07 May 2010

Save money while teaching skills: pay your kids for household jobs

In: 6+ Years

Reel mower In the last year, we've adjusted our kids' allowance system and we've seen a remarkable change in how they handle money, and in their awareness of needs versus wants.

We've made three basic changes: we've upped the amount we give them each week, we've stopped buying them toys and goodies, and we've started offering them paid "jobs."

I'll detail the rationale in later posts, but for now, I'd like to crow about one of the jobs I devised for my ten year-old son. It's a classic -- lawn mowing -- but it solved so many problems at once I think it qualifies as a hack. Either that or I'm just in the mood for a little recognition.

Anyway! Here's what I did:

  • I canceled our $87 per month mowing service.
  • I bought a reel mower for $30 off of Craigslist.
  • I'm paying my son $5 per week to mow the lawn.

Problems solved and lessons learned:

  • No more noisy, polluting lawnmowers outside our house each week.
  • Lawn gets mowed without my husband or I having to do it.
  • I save over $60 per month (and the "new" lawn mower pays for itself).
  • My son earns money over and above his allowance.
  • He learns about the real world economy.
  • He learns what goes into caring for a home.
  • He's outside, working and contributing to our family, and learning a skill he can eventually leverage into his own summertime business.

This works with any household job that goes above and beyond regular family responsibilities. I know there are many who believe that one shouldn't pay kids for work around the house -- it should be part and parcel of cooperative family living -- but, for our family, it works. For my son especially, the abstract concept of "contribution" is more easily learned within the concrete framework of a paid job.

Paying our kids also saves us even more money, because the $20 he's getting paid used to be spent on the  trinkets we'd mindlessly pick up throughout the month. Some months he may spend the money (so no net savings for us), but at least he's buying things he finds meaningful, and he's learning in the process.

My six year-old daughter is getting paid small amounts to "prune" spent plants and to pull weeds. She loves it.

Next for my son: the laundry.

I'd love to hear your ideas! What are some good potentially wage-earning household jobs...for kids of all ages?

Your comments

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While it has nothing to do with paying... my mom unintentionally got me doing my own laundry by dyeing my white shirts pink with a pair of socks that she thought "wouldn't bleed *this* time" one too many times.

I'm starting small. Each book read aloud to a brother is worth five cents. Inflation will occur, but I don't see the need yet.

On a larger scale, I gave them a dollar for each tree they could free from the English ivy, and I've paid a dollar per (grocery sized) bag of pine cones collected.

We don't have any ongoing chores to earn money and they don't have to earn their allowance. We incorporate the Savvy Pig http://www.msgen.com/assembled/money_savvy_pig.html as well as the Bank of Dad http://www.amazon.com/First-National-Bank-Dad-Teach/dp/0743204808

Love this post, Asha. In our house, we give our kids a set allowance for required chores (taking care of their own rooms and belongings, plus light jobs such as recycling or emptying the dishwasher). In addition, we pay extra for some jobs that go above and beyond. My youngest son (7) is happy enough with having his few bucks of allowance, but when my daughter (11) or older son (10) wants a new video game or the latest must-have gadget, they know they can earn money faster by volunteering to do some bigger jobs. I've been thinking that this is a good year for my kids to start mowing the lawn. You're so right, it's win-win for everyone.

Right now, we let the kids spend their own money as they like, but I'm considering setting up accounts for them at SmartyPig.com so they also learn to save.

We have a similar system for our 6yr old twins, with our 3yr old having a simplified version of it. Some additional adds:

- They get $1.50 allowance per week.
- They add to that given 'check marks' on a small whiteboard. $0.05/checkmark (they are only 6
- Checkmarks are given for jobs (clearing the table, setting the table, putting laundry away, etc) as well as things like 1 for each book read through the week.
- They love the 'big pile of money' at the end of the week if they've gotten like 20-30 checks.

Finally, when they put the money away, they each have 3 piggy banks labelled 'save', 'spend', and 'give'. The $1.50 gets split between the 3 evenly, and the remainder we have a discussion about what they want to put where, and what they think they should be spending on toys vs giving to the poor, etc.

We use the KidsWealth system, which works similarly to the Savvy Pig except with more categories (Wealth - for saving & investing; Angel - for charity, they pick the charity; Plan - for something they need to save up for; Learn - non-parent provided learning stuff; Fun - they get to spend on anything they like as long as they have enough cash; plus we added a category for pet care). They earn money for chores that have to do with their stuff (picking up their room, making beds) and things the whole family has to do (mealtime prep, picking up toys & laundry).

Great article, Asha. I haven't had to worry much about my son saving--he saves and then asks me for money when we're out! Sometimes he gets it, if it is something like a pack of gum or a book, but big things he has to decide to buy with his money or not. He has received quite a bit over the last five years for birthdays and extra jobs but I am going to start giving him a small allowance plus a chance to earn more doing extra jobs each week as opposed to once in awhile. I want him to learn how to budget, save, and give as well. I'm going to use a method some of my friends use: 10% to tithe, 10% to savings, and the rest he can use to save, buy, or whatever. It seems to work well. I'll write about the results on my blog: www.shellycampbellharley.blogspot.com. I hope some of you will come to visit!

great idea! i love the concept about having regular chores (my three year old already has them) but i do pay her for other odd jobs (she loves to collect money in a piggy bank and then we go 'garage-saling'!)

I love everything about this post! My kids are little (1 and 4) so only my 4 year old has jobs around the house. I have not started doing allowance, but I have stopped buying her things (except books). I'm a garage sale/thrift store person and I'm practicing not buying her things anymore.

Here is my question, though...when do kids start wanting things that are not impulse purchases? I've taken her to the store and told her that she can spend her $5 from Grandma if she wants, and she will, of course, find something to buy. But so far she hasn't wanted any *thing* enough to ask me about it when we are not standing in front of it at a store. Is this normal? Until she does that, I don't feel like it makes sense to introduce allowance.

Bravo, excellent idea! Not only is it a GREEN idea, but a life lesson and learning tool for your child as well. He will learn to handle money.

I dont think its necessary to introduce allowance until she starts showing an interest in money (it will happen soon enough!). 

I'm going to be the party pooper about this and say i'm NOT digging it at all. (of course i don't have a lawn, AND my son is a few years off from allowance so take that all with a grain of salt.) one thing i agree with about how my parents raised me is we don't get paid for grades or chores. chores are something you do to contribute to the family because you are part of it, and everyone contributes to keeping the family on track and running smoothly. it seems a little bit exploitative to say you're saving money by hiring your son to do a job for cheaper than you are willing to pay outside workers to do the exact same thing. what's the lesson in that?

My kid isn't even three yet, so we haven't started, but my parents used to do this for me. My dad paid me $1 per shirt to iron his business shirts. This was back in the late 80's, and that's what (or pretty closed to what) the dry cleaner charged. I made $10-14/hour while watching TV, he didn't have to deal with driving to the dry cleaner (this was before they would pick them up and deliver like they do now), and they knew where I was for at least some of the time. It worked out great!

I never iron any more. But when I do, they're *perfect*.

We pay our son $1 to clean up dog poop in the yard. Sometimes $2 if it's been a while.

We also give points for dry nights in bed... 4 points equals $1.

How about dusting? A small child with a duster could do it easily, and I'm thinking toys might get put away more often. Oh, heck, I just hate dusting! LOL

I don't think it's exploitative to pay my son -- who's never mowed a lawn before -- less than a staffed, professional lawn care business.

As to your other point, I know that paying kids for jobs doesn't sit well with some, and I can understand why. But for my family, it's working well. The lessons my kids are learning about contribution, pride in a job well done, earning and saving aren't overshadowed by the "getting paid" part.

My kids have unpaid family responsibilities -- cleaning their rooms, setting the table, etc. But I find that giving them opportunities to earn money empowers them in a way that's exciting, and that's good training for when their jobs are outside the home.

My grandfather used to give us kids one cent per bug picked from his potato and tomato plants in his garden. Paid organic pest control back in the early 80's - who knew? But, it was the only way that we earned extra money beyond our twenty five cent allowance per week - even as a teen. Looking back, it was a lousy system and I am interested in figuring out a method to use with our little girl, who is now 2. Financial responsibility is such a HUGE issue these days, I really want her to have a good grasp on the situation BEFORE escaping for college and her grown up life! Thanks for the interesting perspective!

For our 4 year old, we've been using the Melissa and Doug Responsibilities Magnet chart. It combines chores and attitude and grooming essentials into a changeable grab bag system for each week. Every sunday morning, she and I pick 7 new "responsibilities" (ranging from "Empty Dishwasher" to "Show Respect") at random, and each evening, we talk about her day in that context. So far, the pride she takes in a "perfect" day is working motivation, but soon, we're going to institute an allowance system of some sort.

I agree, as long as there are also unpaid responsibilities, I think this is fine.

In fact, it's what my parents did with me. Bigger "chores" became paying jobs (mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, painting, etc.), smaller chores were simply expected (vacuuming, emptying the trash, making beds, helping with dishes, etc.)

Most of the paying jobs I branched out with, and did for the neighbors, as well.

I love that Responsibility Chart! We used it as well with varying levels of success, much having to do with our *own* consistency.

Here it is at Amazon (affiliate link):

http://tinyurl.com/responsibilitychart

They've improved it since I used it several years ago.

I agree with Anitra. Small unpaid jobs (the majority) + larger paid jobs.

I have to say that I delay the money/payment/allowance stuff until quite late, compared to what some people do (for us it's age 8). That works for our family and luckily my kids don't badger me about it.

This makes me sad. My doc told me there is nothing a kid can do to "hold it" while asleep. Rewarding them with money is just spinning your wheels. I have 4 kids. Some of them learned nighttime bladder control really fast, and others are taking years and years.

It's just a physiological issue: some bodies are ready and others aren't.

I have a 10 and 12 year old. They have been doing chores around the house for almost 4 years. Loading/Unloading the dishwasher, taking the trash out, keeping there rooms and belongings picked up. They receive $5 a week that goes directly into a saving account. When they want to buy something for themselves or as a gift we talk about how much they want to spend and transfer that amount into our checking account. They have also started buying there own Christmas presents for family members and there basic school supplies. Both have learned that it costs money to buy things and are more careful on how much they spend on items even if we are paying for something.

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