Ask Maxwell: What Are Your Tips on Allowance for Kids?

published Jul 7, 2021
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How do we incorporate allowances — and what, if any, alignment should the money have with their chores or other responsibilities?


Dear Jenny,

I have really struggled over this one too, particularly when I’m tired on a Sunday, my daughter hasn’t been the best kid in the world that day, and she says, “You haven’t given me my allowance yet!” However, as counterintuitive as it was in the beginning, I do believe that separating allowance from chores is a good idea, and I’ll tell you why.

First of all, as I mentioned in last week’s Q&A on weekly chores it is really best for chores to be “habits” that are modeled by parents and rewarded with their own good results rather than being seen as a paid job. If it becomes a pay-to-play situation, it won’t necessarily help with habit-forming and the children will actually have an out from the chores if they are happy to pass up the money.

So what is allowance all about? Good question. For me it has been solely about providing a reasonable amount of pocket money so my daughter can practice saving and budgeting, while also allowing her some freedom to spend on her own. For example, if we stop on a car ride for lunch, I’ll pay for what she orders, but if she wants to stop at the CVS and buy a new face mask (she’s 14 and these are popular), then she can totally do that with her money. Without a little spending money, she can’t experiment, get used to making her own spending choices, and learn from them.

I remember when I was about ten and saved up my allowance for many many months, only to blow it all on a superhero action figure that was three feet tall and shot rockets out of his hands. I planned the purchase forever, visited the store each week, and stared at the box, but when I got home on the big day I quickly realized that this new, incredible toy was not that much fun and I’d built up something in my head that wasn’t real. I’ll never forget it, and I hope I never do that again.

Now, I’m going to reference Barabara Klocek again for an even more complete answer to this question, and you can read her whole essay on this subject here. Bottom line, she says it’s very good to separate household chores from allowance, but did provide for ways to earn money beyond a small allowance: “On Saturday the boys received a reward of ice cream when they finished their chores. As they grew older and were wanting to earn money, I would sometimes find larger jobs, such as painting, for which I would pay them.” This also makes perfect sense to me. Allowance is a baseline and a little goes a long way in terms of psychological independence. My daughter started at a quarter a week in first grade and got up to $4 a week this past year. Barbara never gave her sons more than $1 a week.

In the end it’s about teaching our children to fish, not giving them one.

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Maxwell Ryan is a father and was an elementary school teacher in NYC before founding Apartment Therapy. He’d love to answer your question: This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

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