores! That sounds like a super smart approach. Congrats to Penny on earning that camera!

    • MaggieBanks

      New chore charts were always SOOOO exciting! And they lasted like a week. My girls have chore charts, but they never use them. They were so excited about them, but now they just do the chores on the days it says without references them at all. Oh well. I guess it worked to set up a habit. (Though they still need constant reminder and there are still fits about it sometimes… like I said, still figuring everything out!)

  5. Great post. I am right there with you. We are living this very topic today with our 11 year old son. He hears all the stories of his friends and the money they are given or earned. My take on it is like you, for ordinary things like their room, bed and personal things, putting their dishes in the sink or cleaning up after themselves then he is responsible for that and he is helping with contributing to the house hold. I tell my son each day I go to work like his mother and each day he goes to school. His job is to do well in school. For now I pay him to do this job do well in school. Come home and do his home work as much as possible on his own with out interrupting his mother so she can concentrate and do her job working from home. The home work is to be done with good effort, complete and very neat. We are the judge of it. Good report card grades and behavior earn bonuses, just like we earn as adults. For extra money he can do extra jobs around the house that frees us up to enjoy life as a family together. This is basically how the world works in most cases. I hope this helps my son learn a good job over time gets him to better places.

  6. When my son was little, we paid him a small allowance. Then he started getting money to watch the neighbor’s little dog when they were on vacation. They overpaid him for the little he did, but it saved them big bucks of taking their pup to the kennel. One year, when he was finishing up second grade, they asked if he could watch their dog again. He had a crying fit because he said “he wanted to ‘take some time off’ after the school year.” I realized then that he needed to learn a thing or two about work and told him if he was going to turn down work, he would also be turning down his allowance. Long story short: he changed his tune on watching the dog and I never paid him an allowance again. He grew up to be an Eagle Scout, Honor Student & Varsity Athlete and works at the local Target Store.

  7. I think your approach is incredibly realistic, especially since you put the power in your children’s hands to increase their earning potential! Versus parents just handing over allowance, it seems much more effective to give them opportunities to learn it. Pulling weeds was one of my favorite chores, too! I made my mom teach me to do laundry at age 8 because I was incredibly excited to have that responsibility. Also – doing chores when I was younger allowed me to learn rather quickly that if I keep things tidy & organized along the way, it’s much more fast to get the chores done!

    • MaggieBanks

      It took awhile to figure out a reasonable way to put the earning potential in their hands. That was important to me because one kid was definitely ready for money way before another one… they’re all so different. So I didn’t want to set up arbitrary ages or limits on things. And I’m still hoping they learn the lessons about keeping things tidy and organized making chores go so much faster! Hasn’t happened yet!

  8. This is a point that we have on the agenda as well. When a and how to pay allowance to your kids. I do believe they need to get familiar with money rather soon than late in life.
    On paying for work, I have read different opinions. Some say they need to learn to do their part in the house without being paid for it. That makes sense to me.
    Others say that the best way to learn is to exchange work for money. I understand that as well.

    We have not yet figured it out.
    My current goes as follows: There is a list of tasks they need to do every week. If the work is not done, They get less iPad or TV time or so.
    I would also give them an allowance every week, but try not to link this to the jobs they do. They get it anyway.
    There would be extra jobs they can do to earn extra money. I have no clue if this makes sense…

    Any thoughts on this? The kids are 5,5 and 3,5 at this time

    • MaggieBanks

      I’m strongly opposed to paying children for being alive. Then they learn that they deserve money for doing nothing. But I am also strongly opposed to paying children for helping around the house. They get free food, free room, free clothes, etc. and they are a part of our family team. Those things come with basic expectations: keep your room clean, fold and put your clothes away after I do the laundry (they’ll work up to doing their own later), clean up all the toys etc. every night, clean your bathroom every Saturday, and they each do one other chore as part of the team (ie: one vacuums the living room one night a week and another one dusts the house once a week). After that, they can ask to earn money. But they have to have been useful that week and not complained about their expected jobs, or they can’t earn money. Just like a job interview. “Do you think we should hire you based on your performance this week?” It works like a charm!

      • Do I get this right? They get money for extra tasks. No extra task, no extra money? Did you agree with them the list of regular tasks.

        • MaggieBanks

          Yes. For example, Penny, my 7 year old, has to clean her room every morning, clean the living room every evening, fold and put her clothes away on Monday, vacuum the living room on Wednesday, and clean her bathroom (with Florin) on Saturday. She gets no money for all of these chores. They are part of her responsibilities for being a part of this house and family. Then, on Saturday, if she’d like to earn money, we have a job interview. She says “Can I get some money for extra chores?” And we evaluate her performance during the week. If she threw a fit about doing any chores during the week or didn’t do them, she can’t be hired. If she was good about it, we will hire her for extra chores. These are everything from grinding our oatmeal to mopping, etc. And she earns $1-5 per extra chore depending on the task. She can also do as many as she would like in a given Saturday. If she wants to keep earning money, we will keep coming up with things for her to do.

  9. I really like the “do these chores to unlock weekend chores for pay.” It marries the idea of “family work,” which is done because you are part of the family, versus “income work,” which may be above and beyond. The fun of these types of articles is that it shows what others are doing and can be a useful model to develop your own family’s way. Our kids are still young for us to experiment with things like this but there’s something to be said about the pride of ownership of something you worked for… that’s universal.

    • MaggieBanks

      Thanks Jim! And it’s all about experimentation with young kids. They are each so different, it’s hard to say one thing works best for everyone!

  10. moneycounselor

    I always had something going as a kid to earn money. Lawn mowing, door-to-door sales (seeds, greeting cards, misc.), even wasp nest removal (ouch!). Luckily for me, I always felt better saving the money I earned rather than spending it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • MaggieBanks

      That’s awesome (lame on the wasp front, obviously). When you learn about what hard-earned money is as a kid, you actually get a sense of its value.

  11. Our philosophy is similar to yours. Our kids do not get an allowance, but we’ve paid them a small amount to pull weeds and occasionally pick up dog poop. Basic household chores like cleaning up are expected. Our oldest is starting to help wash dishes. The others may feed the dog. These are just a few examples. All easy stuff that gives them some responsibility.

    When I was a kid, my mom had a chore list for us to do every day when we got home from school. I hated it then, but completely understand why she did it.

    • MaggieBanks

      When they learn that they have to do a good job to have greater opportunities, the lesson gets good! I loved chore charts as a kid, but doing the chores was never as fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

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