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Should you pay kids for chores?

Published: April 8, 2024

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If you’re looking for inspiration on how to manage chores and allowance in your family, a simple compromise could be just what you need! To decide whether or now you should pay kids for chores, it could be helpful to break things down.

There are really three questions to ask here:

Should kids do chores? (Most would probably say yes.)

Should kids get an allowance? (The answer is a bit more variable, but there’s a good argument for saying yes.)

Assuming the answers to both of those question are yes, then should allowance be tied to chores? (The answer to this one turns out to be the most controversial.)

Should kids do chores?

There are lots of reasons that support a resounding “yes” to this question.

Some cite equity: Everyone benefits from a well-run household so it’s only fair that everyone contribute.

Others think about responsibility: Children should learn to take ownership for themselves and contribute to their community.

Still others consider the practical side of things: Children need to learn how to do laundry and keep a clean house so that they can do the same when they’re adults and won’t have to depend on someone else to do basic tasks for them.

Whatever your reason, pitching in on household duties is a win win for all.

Should kids get an allowance?

Pay kids

This one may be a little less clear, but the answer is probably yes. Managing money is an important life skill that kids can work on while they’re still kids. That is, before they’re out in the world on their own and the stakes are higher. Whether you give them a bit a spending change for a treat now and then, or expect them to buy everything that’s not a “need,” getting a regular income can allow them to practice making their own financial choice, which could include saving up money for something big, spending all their money right away and losing out on something else they want later, making mistakes, and feeling the satisfaction of buying something they’ve waited for and really want.

Should kids do chores to earn an allowance?

The “right” answer to whether you should pay kids for chores can get a bit tricky. Every family is different and, rightly so, finds different ways to make things work smoothly.

Are chores a “job” or an expected duty?

Whatever your reason for wanting kids to pitch in, the decision to pay for chores may depend on whether you consider them more like a first job or as an unavoidable part of life.

On the one hand, household work is just that: work. Doing chores for pay can be a kid’s first experience with getting compensation for doing decent work.

On the other hand, the family needs to eat, and dishes need to get washed. Everyone in the house benefits from things that just have to happen in the household. Parents don’t get paid for what they to make the household run — so perhaps neither should kids.

If they’re a job, pay kids for chores

Does the idea that chores are like a job feel right? Then by all means, pay kids for their work!

Treating chores like a job can give kids their first experience with understanding the value of work. As they earn money in exchange for work, kids can see how much efforts goes into collecting that hard-earned cash. It may help them have a clearer understanding of the value of that toy they want when they realize just how many dishes they’ll have to wash to earn the money to buy it.

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Some evidence that it’s better to keep chores and allowance separate

There’s some reason to think that the best approach may be to keep chores and allowance separate.

First, research on motivation points to the value of cultivating intrinsic – or internal – motivation rather than relying on outside or external motivators. The idea here is that if chores are tied to money, kids learn the lesson that the only reason to do chores is to get paid. And when kids get rewards (e.g., money) for doing chores, they may begin to lose an appreciation for the feeling of a job well done.

Most importantly for parents looking to get the housework done, if kids decide they don’t need the reward or that the reward is no longer enough, they won’t see any reason to do the work. Whereas, if kids learn that they do chores because it’s simply expected of them as part of the household, or because it’s part of being a responsible person — or whatever reason parents want to stress — they’ll be more likely to do them without having a “carrot” dangling in front of their faces.

Rob Lieber, a New York Times money columnist and author of “The Opposite of Spoiled” makes another well reasoned argument for keeping chores and allowance separate. He suggests that money management is a hugely important skill to learn in childhood. So much so that it shouldn’t depend on whether or not kids complete their chores. He believes that children need to learn hard lessons about saving, distinguishing between wants and needs, making trade-offs, and making mistakes with their money. And they need to do this while they’re still in a space where it’s safe to experiment with small amounts of money, before they get to be independent when even small mistakes can quickly add up to financial disaster.

How about a hybrid?

How can parents recognize the importance of encouraging intrinsic motivation and teaching money management and also create a mock work environment where kids get paid for jobs they do?

One possible compromise is to keep a small, basic allowance and the essential every day chores completely separate. Kids get a certain amount of money every week no matter what, and are expected to e.g., make their beds, clear the table, pick up their laundry, and unload the dishwasher without getting paid for it.

However, parents can choose some extras — like mowing the lawn, taking the trash out, cleaning out the garage, and so on — that can be monetized. Do those chores and get extra pay. Parents and kids can even work together to identify which tasks are in the first category, which ones you pay kids to do, and how to distribute the tasks among the members of the family.

In this way, the concepts of equity, responsibility, and practicality come through loud and clear through the essential every day chores. But, kids also have the chance to go above and beyond – and earn compensation for their effort. Both of those experiences will serve them well in their personal lives, and in their careers.