Creating an Allowance System for Our Teenage Son

(This was originally published April 2010 on

Last summer we finally started an allowance system for our son, Conner, who was 13 at the time.

Oh, we’ve tried giving him an allowance before, but I was never very consistent about actually giving it to him (kind of a key point) and for many years it just never seemed very pressing or important for him to have his own spending money.

Looking back, I think we put off many of the money issues that parents face with their kids because we lived overseas for a few years, and kids just aren’t inundated with the marketing tactics and the peer pressure that they face in this culture and in American schools in general.

I Had to Stop Micro Managing the Handouts

No sooner did we move back to the States and Conner became a teenager than did my sanity start screaming for something better than negotiating every single thing that my son seemed to think he needed: Can I get an iphone? Can I go to the movies? Can I get an iphone? Can I get a new [enter name brand] hoodie? Can I get an iphone? Can I have some money to buy my lunch at school? (Can I get an iphone?) Can I Can I Can I??

We Had No Personal Experience

When it comes to doling out allowances, I’ve always struggled with the concept of paying my kids to do chores around the house: I believe that they should do certain things as a matter of course simply because they are a member of this family. I never got an allowance, after all. (And neither did my husband.) So I really struggled to come up with a system that made sense that would not only relieve my sanity but would also avoid turning my son into a hired hand.

I Decided to Make Up My Own Allowance System

I ended up creating a system of my own  — at least, I’ve never come across anything exactly like it anywhere else. (If anyone begs to differ, please let me know: I’m sincerely interested.) It’s a combination of paying him to do chores, while still making his chores his responsibility and not something he can avoid simply because he  “doesn’t care” about getting an allowance. (HA! Until the minute they want something, that is! Right?)

I typed this out, we discussed it, and I printed him out his own copy. Let us not underestimate the ability of a teenager to reinterpret events after they have happened.

Conner’s Allowance Guidelines:

Conner Budgets His Allowance For…

  • Savings and Charity.
  • Gifts.
  • Clothing and shoes.
  • Entertainment (movies, etc.).
  • Lunches bought at school.
  • Snacks and drinks out and about.
  • Electronics, etc., for yourself (incl. cell phone use).
  • Other toys and wants, including souvenirs on vacation.

Parents Still Provide and Budget For…

  • Groceries (incl. for lunches).
  • Electronics for family.
  • Eating out with whole family.
  • Vacations with whole family (but not souvenirs).
  • Music lessons and needed supplies.
  • Sports, academics, and required school activities (not entertainment) and supplies within reason.

*Chores are part of being part of a family and a household. You will not be compensated for everyday chores. You are expected to help around the house as asked and assigned.

*If you do not complete a chore you are assigned, you are required to pay the person who completed it for you. Prices and chores may change but start as follows:

  • Mowing — What you owe someone else if who does it for you: $20
  • Other yard work — What you owe someone else who does it for you: $5+
  • Dishes, etc. — What you owe someone else who does it for you: $5
  • Dusting and cleaning your room: $5
  • Other chores as assigned TBD (To Be Determined)

Parents have executive authority and the final say in any changes.

The question that begged to be asked, of course: How Much?

We didn’t want to start out too high — after all, it’s much easier to raise an allowance than to lower one! We set $30 a month as a starting point, fully expecting to raise that before the year was out. You might be more surprised than we were to learn that, so far, $30 has been more than sufficient.

Creating an Allowance System for Our Teenage Son: Part I

What We’ve Discovered and Experienced  So Far

  • Conner has become much more aware of how much things cost.
  • He’s more appreciative of a “good deal”.
  • He’s become very interested in ways he can earn extra money.
  • My nagging him to do his chores has all but stopped.

And extra bonus — he’s even more thankful for the gifts that he receives!

The Value of a Dollar

Conner used to bug me regularly for “just a few dollars” so he could buy himself lunch at school. He didn’t seem to appreciate how much more we could get for those same dollars if he consistently brought his lunch from home.

After starting the new allowance system, the asking for “just a few dollars” stopped completely. Yea! Mom’s sanity level quickly spiked. I no longer felt like The Giving Tree that gave and gave but it was never enough.

At first, Conner decided to “treat” himself to buying lunch at school every Friday. Then he started complaining about how “puny” the servings were compared to how much they cost.  After a few months, lunches at school almost completely tapered off. He eventually decided he’d rather put those dollars to use somewhere else instead. (e.g. electronics)

Occasionally, he forgets to take his lunch with him and is forced to bum some money off a friend so he can buy it at school. He is always good about paying his friend back, but he’s quite chagrined to have to do so. (He hasn’t forgotten to take his lunch in for quite some time now…)

Recognizing and Appreciating a Good Deal

Conner used to balk at going to Goodwill with me — I’d wager most teenagers would! One time, however, we struck gold: a brand-new pair of tennis shoes his size, still in their original box. Conner was floored. (I think they were a Tar-ghay brand?)

He just couldn’t get over it, “These are only $5!” In his bewilderment he started telling me about a guy in one of his classes at school who made fun of people who shopped at second-hand stores — like he had this sixth sense and could tell or something. Like, whatever. Conner started imagining out-loud how he would ask him what he thought about his brand-new shoes, then casually mention that he got them at Goodwill.

Earning Money

Conner is much more interested in putting himself out there to explore ways to earn extra money. This winter, for example, he and a friend have gone around with their snow shovels offering to shovel neighbors’ driveways at about $10 a pop each. They’ve never come home with as much money as they think they will! Unless you’re living in Mexico, it’s likely this winter that you’ve been reminded of what hard work it is to shovel snow! And that’s a great lesson, I believe: Earning money can be hard work. They would leave the house with grandiose plans to shovel ten driveways and come home pooped after three. They may not have earned as much as they wanted, but every dollar that came into their hands was highly valued.

We have had to improvise one addition to the original allowance system we wrote out in June to accommodate babysitting jobs.  Conner has two younger siblings, ages five and seven, and I occasionally call on him to watch them for me. We have agreed that, if I’m running errands for the family or attending a school function, for instance, then he will not be paid for this service but will do it because he is a part of this family. However, if I’m out to dinner with my friends or otherwise doing something “fun”, he gets $5. We don’t quibble over an hourly rate. Yes, it’s a deal! (He really has no idea.) But he is pleased nonetheless.

Currently, with my husband deployed, I have been relying on Conner more and more to watch one or both of his siblings so I can get things done out and about without (at least one of) the little yappers tugging on me while I do it. (Having a child old enough to watch his younger children changes your life I tell you what.) Conner is always hopeful that I’m going out to do something “fun” so he can get his $5, but doesn’t complain when it isn’t. Somehow getting paid to do it occasionally has helped his attitude about helping out even when he isn’t financially rewarded.

Not Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Okay, okay… Conner never actually complained (too loudly) about gifts he received… He really is a sweet kid! But since we’ve started this allowance system, Conner has become much more aware of the value of things and appreciating gifts he is given — especially when it’s something that helps him not have to spend his own money!

When his grandparents came to visit, for instance, Grandpa took him shopping for underwear. Yea. Boxer shorts, to be exact. Do you know how much those things cost? Conner was shocked! He had been needing some new ones but couldn’t quite get himself to fork over his own cold, hard cash. He was totally excited at the score! (Thanks, grandpa!)

He’s also much more appreciative and accommodating when it comes to preparing the lunches that I buy for him. Before I go to the store, I’ll ask him if he has any requests or ideas of something new that he’d like to try. Before, he’d usually  shrug his shoulders and say, “I don’t know,” and act like he just couldn’t be bothered with it. Then later he’d complain that he had “nothing to take to school” and that it was all the “same boring stuff” while I tore my hair out.

He’s become much more thoughtful and responsive when I ask him now. As per our agreement, what I get for him at the store is quite literally a “free lunch” and he’s learning to — well… not look a gift horse in the mouth.

My Nagging Him Has (Almost) Stopped

I simply remind him that he will be paying (usually me) to do a chore if he doesn’t complete it. The hardest part is remembering myself to remind him of this! For Conner: Money speaks like his mom never did. I might tell him 15 days in a row (ahem) to come and get his dirty clothes off the bathroom floor. Once I finally think to tell him, “Hey, Conner, this is your last warning to get your dirty clothes off my bathroom floor. From now on, I’m just going to do it myself and you’ll owe me a dollar.”

I take my role as the Executive Authority very seriously.

Funny, I only found his clothes on the floor one more time after that. And I’d been looking forward to a little more  pocket change…

We Can Always Tweak It

This system may not be perfect, but I have been marvelously surprised at how well it has worked overall. I’m so glad we finally started something — not just for my sanity, but for my son’s financial education as well. We will continue to tweak the details along the way, but at least we have a starting point from which to begin the discussion.

And that’s another benefit as well, isn’t it? Helping my son learn to communicate about finances. Wouldn’t that we all could improve in that area of our lives as well!

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