A question of learning with pocket money
Tying kids’ pocket money to chores or performance in school has always struck me as problematic.
Being helpful to your parents and doing your best at school are things every child should expect to do.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not above offering a bribe from time to time linked to something I really want to happen (much-wanted Lego set in return for extra effort needed to hop up a maths group at school).
But using pocket money as an incentive can have unintended consequences. It can be like paying a banker bonuses based on how much money they lend out. Don’t be surprised if they dish out risky loans and treat customers less like people than cash machines.
I reread Anita Stokes’ fun wee pocket money guide again the other day and was tickled by the tale of the parents who linked pocket money to the number of goals their son scored. The boy refused to pass to team-mates and headed off on frequent solo charges towards the opponent’s goal.
This is the moment I confess my kids’ pocket money is linked to practising the piano. They get $5 a week and earn it in chunks of $1 for doing practices throughout the week.
I notice two effects. The first is they are practising the piano quite diligently.
The second is that they have one eye on the clock to ensure they don’t practise a nano-second longer than is needed to earn the money.
When it comes to pocket money, parents often seem to focus on using it to teach their kids money lessons.
Give them $2.50 and they have to save $1 towards a long-term goal, give 50 cents to charity and the other $1 they are free to spend.
I understand the desire to create systems like this and I reckon they send a message to kids that money is worth treating with thought.
I just think the behaviours you model to your kids have a more powerful influence on the development of their money habits.
My parents never had a pocket money system but they were prudent people who spent money carefully. It rubbed off on me.
Many parents don’t give their kids pocket money. Many can’t afford to. That’s not the end of the world, if they do the other stuff right, especially when the kids are young and don’t need much more than a bike, a ball and a place to kick it around.
Pocket money is not entirely the preserve of parents, though. It also comes from grandparents.
My grandfather used to pay me to mow his lawns.
My grandmother used to give me the odd fiver too (when I was a teenager she called it petrol money. My sisters got clothes money).
The result of these transactions was that I saw a reasonable amount of both of them. We chatted more. My sense of kinship with them both deepened. Sure, the lawns looked OK but we got to spend time together. And the money helped me spread my early teenage wings, bringing a welcome addition to the pittance my paper-round brought in.
I could afford to take girls to the boating lake and dress well (I thought) so as to be able to attract them. That money bought my grandparents and me a bigger stake in each others’ lives – and they were both prudent people too.