To Fee or Not to Fee


My husband and I disagree over whether or not to give allowances to our two sons, ages six and nine. He says they live here, so they should not be paid for chores. I think allowances are a good idea. Your opinion? ¯Fee or Free

Being a psychologist and therefore by trade somewhat prone to compromise, my opinion on allowances is somewhere between yours and your husband's.

Because kids are part of the family — though the older ones may be embarrassed about it, especially in public — it's logical that they have certain fee-free family responsibilities. The house is everybody's, so its care is everybody's. "Family chores" for your sons might include making their beds, hauling out the trash, setting the table, keeping their rooms fumigated―certainly not too much to ask in return for the myriad of benefits they receive free from you. Family chores teach kids that all work does not deserve recompense. Such is good preparation for spousehood.

Other responsibilities — washing dishes, cleaning house, weeding — might be targeted as "wage chores" leading to allowance money. Wage chores give kids the chance to learn to earn. Such is good preparation for adulthood.

A key point: Family chores precede wage chores. In other words, all family work must be completed before the privilege of earning an allowance begins. Otherwise, the kids will naturally head for the money chores first, leaving the family duties to Mom and Pop, who are used to working around the house for free.

What's a good age to start an allowance? Your sons are plenty old enough. Even preschoolers can learn to pitch in — picking up toys, giving the dog his water, laying napkins on the table. Indeed, preschool years are prime time to begin family chores. At ages three and four, kids want to help. It's still novel. It makes them feel big. Seize the opportunity before their remaining childhood genes kick in and they become allergic to work and sweat.

What's a good allowance figure? That depends upon you and what expenses your sons are responsible for. I would offer this general guideline: Reflect the real world. Giving Forbes $5.00 a week for feeding the goldfish and walking the trash to the end of the driveway on Tuesday is a very generous wage. Actually, it's unreasonable. Translated into an hourly rate, it comes to $712.00. Even professional adult goldfish keepers don't earn near that. Only psychologists do. Then again, dispensing one dollar a week for converting the garage to a family room and reseeding the lawn is near serf labor. Use your own good sense to decide what's fair and what you can afford.

Allowances are a multi-benefit package. One, they teach kids to delay gratification. Buck makes his bed Monday through Friday and has to wait for the dollar payoff on Saturday. That's equitable. Rarely in the adult work world does one get paid the instant he finishes a task. Two, allowances help reduce financial friction. Parents who give little or no allowance, instead choosing to judge money requests individually, run the risk of constant cash clashes, as kids routinely think their needs (e.g., a designer ball bat, a 27-speed hair dryer) are more crucial to their happiness than parents do. A third benefit: Allowances are sound financial leverage. If Buck's bed isn't made, twenty cents can go from his pocket into yours. After all, you did his work, and since you belong to Local #172 of the Bed Makers Motherhood, you can charge prevailing wage scale. Last, allowances teach priorities. They help Chase experience first-hand that the money supply is limited, something he doesn't realize when Mom and Dad are the bank. Thus, he's forced to choose which extravagance he can afford, the remote-controlled ball glove or the commando rocks.

Allowances can be used creatively. One mom of mouthing teens fined her kids for spewing any off-color words. She had a list of 25-cent, 50cent, and $1.00 words. If her kids were going to use cheap language, it was going to cost them.


Ray Guarendi "To Fee or Not to Fee."

Reprinted with permission of Ray Guarendi.


Ray Guarendi is a father, clinical psychologist, and author. He has been a regular guest on national radio and television, has hosted his own national radio show and writes a syndicated parenting column. In addition, he has written several books, including Discipline That Lasts A Lifetime, You're A Better Parent Than You Think!, now in its nineteenth printing, and Back To The Family. Visit his website here.

Copyright © 2002 Ray Guarendi

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