Note: Increasing pay to $.25 so he has a bigger stash when he actually gets to spend it. Thanks to reader Scott for the suggestion.
Our four-year-old son loves to help. Whether he’s fetching a fresh diaper for his little sister, making coffee with the Keurig,or mixing ingredients in a baking bowl, he has this electric desire to help Mom and Dad.
I know this won’t last forever. Speaking to friends with older kids, this enthusiasm to help out will surely wane as he gets older. But we’re enjoying it now, and hoping it leads to a strong work ethic as he approaches kindergarten.
Not long ago, his desire to help out would make my job more difficult. When he “helped” rake leaves last Fall, he mostly destroyed my piles and only wanted to jump on the bags to squish the leaves down.
Only recently his willingness to help has actually helped get the jobs done.
We’re just scratching the surface of many years of chores and allowances now that our oldest is finally ready. Another adventure in parenting.
Find A Penny, Pick It Up
A few Sunday’s ago, our boy found a penny on Mrs. RBD’s nightstand and asked if he could put it in his piggy bank. We said yes but then explained that money isn’t free, and in the future he’ll need to earn the penny, not just take it from Mom.
His ears perked up.
I told him if he helped to collect and take out the garbage that evening, I’d pay him 10 WHOLE CENTS and he could put it in his piggy bank. He started jumping up and down with excitement!
Pre-school hasn’t started math yet. Granny gave him $20 once to buy a toy and we took him to spend it. He understands that Dad works so we can “buy milk”, and he understands that money is given at the store in exchange for things.
But otherwise, he has no idea what money is worth. A dime is great, ten pennies is even better!
We’ve done a few simple math problems with fingers. He kind of gets it and he’s definitely curious. In the coming years, he’ll make great strides in math and reading skills. But right now, his skills are nil.
All this has got me thinking.
He’s a fresh canvas. Here’s this human being who I’m responsible for teaching about life. Being the nerd that I am, teaching money skills to my three kids will be an important part of parenting and their upbringing.
So why not make a little experiment out of this garbage job?
That Sunday evening before dinner, we walked around to every room in the house to collect the trash. Mom and Dad’s room, the bathrooms, his sisters’ rooms, the office etc. He carefully lifted and dumped each trash can into a kitchen-sized garbage bag held by me. He took great pride in his work.
Outside, we put the bag into the bigger trash can. Then we rolled the trash and smaller recycling can (his job) to the curb, side by side.
Once the job was done, payday.
In the office, I dumped some change on the floor and asked if he wanted a dime or pennies. He obviously took the pennies since there’s more of them.
Then I told him he could help me EVERY WEEK and earn 10 cents every time. He was so happy. All week now he asks about helping with trash.
But how long will this last? When he learns what 10 cents is really worth, will he still want to help? When will I need to raise the pay? What about an allowance?
The Child Labor Experiment
Collecting the trash and taking it to the curb takes about 10 minutes each Sunday. At 10 cents per 10 minutes, I’m paying him $0.60 cents per hour. You and I know that’s lousy, but he acts like it’s a fortune!
I should note that when I offer him money to help, my tone of voice suggests the cash amount is bigger than it really is. Funny how your tone of voice can excite a toddler. 10 cents to him sounds like the lottery.
So I’ve decided to make an experiment out of it to answer a few questions:
- At what age will my son really understand money?
- When does a toddler’s desire to be a good helper go away?
- How will pay effect my son’s willingness to help?
- When will he realize that he’s being drastically underpaid and ask for more?
- Should I even pay him to do work that is expected of him?
It will work like this. Every week for the foreseeable future, my son will certainly want to help with trash collection. Each time he does, I’ll pay him 10 cents. We’ll do this every Sunday for as long as it lasts.
I’ll pay him out of a giant jar full of coins. So when he sees where the money is coming from, he know’s there a lot more of it. He’ll also have a choice of denomination. One dime, two nickels or ten pennies.
Here’s a few ground rules I’ve set:
- Every week I’ll ask if he wants to help. He’s not required to. If needed, I’ll remind him that he gets a whole 10 cents for his piggy bank. I expect he’ll always say yes unless he’s tired and watching TV. But he usually stops what he’s doing to help Dad with a job.
- The payment remains 10 cents. Tipping 2 additional cents is allowed for exceptional performance or extra effort.
- If he declines, the bounty increases in 5 cent increments until he accepts. The ceiling is $0.50 for any given week for starters. Amounts may not matter at all.
- Garbage duty will be the only paid chore for now. Cleaning up toys and other household duties will remain expected without pay.
Current Status of the Experiment
We’re already three weeks into the experiment. Here’s where we stand:
|May 1st||$0.12||$0.02 tip for rain|
|May 8th||$0.10||Helped bring in the empty trash can on Monday.
Expected pay (not part of the deal).
|May 15th||$0.25||Increased pay on reader suggestion. Also helped
make a delivery to a neighbor. $.25 will give him
a more sizable stash to spend, save, give.
So far he’s made $0.32 for his efforts. His pleasure comes mostly from helping. But he is certainly excited to get the money, and even more so to physically put it in his bank. This past week he had a minor meltdown because I almost tried to help his sister brush her teeth before we put his coin in the bank.
He also expected more money for helping to bring in the empty can on Monday. I told him that wasn’t part of the deal and he relented. But I may institute a $.05 payment for that job. Seems fair.
The piggy bank is small. For the coming Christmas, I’m planning to buy him a large Coca-Cola Bottle Bank.One of my Aunts bought me this same exact bank when I was nine or ten. For a few years, it was my most prized possession. He’s ready for it.
The Bigger Picture of Chores and Allowance
We are not yet strict about helping around the house. Our son likes to help with certain things. This excludes cleaning up, unfortunately. But we certainly want to institute weekly chores when the kids get a little older. With chores and aging come the idea of an allowance.
When I had satellite radio and listened to the Dave Ramsey show years ago, one of my favorite quotes of his (aside from “you gotta sell the truck“), is this:
Work get paid. Don’t work, don’t get paid. – Dave Ramsey
We’d like to think our kids will do chores out of a sense of family responsibility. But in reality, there will need to be some kind of motivating factor.
Loss of allowance seems like a solid one to me. But that doesn’t mean anything until they understand what money is and what it does.
So, for now, I’ll do my little experiment and see where it goes. We’ll need to visit the toy store to spend some of it. When he sees what $0.32 will buy him, maybe garbage time won’t be so exciting.
Do you give your kids an allowance? Is the allowance related to chores? What if they skip the chores?
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