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Giving an Allowance: 5 Tips for Parents

Your 5-year-old son wants an allowance (because “all of his friends get one”). You wonder if he's old enough to handle the money and, if you give him one, how much should he get – and how often?

An allowance can be a great way to teach children money management skills and help them learn how to make decisions, deal with limited resources, and understand the benefits of saving and charitable giving. There's no single correct way to handle giving an allowance. Deciding when to start, how much to give, and whether you want to link the allowance to chores are choices that should fit your family.

Giving an Allowance: 5 Tips for Parents—

1. Should an allowance be tied to chores? This is a personal choice. Some experts think that it's important to make this connection so that children learn the relationship between work and pay. Others say that children should have a responsibility to help with housework, above and beyond any financial incentive. Ultimately, you must decide what works best for you. Whatever you decide, be sure that all parties understand the arrangement. If you give an allowance for doing housework, make sure that your children understand what their responsibilities are and the consequences of not doing them. You might want to involve them in choosing the chores and then keep a chart posted to remind them what needs to be done. It's important to be consistent. Following through on your promise to give a regular allowance sets a good example for your children and is incentive for them to honor their end of the bargain. If you don't keep up with the allowance, they might lose that incentive and stop doing the chores.

2. Once children become teens, you might want to provide a quarterly clothing allowance in addition to the weekly allowance. If you do, establish a reasonable budget and allow your children to spend it as they wish — but also to honor its limits. If your daughter chooses to buy a $90 dress or your son opts for a pricey pair of tennis shoes, for example, they might have to make compromises on other clothing choices.

3. When starting an allowance, no particular age is best for every kid. Having said this, consider starting an allowance by the time a youngster is 10 years old. By then, most children have had experience making thoughtful spending decisions but still look to moms and dads for guidance. How much allowance should you give? It depends on your financial situation and what kind of commitment you feel that you can comfortably keep. Regardless of how much you choose, give the allowance regularly and increase the amount as your youngster gets older.

4. How should children spend their allowance? It's good to have them use it for discretionary things, not essential purchases such as food or clothing. This lets children make buying decisions — and mistakes — without dire consequences. You might want to encourage children to put away a portion for charity and another portion for savings. If so, let them choose where to donate the money. It may be a cause that a youngster can relate to in some way, like an animal shelter or a group that helps sick children. If some of the allowance goes to savings, consider setting up an account at a local bank. This way, your youngster can keep track of the money. Many banks offer special bank accounts for children, and yours may enjoy the experience of getting mail, even if the mail is a bank statement.

5. How much should I give? There's no one dollar amount that's appropriate for all children. The amount you decide on should be sufficient to provide your youngster with some extra money so he'll learn how to handle it. There's no educational benefit in setting an allowance at an amount at which it's already decided how it will be spent before it's even received. Many factors go into fixing an allowance. The four main ones are listed here:

  • What the allowance is supposed to cover. If you expect your teen to buy all his own clothing from his allowance, then the dollars paid to him each week must be sufficient to allow for this extensive purchase. If you supplement an allowance with spending money, then a less generous allowance may be in order.
  • Where you live. Maybe keeping up with the Joneses isn't high on your list of priorities and you frequently tell your youngster, “I don't care that James has this or does that.” But, realistically, the neighborhood you live in can certainly influence how much allowance you give your youngster. What your youngster's best friend receives may not be a deciding factor, but it's a factor nonetheless.
  • Your youngster's age. Obviously, the older your youngster, the bigger the allowance (up to a certain point, at which your youngster may become too old for an allowance).
  • Your family income. Only you know how much your family can afford to allocate to allowances.

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