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To Pay or Not To Pay

October 12, 2019

That is the question…

I wrote a little about the dilemma of whether or not to pay your kids to do chores around the house in my last post. There are a few different schools of thought on this, and, honestly, I’m not sure I know which one is always right. This may be because one may not always be right… But it’s worth thinking through the issue. So here’s some thoughts on it.

One school of though says kids should never be paid for pitching in and helping with family chores. Paying them for these things will set them up to believe that they need to be paid for everything they do, and we all know that’s not how life works. In the real world, you don’t get paid for everything you do. So don’t get this bad idea started with your kids. They need to learn how to contribute to the welfare and care of their/your family without some kind of monetary payment for it. Doing chores is just part of being a part of this family.

There’s merit to this.

Another school says that paying your kids for doing chores around the house is a way to motivate and incentivize them to be consistent in fulfilling their responsibilities. If they do the chores, they get the money. If they don’t do the chores, they don’t get the money. It’s a matter of planned consequences. It can get more complicated than this, but this is the heart of it.

A permutation of this says that says kids need to learn how to deal responsibly with money, and paying them for chores is a good way to help them connect work with income.

There’s merit to this, as well.

Another school says kids don’t need money of their own. For crying out loud, they’re kids, not Wall Street traders. So don’t worry about it. Just give them money when you’re convinced they need it. One advantage of this approach is that it keeps you in the driver’s seat.

And then there’s the school of thought that says you should give your kids an allowance and not connect it with work. Everybody in the family gets a share of the resources because they’re part of the family.

And there are probably another half-dozen permutations of these ideas. The subject is a little confusing. And the proponents of these various ideas are usually passionate about their proponenting…

My answer for this is simple and complex at the same time. Here’s the simple part: decide which method best matches your kids’ personalities and your goals.

Some kids are highly motivated by the altruistic value of service. They don’t need external motivation to do chores and pull their weight in the family. It’s just in them. They just naturally pitch in. In my experience, these are few and far between, but they do exist. They’re not quite in the category of Sasquatch, but almost.

Some kids need to be motivated to do chores and pull their weight. You can threaten these kids with punishment and negative consequences if they don’t do their chores, and that might work a little, but it won’t motivate them over the long haul to do these things on their own, usually. The carrot on the end of the stick might, though.

Look at your kids carefully and decide if extrinsic motivation (cash for chores) will be good for them or bad for them. This is the complex part. You have to make this call. Nobody else should. If they are best extrinsically motivated, then construct a system of payment that will help them grow more responsible. If not, then figure out how to somehow reward them for their responsible behaviors and contributions without using money.

What you don’t want to do is send them a very bad message: you’re valuable when you do what we tell you to do, but not if you don’t. Kids need to know that they are loved and valued no matter what. Getting a few bucks for doing their chores doesn’t make them more valuable. It only puts some money in their piggy bank.

For me, the target I want to hit, the thing I want to leverage with this whole thing, is helping my kids learn how to be responsible with money. They can’t do this without getting money, somehow. Whether it’s through an allowance that they get just because they’re one of us, or through income from doing chores that need to be done to make our household run smoothly depends on how they’re wired. In either case, I want them to learn how to steward resources. (I think nearly all of life can be summed up in those two words, actually.) This will not happen accidentally. Being a wise and faithful steward is a learned behavior and mindset. None of us come with that software already installed.

One of the things this means is that I don’t just toss a couple of bucks at my kids and hope they’ll figure out how to do something good with it. I have to guide them in the allocation and use of their income, even if it’s a tiny income.

I like the Wesley approach to this: give 10%, save 10%, spend the rest with thanksgiving. If a kid can learn this in their grade school years, and then carry it on into their adult life, they’ll have a much happier and more productive financial life. Imagine what this could mean for them if they do it from the time they first start getting an income, and continue it until they retire.

Teaching them to give 10% is actually a spiritual thing. This is what the Bible calls a Tithe. When I was a little boy, my mom gave me my $1 weekly allowance in dimes so it would be easier for me, her math-challenged son, to figure out how much to put in the offering. I’m 66, and although I don’t take my income in dimes anymore, I still figure out my tithe first thing when I get paid. Thanks, Mom.

One more financial skill (one which I unfortunately didn’t learn until much later in my adult life) you can/should teach your kids is how to save toward a goal. If they learn how to save toward a goal, they’ll learn how not to do much impulse buying, because it will ruin their run for the goal. Learning how to defer gratification is perhaps one of the most valuable skills for anyone. Learning it early in life is a huge asset.

So there you have a few ideas to filter through the grid of your own personality and background, and your kids’ temperament. There’s a lot more that can be said about it, but maybe this is enough to spark your thinking. It’s simple and complex.

One last thing. DON’T BE RIGID WITH THIS. Be experimental. If your first approach doesn’t work, switch it. You don’t have to be locked in. Give yourself and your kids grace to figure out what works best. Partner with God and do the best you can. Actually, this is part of your responsibility to steward resources…

From → Marriage

One Comment
  1. Dureen permalink

    Thanks for the wisdom in this $ matter. I’ll be using this to re-enforce our commission procedure as we do our morning devotions with our teen.

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