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Saturday, April 25, 2015

We Salaried Our Kids

Photo by khrawlings 
When we tell people that we give our children a salary, we’re usually met with narrowed eyes, pursed lips, and brows that twist into the non-verbal equivalent of, “So you’re raising them to be spoiled, entitled brats devoid of any work ethic or financial acumen?”
Or something like that.
But the concept came to us via some friends whose three kids have all grown into independent and fiscally responsible adults. Donna told me, “We got so sick of hearing, ‘Mommy! Buy me this! Daddy, can I have that?’ So we decided to just give our kids the money we would’ve spent on their clothing, activities, toys, and whatnot. Then it was up to them to budget it.”
We’ve been running this program for a couple of years now, and so far it’s resulted in some great things—and a couple of not-so-awesome things.
How It Works
On our children’s ninth birthdays they receive their first month’s salary of $135.00. They also receive six envelopes, into which they sort their bills as follows:
Tithe: $15.00
Bank Account: $27.00
Clothing: $30.00
Activities: $30.00
Gifts: $15.00
Fun & Self: $18.00
Like any good, Christian* parents, we want to teach our kids the concept of First Fruits: that you give to God off the top. His is the first “bill” you pay each month. Hubby and I tithe ten percent of our income, and we require that our kids do the same.
*If you’re not the spiritual type or you’re not on board with church-y stuff, this system still works. Just change the offending account title from “Tithe” to “Charity” or “Philanthropy” or “As If I’m Giving God Any of My Hard-Earned Money What’s He Ever Done For Me?” Or whatever works for you.
Although 10% of $135.00 is, of course, only $13.50, we originally launched our kids’ financial program at $150.00 a month, but quickly discovered they amassed way too much slush in their Clothing envelopes—they’re not buying leather car coats and Prada pumps, that we know of—so we dialed that account back from $45.00 to $30.00. But the kids elected to keep the Tithe amount at $15.00, and they put it in the offering plate by themselves. (Really. I watch them do it. My mama didn’t raise no fool.)
Photo by chiaralily
Each month $27.00 goes into their savings accounts. I physically hand them the money, then have them return it to me to put in the bank. This hand-over, hand-back looks and feels very silly. But I do it because I want them to see, touch, and understand that money is a physical thing. Their bank accounts do not mystically grow like Jack’s magic beanstalk to the golden goose; the balance increases because they are in fact, adding to it each month, with funds they might have preferred to apply to a new bike or a super-wham-o-dyne Lego set. Or to put a contract out on one of their siblings.
Our kids have to clothe themselves on $30.00 a month. Typically they’ll tell me when they need something and I’ll shop for it while they’re at school. Then they can decide when they get home whether they like it or they don’t, in which case they either pay me for it or I return it.
My son, however, is prejudiced about shoes. Specific styles and colors and brands are coveted; others are verboten. I have proven incompetent to identify which is which, except to note that the ones he likes tend to be $60.00 and higher, while his nose turns up at the bargain-basement off-brands I select. So he goes to the shoe store himself. His own money in his own fist has proven a good motivator for shopping around, comparing prices, and looking for deals. He didn’t buy the first, cool, $75.00 pair of soccer cleats he wanted. Instead, he waited for a sale at the sporting goods store and bought shoes that came in under the price line he set for himself. Good man, good man.
The Activities account provides for extras and events outside regular educational expenses, for which Mom and Dad foot the bills. For example, our son pays the bi-annual $80.00 registration fee to play on his soccer team, and when our older daughter wanted to take gymnastics, I signed her up and she paid $127.00 for the class.
Daughter's Vision of
Gymnastics Class

("Sofiya" by NFG Photo)
That daughter, however, has a tendency toward capriciousness, such as begging to take a class, then refusing to participate if the teacher absurdly insists on teaching useless nonsense like somersaults before starting the students on net-less trapeze acrobatics. But I’ve discovered that I’m less psychologically invested in her performance when she’s the one spending the money. I can shrug and say, “Whatever. It’s your dime.” And she’s less flippant about blowing stuff off when she had to pay for it. Sweet.
One of the biggest surprises this plan held for me emerged from how the kids manage their Gift money. I figured they’d be greedy little stooges when it came to fête-ing their friends and family members on birthdays and holidays. But they have proven just the opposite. They know what their friends like, and they save up the money they need to buy it.
Our son has been stashing Gift money away for nearly a year so he can buy his younger sister a Nintendo 2DS for her next birthday. The boy is not given to altruism or empathy when it comes to the sister who nuked his Only-Child status, so I suspect this has more to do with providing himself another Mario Cart flunky to decimate. But hey, at least it looks like generosity.
The Fun & Self category is far and away the most active of all their accounts. Alongside their monthly salaries, they amass with their discretionary funds birthday and Christmas money, as well as anything they earn outside the house.
The boy socked money away for months to get himself a Nintendo 3DS XL. When his stash approached the full price of a new one his dad suggested they look online for a used model. They found one on eBay, so my shrewd, strategizing, ex-military man finessed the bidding wars and won. Instead of dropping $200.00 for a new game, they procured a nearly mint-condition refurbished system for $132.00. And the boy cares for it like it’s an orphaned baby wallaby. Because he knows exactly what it will take to replace it if he loses or breaks it.
The Good Stuff
Donna was right. The kids don’t beg anymore.
Photo by Eric
Their ninth-birthday salary comes accompanied by a gift-bag full of new chores. They start doing their own laundry, which for me means no more sorting girls’ Underoos by the size printed inside the waistband, or trying to remember whose socks are striped and whose have polka-dots. The care and feeding of the cat also gets handed down. Trash collection and curb duties begin. Furthermore, when I require assistance with dinner prep or cleanup, household cleaning support, and/or outdoor garden labor, substandard work may mean taking a pay cut that month.
And instead of yelling, pleading, yanking my hair out, or suffering a hypertension-induced stroke, I can simply charge my children for their random acts of stupidity. If the boy misses the bus because he was playing a videogame instead of watching the clock, he pays the Mom-Taxi $10.00 for a ride to school. When the little princess uses an entire, brand new bottle of shampoo to generate for herself a luxurious bubble bath, she can replace it out of her salary. When an assigned chore is forgotten or ignored or delegated without parental authorization, the slacker pays whoever ended up doing the chore. Especially if it’s Mom.
The Stuff that’s Not Working So Great. Yet.
Photo by corsner
Motivation. One of our son’s buddies started a dog-walking business which is reportedly mighty lucrative. Given the number of canines in our neighborhood, I suggested Son might do the same. He considered it only briefly before responding, “Nah. I get enough money in my salary.” Oh, crud. Have we de-incentivized entrepreneurialism?
Over/Shorts. The music teacher at our daughter’s school informed us that Daughter really needs private violin lessons, because she has already advanced beyond the other kids in her instrumental class. (Thinly veiled progeny-bragging right there, in case you missed it.) Music classes run to the tune of $25.00 or more per half hour per week. That adds up to way more than Daughter gets in her Activities fund in a month. We may have to work out some sort of funds-matching scheme, perhaps linked to her weekly practice time and instructor feedback. And if she ever masters The Devil Went Down to Georgia, I’m covering all her fiddle fees, forever, period. Potentially retroactively.
Oversight vs. Natural Consequences. Pokemon cards are a major problem. Our older daughter would spend every nickel she gets on those maniacal little scraps of marketing genius. When she asked to spend $32.00 on one single card, I put my foot down.
However, when she begged me to front her $1.00 to play the Claw machine in a restaurant lobby, I cut her a deal. “If you win, you just have to pay me back the $1.00 when we get home. But if you lose, you owe me $2.00.” She agreed. Three times in a row. I came out $3.00 ahead that day, and she learned some hard lessons about interest and house advantage. (My daughter’s grandmother says that was cruel. I say I learned from the master.)
The Bottom Line
I’m liking the salary structure, and it’s working for us. And in truth, we’re not giving our kids anything other parents don’t allocate theirs; we still provide food, shelter, clothing, and everything else children need. It’s just coming in a form that gradually transfers the decision-making off our shoulders and onto theirs.
And isn’t that the whole point of parenting? To work yourself right out of a job?
Now, if I could just get a salary for this…

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