Pocket money is a topic that concerns many parents. “When to start, if at all?” and “How much to give?” are questions that almost every parent struggles with. To answer these questions, most parents should first answer the following question:
Why do I want to give my child pocket money?
I grew up in a poor family and pocket money was never an option for me. Only when I was 14 and we moved to a new town (which was only slightly bigger than the small town I grew up in), I discovered there was such a thing as pocket money.
I was so surprised. My parents had so little that whenever we asked my dad to buy us something, he said, “We don’t have money”. Therefore, in my mind, pocket money was part of wealthy kids’ life.
But it does not have to be.
Why I gave my daughter pocket money
The first time I answered the question above, I was a young mother and my answer was “To give my daughter what I never had”. So, my daughter had pocket money when she was 3 years.
She could count, so it was OK to give her money. She actually went with us to the shops and bought things with her own pocket money. I remember that one day we went to the shops and wanted to buy candy. She had to decide whether to get expensive candy with a nice box or not and I could see the wheels turning in her brain.
Over the years, while raising three children and working with many parents, I learned that most parents have a dysfunctional attitude towards pocket money. In fact, even my original answer to “Why?” was dysfunctional.
Good money management
I realized that what I really wanted to give my daughter was the opportunity to choose and to learn how to manage money. As an educator, I believe that “practice makes perfect” and letting our kids practice money management is a good thing.
When I ask my clients to rate their money-management abilities, the only thing they can refer to is how happy they are with how much money they earn. Money management is a lot more than just earning money. Most of them earn plenty of money, but still have nothing.
Money management has four components: earning it, using it for necessities, enjoying it and saving (and investing) it. You can teach your kids all four of them from the minute they can count to 10, but not if you have a dysfunctional attitude towards money.
You may be asking, “Ronit, what do you mean by ‘dysfunctional attitude towards pocket money’?” Well, it starts with the different reasons why people give, or do not give, pocket money. Here are just some of them.
Reasons parents have for giving pocket money (or not)
- This is what my parents did
- This is what other parents do
- Isn’t this what I’m supposed to do?
- I’m not giving my child money for working at home. Who pays me for working at home?
- I never got pocket money, so I won’t give my kids pocket money
- What would people say if I didn’t give my child pocket money?
- My children must do housework for their pocket money
- I only give pocket money from age 13/14/15/16/17
- I prefer that my kids ask me for anything they want. This way I can monitor their spending
- I can veto what my kids do with their pocket money
- If my child wants pocket money, they should go out and work for it
This is just a sample. The list is huge. Sadly, I have heard more dysfunctional attitudes than healthy ones towards pocket money.
A healthy attitude is this: you know that giving your kids pocket money is a safe way for them to learn and practice good money management to prepare themselves for the real world.
A dysfunctional attitude is when it is about you managing your money or your emotions. Here is a perfect example of a dysfunctional attitude towards pocket money.
Bridget’s money-management school
Bridget was a 15-year-old girl. Both her parents were accountants. She came to me because of a struggle she had with her dad. She was cutting herself, was taking anti-depressants, had an eating disorder, could not sleep and struggled at school. She was so controlled by her parents that she found very dysfunctional, dangerous (and all too common) ways to deal with her pressure.
Since she had an eating disorder, I tired learning about her eating habits and was very surprised to discover that there were no fruits or vegetables at home and that her parents bought only frozen ready-to-eat meals to reheat in the microwave oven. They had packets of 2-minute noodles, no bread, no cheese and no eggs. Not even cans of food.
There was no dining table at home and they never, ever sat down to eat together (only when they visited her grandmother, which was rare, because her mom had a conflict with her own mother). Bridget normally ate in her room and her parents ate on the sofa in front of the TV.
When I asked Bridget how long this has been happening, she shrugged and said, “Always”.
When I met her parents, they told me she was a spoiled child, because they gave her lots of pocket money. Her weekly allowance was 10 times what I gave my own daughter. At first, I thought maybe I needed to re-evaluate how much I gave my daughter, 10 times is a big difference, so I asked them how they came up with that number.
50% of Bridget’s pocket money was for the bus she took to school. They lived in a remote suburb and Bridget had to take 2 busses in each direction, which took 4 hours each day. Her parents dropped her off at the bus station, about 7 minutes from their home, and picked her up from there at the end of the day. This meant she had to wake up at 5:30 every morning and be in bed at 9:30 to get a reasonable amount of sleep.
She didn’t! And that escalated. She didn’t get enough sleep, so she could not concentrate at school. Then, she started taking anti-depressants, with insomnia as a side effect, until she eventually had to start taking sleeping pills.
20% of her allowance was spent on her smartphone. She inherited in from her father every two years when he upgraded his phone on a $100 monthly plan. Every month, she had to pay for a “top up”.
Her parents were convinced they were preparing her for life, saying, “If she wants to text a lot, she should pay for it”. When I talked to Bridget, she said she mostly called her parents to let them know when she was ready to be picked up from the bus station. On the bus, to avoid using data, she read books.
She used another 20% of her money to buy food at the school canteen, which her parents allowed to do 2 days a week. They were convinced it was a good lesson for her not to buy food every day at the canteen.
When I asked Bridget about the canteen food, she said it smelled awful, she had no friends to sit with and because she found it hard to concentrate, she worked during breaks and didn’t always have the time to go to the canteen during lunchtime. When I asked her about morning tea or afternoon tea, she said, “Buying morning tea is not so much cheaper than buying lunch”, and she had to choose between them.
My head was spinning. I immediately started thinking about what my daughter took to school. Carrots? Cucumbers? Fruit? Bridget said she did not eat anything like that.
When I asked what happened on the other 3 days each week, her parents said she took food from home or used the last 10% of her pocket money to buy whatever she wanted. This part of the allowance also covered all of her self-care products.
I was thinking about how much it cost me to buy my daughter sanitary pads for her period. Bridget did not have much left after that. Her parents said, “She must learn that money does not grow on trees”.
Bridget’s budget seemed tight to me, but I tried to work with her on her logistics and money arrangement. She left home at 6:30am and got back at around 6pm. The closest supermarket was 5 minutes away by car, 15 minutes by bike and 40 minutes on foot. Since she usually got home when it was dark, and she had math tutoring 3 times a week at 6pm, she could only go shopping on weekends.
I asked her parents, “So someone has to take her to the shops to buy pads, self-care things and food with her own money?” They both said, “No, it’s not her money. It’s ours”.
Bridget could not take frozen food to school, because there was no microwave oven available to the students. So, every day, she took 3 packets of 2-minute noodles and ate them dry. “I put the seasoning on top of it”, she said. I suggested she ask her parents to buy her other kinds of food when they went to the shops, but she said her mother said if she didn’t like what they ate, she could buy herself food with the money they give her.
On the weekend, her dad played Golf, her mom cleaned the house and when she went shopping, Bridget had to come. With “her” money, she only bought bars. “Fruits and vegetables are expensive”, she said, and added that she did not know how to cook anything.
When I asked her what she did in primary school, she said she learned to go early so she could get some bread and jam for breakfast. I always knew there were kids who had no food at home, but always thought it was because their families were poor, and their parents had to leave home early to get to work.
Bridget thought she was ungrateful. When she failed at school, pocket money would drop. Some days she didn’t go to school because she had no money left for the bus. It was a vicious cycle, but her parents were convinced they were the greatest parents on Earth. They thought they had pocket money perfectly figured out.
What do you think? Did they?
Do not abuse your kids with money. Be kind
This is not giving pocket money! This is abuse!
I can understand when poor families that have nothing and eat potatoes with the skin do not give their kids an allowance. Their children will understand that too when they grow up.
However, Bridget’s parents could pay a tutor regularly. They paid me to work with her, but they did not care for her basic needs. Food is a basic need. If she needs to be picked up from the bus, a mobile phone is basic needs. Going to school is a basic need. If you have chosen to live in the back of Woop Woop and your daughter has no friends within walking distance, she does not need to pay for her bus to school using “her” money!
If you have ever told your children “This is my money” and expected them to beg or work hard for this money, you have a dysfunctional attitude towards parenting, not just pocket money.
You decided to bring children into the world. It was your choice, not theirs, so treat them with respect. So many people talk about teens who are disrespectful, and I think they learned this from the adults in their life.
Again, if you don’t have money, your kids will understand, but if you have and “us vs. them” mentality, the only lesson you are giving your children is that money is a survival tool and the source of all evil, but it is not!
Money is a great tool to achieve a lot in life and we can teach this to our children not with pocket money, but with kindness and love.
To your emotional wealth!