When I laughed, she said, “I’m serious!”
And she was.
A year earlier, upon entering 8th grade, my 13-year-old requested a lump sum allowance of 100 dollars for the year. (Read the story here.) She announced that, with this vast amount of cash, she wouldn’t need a dime more. Clothing, shoes, field trips, birthdays, and entertainment–she had it covered. She giddily wrote out the contract herself, and after much discussion, parents and daughter signed on the dotted line.
She was rich for exactly eight weeks, and poor for exactly eight months.
But her eight months of poverty were not all bad. In fact, they were very, very good. Here’s why:
1. Hustle. My daughter began to work. Never before was she so quick to accept a babysitting job and so anxious for the next opportunity to come along. Not only did she accept jobs, she actively sought them out.
2. Creativity. With friends, she opted for free activities over those that cost money. At Christmas time, she employed her ingenuity to make her own gifts for friends and family or bought them second-hand. We enjoyed them just as much or more.
3. Frugality. My daughter didn’t want to buy a yearbook because it was too expensive. She stopped buying fast food on athletic trips, preferring to come home to eat. She didn’t even want to go on her eighth grade trip to New York City because it would wipe out her cash reserve. In the end, she took a babysitting job with me, and we watched three children all weekend. (We both earned the trip, but only she got to spend two days on a bus with 26 other eighth graders. I suppose it all worked out?).
She brought little spending money on the trip, something I felt conflicted about. The upside, though, was that she didn’t buy any junk food. The downside was that there were no cheap plastic souvenirs we could throw away a year later. Or maybe that was a plus, too? She did, however, create some pretty superb memories.
4. Independence. Gleeful to be responsible for her own finances, my daughter even looks more confident. She marches into Target with a purpose. Earning that New York City trip was hard work, but there were times during the babysitting weekend that she asked me to go home so she could “be in charge” and “earn her own trip.” I liked that.
5. Gratitude. The change began immediately. Whenever I bought something for my daughter–even if it was just her favorite can of soup at the grocery store–she was elated.
For Christmas she asked for running shoes and some tall brown boots. Before the allowance, these were items I would have bought her anyway, but since she was now the one responsible, she was thrilled on Christmas morning with two basic items.
6. Peace. When at the mall, she didn’t beg for the cute dress or plead for that perfect pair of earrings to match her favorite pair of skinny jeans.
At times she would hint that I would look “really good” in that American Eagle top she could immediately inherit, but absent was the debate, the cajoling, the pouting, the extreme disappointment when mom said “no.”
Shopping was actually a pleasure as we browsed together, weighing the pros and cons of a purchase.
Upon occasion, she still tests me, just to keep things interesting. “Please, Mommy, please, please, please–I’ll pay you back!” It’s hard to resist. My husband often bolsters me with two words: “Stay strong.”
7. The Budget Queen? “Queen” might be overstating it, but there is a ledger. My daughter hand-writes what is coming in and what is going out: 10% goes to charity, 20% goes to college savings, and 70% is hers to spend. (www.themint.org is just one on-line website that helps kids and parents monitor cash flow.)
The Lasting Benefits of the $100 Dollar Allowance
The $100 dollar allowance will come full circle this fall as my daughter enters high school. Expenses will undoubtedly be higher. She is already dreaming of the name brands “all the girls” wear. She needs an iPad, a phone, an athletic team travel suit.
She knows, from past experience, that whatever lump sum we decide upon, it won’t be enough. So, at 13, she actively sought out a summer job and now buses tables every weekday without complaint.
Opening that very first paycheck? Worth every penny.
Sometimes I worry that she works too hard, that she’s become too responsible, too independent. I worry that my 13-year-old should be lounging more, going to a summer soccer camp. Then I wonder if this is just the very strange lament of the American mother?
Our family life is far from smooth all the time. Routines and systems are constantly implemented, then revamped or dumped. But this system worked brilliantly for two reasons: My daughter came up with the idea, and she wholeheartedly bought into it. Literally.
P.S. Yes, she’s getting underwear for her birthday. And I can already hear the squeal of delight.
QUESTION: How did your parents teach you to manage money? How have you taught your children to manage money? What were the positive and negative effects of the strategies you’ve experienced?
CHALLENGE: If you haven’t taught your children about money and budgeting yet, think of at least one way that you can teach them about this important topic. You might consider instituting the $100 allowance. For a lot of additional ideas and step-by-step help setting up work and money practices in your home, check out our Teaching Kids about Work and Money program. Whatever you choose to do, big or small, get started this week.
Graphic by Julie Finlayson.