How to Have Kids Earn Money And/or Treats?

Updated on July 24, 2013
S.C. asks from Clarks Summit, PA
8 answers

I have three children ages 6, 4, and 2. I tend to just give when they want something. For example, we go to the dollar store and they always get something, or to walmart and get candy. They are now expecting it, and I need them to understand that I was wrong by doing that and they need to earn things. They are good kids but I would like to have them start earning their "wants". I have read that reward systems are bad and some say they are good. I want something that everday items, such as getting dressed, brushing teeth are not rewarded with money, however can earn them the sweet treat they want. Also want them to do chores such as clearing dishes, or unloading dishwasher as money earners, that they would need to put part of their money goes away in savings, a donation jar, and for themselves. I just dont know how to make a system like this without making it too difficult, for I am already lost. Thanks for any input.

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answers from Chicago on

My son gets an allowance and he has to have money to buy the things he wants. He has learned that he gets more for his money at a garage sale so we have fun with that. We occasionally buy him a toy but have found that if he has to shell out his money, he thinks about whether he really wants it.

Allowance is not tied to tasks or his household responsibilities. He is expected to do these.

My husband fell into the habit of buying things a lot so we have agreed he won't do that even if it means a hissy fit in the store. The allowance has helped. If its a big item, I tell my son to put it on his birthday or Christmas list.

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answers from Boston on

Well, you've already figured out that giving treats buys their cooperation in the short run, but it kind of creates a huge problem in the long run. The treats will get more and more expensive, and the demands will only increase. Just for fun, calculate what you spend on stuff that isn't necessary over the course of a month, and you'll be shocked at how much gets frittered away at the dollar store. Moreover, your kids don't really have to decide what's really important to them, because they get something every time. You'll probably also find that rewarding kids with candy or dessert turns into a possible diet/obesity problem later on in life. I used to let my son ride on those little rides (mini carousels, etc.) at the mall - then it turned into a nightmare.

Families do chores because it's part of living in a family, not because they get paid. Getting dressed, brushing teeth, picking up the basic toys, taking a bath, putting on a seatbelt, and coming to the table are not rewardable tasks. They are expectations. Dishes, laundry, dusting may be rewardable extras. Seasonal and occasional chores may be rewardable - raking leaves, sweeping the garage, etc. -- but again, you have to have a fallback position if a kid says "no".

Paying them for daily chores actually devalues the work. Families cooperate so that there's more money at the end of the week or the month or the summer. If they enjoy helping, great. If they don't, too bad - they still have to help. The longer it takes to get stuff done, the less time YOU have to play a board game with them or get out the arts & crafts supplies or put on their favorite video.

The kids need age-appropriate chores. I'm a big believer in turning things into a game or a cooperative venture. Even a 2 year old can match clean socks. Kids can learn colors by sorting dirty laundry into darks and lights. They can put out napkins and silverware. The 6 year old can certainly carry dishes to the sink; maybe the younger ones can if they are plastic and don't have a lot of leftover food on them that will wind up on the floor. Everyone can carry in a grocery bag if things are packed by weight. The little one brings in the toilet paper, the middle one brings in the boxed goods, the oldest handles canned goods and meat, you handle glass and fruit.

Kids can put toys away especially if they have storage bins with a photo of the item on the outside - cars in this bin, blocks in that bin. Kids who can't read can identify the pictures. It's a lot easier than "clean up your room" if you can say "pick up blocks and stuffed animals" or "put shoes in the closet."

Money doesn't mean anything at all to a 2 year old, and it means very little to a 4 year old. Instead, have them work together to earn a family activity, which can be a board game or a pool/beach afternoon, or a nature hunt. Not everything has to cost money.

Having assigned chores can be required, and extra chores available for a small amount of cash - but it's hard to equalize it among kids of different ages unless you divvy up the chores by each child. Having them work cooperatively is great too, if you can keep the emotion out of it and not get sucked in the job of referee when the older one yells, "No fair! I'm doing everything!"

Makes some of the rewards non-monetary - trips to the library to borrow a book, trips to the children's museum once a month, going to the park, a trip to the fire department to climb on the engines (in our town, the firefighters love this), making a picture book to send to Grandma, etc. And having them give some money away to the needy is great, but it can also be accomplished by having them choose a toy per month to give to a shelter, or helping to choose HEALTHY food choices for the food pantry.

You want to break them (and you) of the bad system, so that means you need to explain that you've thought it over carefully and you think it's not a good idea. You figured out what it adds up to over the course of a month - if you can, put a pile of money in the center of the floor, and tell them that's what you spent just in July! Tell them it's easy to lose track of money - you did, and you don't want to teach them to do that. You want them to learn to save money for something special, not just buy junk at the dollar store at every whim. Let them know that from now on, things are going to be different and actually much much better. Tell them what you have planned at the end of the month - an amusement park, a beach, whatever. When you go to the store, tell them the treat money is going into the beach fund. Work with the kids to make a special bank - use an oatmeal box or one of those big canisters of pretzels - cut a hole in the lid. Put stickers on it that indicate the fun thing you are saving for. Money you saved by using coupons or not buying candy at the store goes into that jar. Let them see it build up and let them help you by putting the money through the slot. Put it up high (e.g. on top of the mantel or the fridge) where they can see it but not get to it. Then give them each their own piggy banks (again, you can make them -- a good exercise in economy as well as fun) for a small amount of money. Quarters are good, but get them used to different amounts (assuming the 2 year old doesn't put stuff in his mouth). They can also learn to count money, roll coins, take them to the bank, etc. Get those coin sorters at any office supply store and free paper rolls at the bank.

Banks also let kids open no-fee accounts - maybe that's something that happens when they turn 5? Something to give the oldest a special privilege and let the 4 year old look forward to?

Just some ideas - you don't have to do all of them. Good luck!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

When I was a kid:
ONCE a month, per our behavior, it was a "treat" day.
1 special thing, that we chose.
And we also had chores and just the EXPECTED family behavior. Of which we were PART of a family.
Chores was not paid for. I didn't get paid for it. It was just something a family member does.
Same for my kids.
And if/when we give our kids money, they know how to save it or buy something, choosing wisely and pricing it out.
They even know that some stores sell something for a better price, than others. Because we teach them. And we shop that way too.
If they want something that costs more they SAVE toward it.
Just like us.
And yes, my kids like to donate their earnings too.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

I don't really have a reward system, but my kids don't expect me to buy them stuff when we go to the store either. If they see something they would like to have I usually tell them "Oh, you should put that on your birthday/Christmas list." or "Next time we are coming to this store you should remember to take that much out of your piggy bank and bring it with you." or "We should watch for that to go on sale, then maybe I'll buy it if the price is right." or "Maybe we can find one like that used.". As for candy treats, I do not buy candy, except for their Christmas stockings, Easter baskets and a birthday treat. Between that candy and their Halloween candy they have more than enough candy to last all year. They are allowed to have one small (Halloween sized) candy treat a day.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Families members do chores because members contribute to the household. End of story. Everyone is responsible for their own stuff, i.e. picking up their toys, putting away their clothes, clearing their place setting, etc.

We give an allowance to our 5 year old (3 year old is too young to understand money). She gets .50 per year, and it isn't tied to chores. Since she is part of the family economy by being a member, she gets her own money.

I do buy my kids things at the store from time to time, but since I don't always, I don't have an issue with the things I buy. I do tell them they are welcome to buy whatever it is they want with their own money.They both have tons of money, as some relatives have showered them with cash. My 5 year old uses her allowance to buy her brother candy all the time when we go to the grocery store. it's cute.


answers from Chicago on

I've been making my 6 year old buy (most of) his own treats for the past few months. He has to earn the $ by being more helpful around the house. At this point we're not designating savings, donation, spending, but he donates on his own every Sunday--he'll run to his piggy bank before we go to church so he can give to the poor.

Seems to be working fairly well, and he's quickly learning that $ doesn't come easily and that he can't have everything he wants.



answers from Portland on

We don't really buy our kids many treats when we are out at stores and I make it clear that we won't be buying anything for them before we go in the store. That way there is no asking. If we know we will buy a treat, we tell them up front and make it a special, rare treat. We do allowance if they keep up with their chores each week and keep their grades up. They learned quickly that saving for bigger things is much better than blowing it on little things, so it has been a fun lesson for them to have a little money. We only give them $2 each per week. Then they carry their little ski wallets around their necks when we go to the store, in case they want to buy something. I make them pay by themselves too.



answers from Hartford on

We have a star chart. My daughter feeds the cat, helps set or clear the table, picks up her toys and has to use kind words and a kind voice. That last one can be the most difficult! Each day she puts a star next to each thing she has done. On Sundays she gets paid a quarter for each star. She then puts her quarters into stacks of four and trades them in for dollars. That way she learns that 4quarters equals $1. Part of that money is given to church, part of her money is for savings and part is for her to spend. She recently bought a fish with the money. I bought the tank and food, but she was really proud to save up for the fish. As far as the day to day getting ready, we just have a door hanger with to do on one side and done on the other. There is a clothes pin with each task and a picture. As each task is done she moves the clothes pin. In theory, the TV doesn't go on until all of that is done. In the past I've had a fuzzy jar and she earns fuzzies for whatever we are working on, listening, kind voice etc... When the jar is full we go to Check E Cheese or something like that. Good luck!

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