Parents have different ways of providing (or not providing) their kids with an allowance: Some believe allowances should be tied to chores, while others believe that chores should be done whether or not there is an allowance because allowances are privileges that can be taken away at any given moment. I didn’t have an allowance because my parents needed every dollar they earned to pay the bills, and instead, if I needed or wanted something, we’d talk about it and my mother would determine whether or not it was something the family could afford (anything that had to do with school was generally approved, money to go to the arcade was not).
Last fall, Jake Johnson wrote a post on Medium about how he decided to not give his seven-year-old son Liam an allowance, and instead give him a set of chores he has to do no matter what like clean his room and feed the cat. He told Liam that he could earn money by identifying problems, and proposing a solution:
So, for instance, during the fall, Liam noticed the yard was full of dead leaves. He approached me with the proposition to clean up the leaves for payment. We negotiated $10 fee. He did a great job and made $10 in a couple hours, which is pretty good money for a kid.
In my house, my mother would have told me to clean up the leaves, and I would have done it without an expectation of payment, but Johnson writes that he was trying to foster in his kid an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Liam later negotiates a price to wash his nana’s car, and then decides to start a car-washing business.
Today, Ron Lieber interviewed Johnson in the Times about how his allowance strategy has worked out so far.
Liam has apparently abandoned the car washing business and wants to start selling bracelets:
Now everyone in his school is into the Rainbow Loom rubber-band bracelets. He’s taken to doing that for hours at a time, and he got the idea that he wants to sell them. He’s gone about doing that by pestering the neighbors. We told him not to go over and sell them by cold-calling because that wasn’t polite and we don’t want them to feel manipulated into shelling out a few dollars. He wants to build a stand in the front yard now and put them on display, so we’re trying to think that through.
Johnson says he received lots of criticism for his Medium post — especially in terms of telling Liam he could hire his friends to help him wash cars, and then pay them $3 for every $5 earned — which, yes, is kind terrible. He tells Lieber:
I just got stuck in my cleverness. When I talked about that stuff, it was knowing that he probably wasn’t going to do it. It was just to have the hypothetical conversation with him. I took the criticism to heart, and I think the criticism was correct.
This whole entrepreneurial kid thing reminded me of our own William Foster deciding to start a business in the 4th Grade by selling pieces of rubber bands.
But when it comes to allowances with my own kid(s) one day, I’ll be likely to go with the allowances are a privilege and not a right stance.
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