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Giving your kids an allowance can save you money in the long run

Published Sep. 24, 2012

Sometimes it takes money to save money.

This is what I've learned as a mother of three. By giving my children a weekly allowance they can spend on Legos, that Tinker Bell diary or those extra clothes they don't really need, I don't end up plunking down lots of money at once.

Any budget expert will tell you it's better to pay $25 to three kids once a week than an extra $200 when you go on vacation or $80 when two teenage girls head to the mall.

Opinions abound on the pros and cons of allowance.

Some parenting experts think children should do the basics, such as making their beds and clearing the table without being rewarded. It's a rule of the household, period. Others say they should make real contributions to the household, such as doing laundry or fixing meals without pay because families should support each other.

Other experts suggest giving kids money each week that isn't tied to chores so they learn to manage money. Then you can pay them extra for chores beyond the basics.

A 2010 survey of 506 families conducted by American Express found 62 percent of parents give children a weekly allowance. The average weekly amount is $12, or $48 a month. The majority of those paying parents, or 85 percent, tie the money to chores.

If you do decide to dole out an allowance, a pretty common rule is a dollar for each year of a child's age with a cap of $10.

The average allowances for the 6- to 8-year-old set is $4.80 per week, according to a recent Nickelodeon/Yankelovich Youth Monitor survey. For a 9- to 11-year-olds, it's $7 per week; and $16.60 for the 12-17 bracket.

The most frequently cited tasks children ages 6 to 17 performed were: cleaning their room, taking out the garbage, doing dishes, caring for a pet and doing laundry.

My kids have to do the basics — keep their room decent, handle their dirty dishes and feed the dog when he's kicking his bowl around — just to reside with their devoted parents in our house. For extra weekly chores such as emptying the dishwasher, babysitting a younger brother, yard work and cleaning windows, they receive an allowance based on their age.

Not only does this system allow me to give them smaller amounts of money regularly instead of a lot all at once, it keeps me from buying them stuff they don't really want or need.

It's amazing to see what they can do without when buying an item with their own money.

That Hagrid's Hut Lego set for $40? "I'm not as into Harry Potter as I used to be," my 9-year-old son decided when visiting a Lego store on vacation this summer. He opted for a $10 police helicopter and two Minifigures for $3 each.

My 13-year-old daughter asked me to buy her a $3.99 pink, plastic ball of lip gloss at the Target checkout line when we were buying school supplies. I balked, but suggested she buy it with her allowance.

"I don't want it that much," she replied.

Of course, I do bend sometimes and buy them stuff they should pay for themselves. And, once in a while, I can go three weeks in a row without cash to pay them on Saturdays, then I get hit with a big allowance bill at once.

I think it was our first trip to Disney World with two children in tow when I was hit with the sticker shock and emotional buying that convinced me they should have their own money to spend.

A couple of stuffed animals and colored pencils sets bedazzled with princesses set me back almost $75. This was after the admission tickets and four overpriced lunches.

My daughters were too young for chores at the time. So when they got crisp dollars from grandparents on birthdays, I told them they could spend the money right away or save it for our next trip to Disney World. When one wanted to spend hers instead of saving it, I reminded her that her sister would get to pick out her own toy at Disney, but she wouldn't. She saved it, of course.

The following summer, we were taking them to New York City for the first time and their birthday money was long gone. So we held a yard sale.

"If you sell your old toys and books that you don't use anymore, you'll have money to buy something new at the American Girl Store or the giant Toys 'R' Us store in Times Square," I told them.

A month later when my 5-year-old bought the purple stuffed unicorn with a horn that lit up and played music she declared: "I'm never going to yard-sale this." Sadly, she did four years later.

But I bought it for $3 and have it tucked away safely in the linen closet.

News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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