Should an Allowance be Linked to Chores for Children?

Whether or not an allowance should be given parallel to chores for children has been highly debated in financial education circles. On one side of the fence you have people, like my friend Neale Godfrey, who believe that giving children money not contingent on completing chores fosters entitlement. These people might tell you that the value of an allowance is that it simulates what a job will be like in adult life: you get paid money for hard work.

The folks on the other side of the fence disagree. To them, the goal of giving children an allowance is to teach them how to manage money, not how to work. Additionally, some of them argue a crafty child might one day decide that cleaning his room is not really worth twenty-five cents and decide to strike, quit, or unionize. The book Raising Money Smart Kids by Janet Bodnar makes the point that tying an allowance to chores creates administrative nightmares (if your child only loads the dishwasher three times out of seven during the week, how do you pay her?).

A more philosophical critique is that tying allowances to chores teaches children that work is about earning money for completing a rote behavior quickly (and not necessarily with great quality). Jake Johnson makes this argument with clarity in his great article “Raising Entrepreneurs." While Johnson’s son has chores he must do around the home, he only earns an allowance by identifying household problems and then proposing a way to solve those problems.

If you do decide to tie your child’s allowance to chores, excellent resources exist to help you plan appropriate chores with corresponding pay. For example, Neale Godfrey and others suggest that children have “Citizen of the Household” chores that aren’t paid, things like brushing their teeth and picking up after themselves. Additional chores—age-appropriate tasks like setting the table—make up a work-for-pay system. A chore chart is especially helpful for children to track what they need to do and what they have already done (it also makes tallying allowance at the end of the week easier for you). As children get older, you can either add increased chore responsibility or create a rotating menu of chores for variance.

A theme throughout almost every book I read, whether or not it recommended tying together chores and an allowance, is to offer extra chores to children so they can earn additional money. Most authors recommend saving this for a particularly big task, like alphabetizing your DVD collection or cleaning out the basement. No “correct” answer exists, and yours should be unique to your family.

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