Giving Kids an Allowance

By Karen Walrond

“Mom?  Can I please have a Nintendo DS?”

This question had been plaguing me since the summer.  In July of last year, some Australian friends of ours came to visit for a week or so, and their 7-year-old daughter had a Nintendo DS.  My 5-year-old daughter Alex was enthralled with this small electronic toy, and began a relentless campaign to get one for herself.  Being rather old school, I thought spending somewhere in the neighbourhood of $120 for a 5-year-old’s toy was, well, INSANE, and I told her no.  I naively thought that would be the end of that.

I was wrong.

“Please, Mom,” she’d beg daily.  “I promise I’ll take care of it.  Please.”

This is very uncharacteristic of Alex:  she’s usually pretty good at understanding that in our house, no means no.  When I realized how much this meant to her (coupled with the fact that my little girl was actually weeks away from starting elementary school), I devised a plan: I would start giving her an allowance.

I went to a local hobby shop and bought three mason jars, and with a black Sharpie, I wrote the words “spend,” “save” and “charity” on each of them.  Then I called Alex into the kitchen.

“Okay, kid, here’s how this is going to work,” I said.  “Every week, I’m going to give you 4 quarters.  One will go into the “save” jar.  When that jar is full, we’re going to deposit all the money in it into your bank account.”

She nodded.

“One quarter is going to go into this second jar, the ‘charity’ jar.  This is for you to give to whoever you think deserves this money.  It could be for kids who are poor, or who are sick, or who otherwise need help. When this jar is full, you and I will get on the Internet and look for a good organization for you to send this money to. But you get to choose.”

She nodded again.

“Now this jar,” I said, as she scootched closer to me.  “This is the spend jar.”

“What’s that one for?”

“For whatever you want,” I said.  “Each week, you’re going to put two quarters into this jar.  The only rules:  it can’t be for food of any kind – I’ll buy you that myself.  It also won’t be for books or clothes – I’ll buy you those, as well.  But if there’s any toy that you want, you can take the money from this jar, and with my guidance, buy it yourself.”

Her eyes lit up.  “Like a Nintendo DS?” she asked, excitedly.

“Like a Nintendo DS,” I nodded.  “But those are expensive.  You’re going to have to save quite some time to get one.  But if you do save up for it, once you do, I’ll buy a game for you to go in it.  But if you don’t save, then you don’t get it. Understood?”

Boy, did she.  We took all the money she had from various piggy banks she’d received since she was an infant, and divided the coins among the three jars, to give her a head start.  Every week, I gave her the 4 quarters, and she dutifully deposited them into her jars.  Occasionally, when we were out shopping, she’d spot a toy she wanted.

“Did you bring some money?” I’d ask, raising an eyebrow.

“No,” she said.  And then more resolutely: “Never mind.  I’m saving for a Nintendo DS.  I don’t need it.”

Finally the day came when she’d saved enough to buy her DS, and I don’t think she has ever been more pleased with herself.  And since then, we’ve continued the system: with my guidance, she buys her own toys now (all arguing in stores at check-out counters has virtually stopped), and when her kindergarten class raised funds for the kids of the Haiti earthquake victims, she proudly brought her “charity” jar to school to add its contents to the pot.   In the process, she’s happily learning new skills, like how to count for change, how to make sure that she keeps her money safe, and how to manage money.

Now if only I could how to manage my own money, we’ll be ahead of the game.

Karen Walrond is a photographer, blogger and author of the upcoming book The Beauty of Different to be published by Bright Sky Press in Fall 2010.  You can read more about her at