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The New Dirty Word Starts With A

This little piggy bank ticked a lot of parents off.

We all know certain topics, when raised in front of a multi-generational audience, are likely to raise eyebrows or elicit glares. There are the obvious ones (sex, drugs). There are the audience-specific ones (i.e. inviting a kid whose parent is anti-sugar out for ice cream). And then there are the stealth ones—the ones you don’t know about until you get the dirty looks.

When dad and  writer Michael Weiss went out on the road to do research for an article, he was expecting an easy dialogue with parents in the playground. Instead, he got the cold shoulder, the evil eye, and a whole lot of other signs that the conversation he was raising was seriously unwelcome.

So what was the controversial topic he was trying to bring up with these parents? I’ll give you a hint: it’s one of the two most common sources of marital strife. (And I already ruled out sex.)

Weiss was asking about money. Specifically: Allowance.

While he was working on a piece for Kidworth, a new site about kids and money management, Michael wanted to get real stories from real parents about how they handled the allowance question. He was hoping to understand the range of normal out there:  How much money parents give directly to their kids, what criteria they use to determine when and whether the kids get it, and if they control the way the money’s spent.

His research was surprisingly unproductive. Yes, because people acted like he was telling their kids about a secret stash of gummy bears under the jungle gym just by acknowledging that there was such a thing as allowance. But also because he was only able to find one family who subscribed to this age-old parenting ritual.

Some parents said they didn’t see the need, and preferred to simply buy their kids things as they saw fit.  Some were worried about losing control, and disapproving of what their kids might do with the money. Others just didn’t want to deal with the hassle.

Are the days of allowance over? And if so, are our kids missing out on something valuable by not getting one?  After his playground eye-opener, Weiss delved into the research on kids and allowance to see what the experts say. Here’s what he learned:

I found that most financial and parenting experts agree, an allowance is a healthy way to give your children financial skills that they can carry on through their adult lives.  It’s only a dirty word if you make it one.  Here are some tips I gathered:

(1) Don’t tie an allowance to doing chores.  This was the biggest fear I found when speaking to parents and it turns out it’s well founded.  Tying money to chores instantly turns it into a power struggle—something parents have enough of already.  An allowance should be an independent stream of income, used as its own learning experience, not a facilitator for others.

2) Start at the right age, with the right amount of money.  Most experts suggest $1 for every year of a child’s age.  5-6 year olds can start to grasp the concept of saving and spending money.  7-12 years are really in the sweet spot for starting healthy financial habits.  They want to buy things and are good at math.

Read about how to encourage kids to spend money wisely and get more tips on how to use the A-word to your kids’ advantage at Kidworth.com.

photo: Alan Cleaver/flickr

Babble’s Finances Feature: Money Changes Everything

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