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The Allowance Dilemma

Updated: Dec 6, 2019

By Vachi Spivey

Community Conversations is a series of blog posts written and published exclusively by SSA parents, it is a space whey they share their stories, experiences & opinions about their experiences in self-directed education.

As parents of an independent Sudbury kid, it can be hard to find that sweet spot between fostering independence and self-accountability in our kids, and actually providing the tools they need to do it. Often this can result in parenting challenges. Recently our family struggled with how exactly we want to handle “Money”. The whole allowance debate has run the gamut with proponents and opponents in various ‘camps’, and none of the typical systems really appealed to us, especially since we’re trying to raise an independent self-motivating individual.

The Allowance Dilemma

When I was young, we had an allowance. Daddy argued that we should have money to spend, while Mom argued that this would create entitlement – but since she wanted us to learn how to manage money, she relented. That’s the typical family, or was, back then. With my older kids, my former husband and I tried a different tactic. We paid for chores. This backfired when the kids saw chores only as a way to make money (not as a way to help the family), and decided, logically enough, that if they didn’t care about earning money then they didn’t need to do their chores. Neither of these systems work with our family dynamic. So my husband and I discussed how to handle this part of childhood for our son, and finally came up with something that works well for us:

What gets paid? Work in our family comes in various types. First, there’s the work we each do because we are part of the family and share this house. These are the things that typically get classified as “chores” in most families. We don’t call them that, we just each help out around the house. It’s expected, and not rewarded. So he doesn’t make money from those, any more than we do. Second, there are jobs that my son might be asked to help with, that he really doesn’t like. Jobs that we might potentially pay someone to help with, like washing the car. For those, he can choose to be paid to help. We pay the market rate (not ‘kiddy’ rate) for the value of work provided. I won’t nag him, he can do it with a positive attitude to the best of his ability, and be paid as such, or I can choose to do it myself, and not pay him. But this isn’t something he can count on. It’s not predictable, and doesn’t create enough of an opportunity for him to learn to manage a relatively steady income with expenses and goals. So we came upon a third source of income: Goals. We discuss and negotiate what goals matter to him, that we’re willing to encourage with an income. For my son, this means Japanese, Yoga, and new books. Ace can earn money for reaching a 10/20/40/60/80/100 day streak on Duolingo Japanese lessons. That reward raises at each level, so at 10 days he earns a dollar, but at 100 days he’ll earn $20. When he gets to that point, maybe we’ll negotiate the next level. Likewise, he does yoga each day, and will make a dollar every week that he doesn’t skip a day, and $5 for a month of sticking to that goal. And every new chapter book that he finishes, will also net him a dollar. This may sound like a lot, and maybe it is. But he spends most of his money on gifts, and on replacing items that get broken, and on adding new games for the family. And too, I believe kids can’t learn to work with and manage money, without having money to manage and work with in the first place. Money Management

The next challenge came in how to best manage the recordkeeping for this system. I’m always looking for ways to teach him to use technology, and found an app which works well for us. It’s called “BusyKid”, and while there are plenty of other similar apps, this is the one that best meets our needs. I set up a dashboard with my husband and I as “parents” and my son as a “child”. He logs his yoga each day when it’s complete, and we use “bonuses” to record the activities which are more goal-oriented (like a #day streak of Japanese). Once a week, his earnings are automatically deposited on a pre-paid debit card, in his name. In addition to the ability to use his debit card for spending, he can choose to invest some of his money in stocks, through the app.

We haven’t really done that. Yet.

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