Revisiting Allowance (Otherwise Known as Revising a Bad Parenting Decision)

You may remember that I posted almost a year ago about my kids (mostly Miss) constantly asking to save their allowance for things. At the time, I thought that they were mostly only asking to save their allowances for items as their way of expressing to me that they were interested in those things. I was sure I was right about this when the tendency to ask to save allowance for something seem to mostly fade away a few months after I wrote that post.

But then it came back. With a vengeance. Both of my older girls began asking to save their allowances for everything. And they really seemed to want the things. Not just to be “expressing interest.”

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

And I began to worry again about whether I was teaching them the right things by giving them allowance and allowing them to spend it on toys. Yes, they were putting a dollar each week into our giving jar. Yes, Miss was also putting a dollar of hers into her piggy bank for long-term savings. But I had wanted them to learn the concept of having to save for things they want, and instead they were buying cheap toys on a whim and then never playing with them, so the point was getting totally lost.

I started to stress out about the allowance policy that we had instituted with very good intentions, but which seemed to have gone terribly awry. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I couldn’t decide what to change. Then a few things happened that prompted me to take action.

I read this post written by a woman who took pretty much all of her kids’ toys away. I was fascinated by the idea of drastically reducing clutter and excess in order to increase creativity and gratitude. I started thinking about how we might implement something like this in our house, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger.

Then we started getting ready for our trip to my parents’ house in April. Often when we visit my parents we take the girls to the Nature Center where they can see and learn about lots of different animals. Each time they had been there before I had allowed them to go to the gift shop and pick out one small souvenir toy to purchase.

This time, when talking to Miss about our upcoming trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa and the possibility that we would go to the Nature Center again, she got super excited and begged me to call Grandma to make sure we could go there. I thought it was pretty great that she was so excited about it.

Then she revealed the reason for her excitement. She wanted to get a toy. She really wasn’t interested in looking at the animals. She just wanted to go to the gift shop and get a new toy.

She was totally skipping over the fun of the experience in her mind and going straight to “what am I going to get?” I was kind of horrified and so upset with myself for allowing the situation to get to this point.

When I instituted the allowance thing I thought I was teaching them the need to save for things they want. I had successfully eliminated any tendency my kids may have had to ask me to buy toys for them. But by giving them allowance and allowing them to spend it as I had, they had become even more focused on material possessions than they would have without the allowance.

I immediately placed a moratorium on spending the allowance and asking to save it for things. I explained to my girls that we can’t always have the things we want, and that they have more than enough toys already. I talked with them about the importance of being grateful for what we have instead of always wanting more. I told them that we could go to the Nature Center when we visited Grandma and Grandpa, but that we would not be buying a toy in the gift shop this time. They were a bit upset at first, but then they had a great time and didn’t push the issue.

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They looked at the toys in the gift shop, but did not make a fuss about not being able to get one.


However, after getting home from our trip, we did have some push back for a week or two about not being able to spend their allowance anymore. I got through this partly by just not giving them their allowance for a few weeks while they got out of the habit of focusing on buying and asking for things. During this time I tried to figure out how to implement allowance in the future, and I started packing up boxes of toys to put in storage.

We packed up a lot of toys from our playroom. I decided not to take all the girls toys away, but rather to pack up many of them and put them in the basement, to be in a rotating system with the toys we kept out. I organized toys in big plastic bins by type.

DSC_0114We kept out a little bit of dress up, the small plastic dolls (mostly princesses, but many others as well), the magnetic building tiles, and the play food and dishes (and books, of course). The girls also have about three other bins or boxes they are allowed to have upstairs at any one time. Right now they have the stuffed animals, the plastic animals, and the baby dolls. If they want something from downstairs they have to make a trade of one full box for another.

This system has worked out so well for us. Clean up is easier and they seem to really enjoy and play with their toys more.

DSC_0109 DSC_0113As for the allowance issue, after much internal debate and discussion with my husband and Super Friend, I decided to begin giving the girls their allowance again. They still put money in our giving jar. Miss still puts some of her allowance in her piggy bank (which we never take money out of). And they understand that they are not allowed to buy toys with their allowance right now.

I intend to have them simply continue to save their money. If there is a situation in the future where I think it is appropriate to allow them to spend their money on something, I’m reserving the right to do so, but for now, no buying.

It’s amazing to me how seemingly innocuous decisions of parenting can sometimes lead to completely unintended consequences. I thought I was teaching my children financial responsibility, and it seems all I was really doing was fostering greed and materialism. My kids were just being kids, but I had unintentionally allowed a habit to develop that was not good for them.

As a mom I find this somewhat terrifying, seeing how something so well-intentioned could go so wrong. . . Fortunately, it’s usually fairly easy to change course when something isn’t working as long as I explain to my kids what we are doing and why (I like this post about How Parenting is Like Following a GPS). Who knows? I may need to change this system again in the future.

I’m sure I’ll need to change directions many, many times as a mom in trying to guide my children down the best path possible.

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4 thoughts on “Revisiting Allowance (Otherwise Known as Revising a Bad Parenting Decision)

  1. This is all very interesting to me – my girls are 3 and 4 and we’ve started to discuss the possibility of allowance but haven’t instituted anything yet. I never thought about how an allowance could foster materialism…hmm….now I have some more thinking to do!!

    • It never occurred to me that it would lead to that either! I’m still not sure that I’ve come up with the “right” solution yet (right for us), but at least I feel like I’ve stopped the madness I had created. Allowance has been one of the trickiest things for me!

  2. Very interesting to read about the unintended consequences of your initial allowance system! I think there are so many factors in play when it comes to kids and money – like their diverse personalities, current age, family financial situation, local community norms, family values – that it’s completely reasonable to expect to have to tweak and tune your system to get it right and to keep tweaking it as the kids mature. Ideally, a modest allowance helps teach delayed gratification when a child has to wait for many allowance cycles to achieve a specific savings goal – i.e., it slows spending. But, sounds like in your case, they didn’t really have their eyes on any specific larger goal, so they just ended up blowing it on little knick knacks each cycle. Perhaps that will change as they get older since older kids tend to settle in on a handful of somewhat pricier “wants.”

    Another good use for allowance for older kids is to allocate it to a specific “need” that you’ve been paying for on their behalf – like clothing. The allowance amount would be based on a simple budget. Then it becomes more of a lesson in making thoughtful spending trade-offs to fit within a reasonable budget and less about buying random stuff.

    The fact that you’re being intentional with your kids about money, experimenting with a thoughtful system, and having open conversations with them puts you way ahead in the financial parenting game – so kudos to you!

    BTW – I highly recommend Dave Ramsey’s book “Smart Money, Smart Kids” on this topic. You might not agree with every aspect of their approach, but they do a great job of covering all of the right things to consider as a parent teaching kids of all ages about money.

    • Yes, there are so many factors! When each of my kids started receiving allowance, they began by saving for a pricier item that it took many weeks of saving to obtain. So I didn’t anticipate the trivial spending on cheap toys at all.

      I have thought about creating an allowance system in which they are responsible for purchasing their own clothing as well as any additional items they may wish to save and budget for when they get older.

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’ll have to check out that book to gather more information before we make any more changes to our system.

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