My Son and Free Enterprise. Help, I’ve Created a Monster

I decided that I never wanted my kids to think that they had a right to receive money for breathing air.  I had grown up receiving an allowance – I think it was $5 per week when I was young and eventually grew to about $20 per week by the time I graduated high school.  For my kids though I decided to put them on commission.

I started out small, because they were small.  When my son was three or four he could make $.50 for putting the silverware away from the dishwasher (with a lot of help) and $.25 for putting the trash bag in the trash can when we emptied it (again with a lot of help).  As he has grown we’ve added scooping out the cat litter ($1 per box), vacuuming ($3 for the big rooms and $2 for the small), and yard work ($3 for 15 minutes of work, with the level of effort verified to be suitable before payment).

Overall this has worked out really well.  I mean, how many children ask to scoop the cat litter?  There have been some issues however.

“I don’t feel like doing it now.”  We’ve heard this a few times, and there are times when a chore must be done right now.  In this case we explained that one does not always get to choose when a job will be done.  If you tell a boss that you don’t feel like coming into work when he needs you, he’ll find someone else.  We explained that he might lose the ability to do the chore entirely if he wasn’t responsive to doing it when we needed it.

He can buy some expensive things.  He has actually saved up, through chores and gifts from relatives, to buy some expensive things.  When he was about nine he saved up $300 to buy a Nintendo 3DS right when it came out.  He later saved up for an iPod, a mini-fridge (that he bought used), and a trampoline.  He is now saving up for a laptop.  At one point he walked into a lake with his iPod in his pocket.  I remember when I walked into a lake I usually just got my wallet or watch soaked.  None of these things cost $300.  In that case the Apple Store traded the iPod in for $100 and I split the cost with him.

At times my wife thinks he makes too much.  My wife and I have a difference of opinion, largely because of how we were brought up.  When I went places with my family, if I wanted things from the gift shop, I would pay for them.  For her, her parents would normally buy them something.  Because of this she didn’t usually get much money from her parents for an allowance.  We’ve had to work this out with her starting to let him buy things for himself and me needing to reel him in somewhat when he starts doing too much.

Talking to friends about money.  My son is learning that his friends normally don’t get as much with their allowances as he does from his chore money.  At times I’ve needed to tell him to keep his finances to himself.  He has also noticed, however, that their parents often buy them more things than we buy him.  He got his iPod first, but a lot of his friends got iPods for Christmas a few months later.  I’ve asked him if he would like to switch, but he has decided things are much better this way (which was exactly my intent).

Big gifts from relatives.  One problem we ran into was grandpa giving him $20 bills when he was four or five.  It was tough to convince him to keep changing the trash can bags for $.25 when he was getting $20 gifts from grandpa.  When possible, we intercepted the gift and put the money into his mutual fund accounts (for a starter emergency fund when he leaves home) instead of saddling him with so much wealth.  When not, we tried to have him spend the money on some toy rather than keep all the cash around.

All in all it has been working well.  He is twelve and already starting to put some money that he earns into his mutual fund.  He is also looking to start a pet sitting business and sells some of his old things on eBay.  I don’t think I’ll need to worry about him coming back home to sleep on the couch after college.

Anyone out there have their kids on commission?  How has it worked out?

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Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to give financial planning or tax advice.  It gives general information on investment strategy, picking stocks, and generally managing money to build wealth. It is not a solicitation to buy or sell stocks or any security. Financial planning advice should be sought from a certified financial planner, which the author is not. Tax advice should be sought from a CPA.  All investments involve risk and the reader as urged to consider risks carefully and seek the advice of experts if needed before investing.

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