I remember report card time as full of both pride and frustration when I was a kid. Pride at the usual mix of As and Bs I’d earned, followed quickly by annoyance at the knowledge that a slew of my classmates were about to get actual cash from their parents for grades that often were — I’m just gonna say it — not even as good. It seemed incredibly unfair that Chrissy was going to get a dollar for her C, while I got bupkis for my A.
My parents never paid me (or bribed or rewarded, depending on how you look at it) for good grades. They did, however, give me a regular allowance that was not, as far as I can remember, specifically tied to chores. There were chores I had to do — I washed a lot of dinner dishes as a kid — but the two were not connected.
I think it’s fair to say that most parents want to raise their kids to be hard-working, successful, and financially savvy. There are different schools of thought on how to accomplish this, though — and for fun, I’m going to argue all sides.
The case for paying
In paying our kids for good grades or for completing chores, we are teaching them that earning that A or completing their “jobs” around the house results in a financial reward, the way it often does for us as adults. Sure, no one is paying me to vacuum the living room floor, but someone is paying me to write this post. If I stopped writing, I have to assume the money would stop appearing in my checking account. I do my job, I get money. I don’t do my job — or I don’t do it well — and the money dries up.
Here’s what one parent tells HuffPost:
Gregg Murset, a certified financial planner and father of six, agrees that kids should earn money for chores. He’s the co-founder and CEO of BusyKid, a company behind the app of the same name that lets parents easily pay their kids for tasks and lets the kids sort their money into manageable categories so they can save, spend and share (or donate).
“I believe that you should always tie work and money together in a meaningful way because they are interrelated in the real world,” he said.
By paying our kids for a job well done, we are introducing and allowing them to practice the concept of earning a living on a small, kid-sized scale. It can also open the door to having regular conversations about how to balance saving, spending and giving, which is easier to develop into a regular habit when they’ve got a bit of money steadily streaming in and out.
The case for not paying
On the other hand, we don’t want to bribe our kids to work hard in school or teach them that every contribution they make to the household deserves payment. We want kids to be intrinsically motivated to do well because of the sense of accomplishment and pride they feel in their work and in being a part of a family — not just extrinsically motivated by the reward they’ve come to expect at the end.
Also, some kids are going to work their butts off and still only pull in a C, while other kids are going to swim in a sea of As without ever cracking open a book. And — as parenting expert Amy McCready at Positive Parenting Solutions points out — a little failure is a good thing for kids:
Paying our kids for good grades may help them secure these grades, but allowing them to fail without added incentive is an even greater benefit.
In a competitive world, kids aren’t always comfortable making mistakes. Or losing. Or even getting second place. But learning to embrace failure, learn from it, and pick back up again is an imperative skill. It’s a situation kids will find themselves in again and again in life, and letting them practice their resilience before they’re off on their own gives them an advantage.
Plus, if pay is tied completely to chores, and the kid one day feels like this week’s allowance isn’t worth the hassle of taking out the trash, they don’t get the bucks, but also the trash isn’t taking itself out. There’s a disconnect in the real-world consequences of not doing one’s job because a child is not going to risk their very livelihood by skipping out on their responsibilities.
The case for separating the two
Possibly a less common choice — the option my own parents opted for and one that many parenting experts would argue deserves more consideration — is keeping the concept of chores and allowance separate, as Elisabeth Leamy wrote for the Washington Post a few years back:
Eighty-three per cent of parents who give their kids an allowance believe they should earn it by doing chores, according to an annual T. Rowe Price survey. Those parents are getting it wrong, if you believe a pile of parenting books going back a couple of decades that say an allowance should be for learning — not for earning.
An allowance that is untethered to chores might seem on the surface as though it’s sending the wrong message: I’m going to give you some money on a regular basis for absolutely no reason, a thing that does not happen when you’re an adult. But, we’re not talking large sums of money here; we’re talking about maybe $5 once a week. It’s helpful to think of this as more of a tool for teaching them to manage money in the spend-save-give balance I mentioned earlier so that later on, when they’re making their own money, they have developed those good habits.
And, as a bonus, they’re hopefully still developing the intrinsic motivation that comes with working hard in school and contributing regularly to the household by doing their (unpaid) chores.
Anyway, here’s what I do
I personally fall somewhere in the middle of all of this. I, like my parents before me, will not pay my son for good grades. He does well in school, but I want to focus more on the effort he puts in or the improvement he’s made over time rather than on any one specific end result. We have been known to go out to dinner to celebrate on report card day (mostly because I’m always looking for little reasons to celebrate in this cold, dark world), but we try to keep focus on the effort or improvement.
We do, however, pay for chores. My son has a specific set of chores he’s expected to do; if he does those chores without complaint, he gets his allowance at the end of the week. However, if he complains, attempts to refuse to do a chore, or I have to remind him multiple times, he doesn’t get his allowance — and he still has to do the chore. (That last part is key; I only had to dock his pay once or twice before he learned that lesson.)
If he’s saving up for something specific and wants to earn extra money, I’ll offer him a dollar to vacuum the house or 50 cents ($0.69) to empty the dishwasher. Again, nobody pays me to do these things (as nice as that would be). But back when I was a freelance writer, if I wanted to earn more money one month, I’d take on extra assignments. At 10 years old, this is the closest he has to that option, and I like that he can get a small taste of how doing more work can help you meet your financial goals.
On the other hand, when I ask him to help out with something (without payment), he is expected to help because he also needs to be a contributing member of our family.
Your turn to share
In reading, thinking, and writing about this topic, I see value in each of these options, so I’m curious where you all fall on the issue. Do you pay/bribe/reward your kids for good grades or completing their chores? Did the way your parents handled this influence or inform how you manage the intersection of chores, grades, and allowance? Tell us in the comments.