Should you pay your child to do chores?

February 21, 2018

A few months ago, tired of my son asking for more toys, and tired of trying to literally explain that money doesn’t grow on trees (who knew?), we opened up a bank account for him, and I started putting in “pocket money” once a week. I figured this would help him better learn what having money means, and how one can’t buy NERF blasters if you don’t have the money (credit cards have never been mentioned – shew!).

I also wanted him to learn that if you keep buying small things with the only money you have, then you can’t save for bigger things. It’s a process that’s working well so far, and he’s also learning that he can’t get stuff ad hoc from me, since my contribution is his pocket money.

Paying for chores

Something that I haven’t figured out yet is the practice of paying for chores. Towards the end of last year, my son really wanted a NERF (see the theme here?) and I told him he had to try to “earn” it by doing chores around the house. We kept a chart, and each time he would do something beyond the ordinary (like taking his plate away, hanging up his towel), for example washing my car, or throwing away the dead bird that I was too squeamish to go near, he would earn a small amount of money.

I had mixed feelings about it – yay he was earning money and working towards a toy, but shouldn’t he have been doing these things anyway? While not a great comparison, back in my day I would help my dad clean the pool, feed the dogs every night, and even help with the gardening for nada. Why? Because someone had to do it. And because, it was a fantastic lesson in helping out, earning my keep (though technically an eight-year-old doesn’t need to do this), and doing chores.

What the expert says

But what does a money expert say? Pieter Rossouw, a Financial Wellness researcher at Momentum isn’t a fan of paying for chores. He says the connection in your child’s mind between getting money and doing chores is a risky one. He says that once you’ve positioned a chore as being connected to an incentive, it is very difficult to convey the real, and often right reasons for doing something. Similarly, once the incentive disappears, will the chore still be done?

“Behaviours that you as a parent want your child to adopt and internalise as part of their own value system, should not be connected to an incentive,” he says. “Feeding the family pets, is an example of caring behaviour you want your child to adopt for reasons that have to do with love and responsibility – not an incentive. Other examples would be making your bed in the morning or making sure your room is not a pig sty, or packing and unpacking the dishwasher.

“Children need to understand that in the real world, everybody needs to do their part and certain responsibilities are simply what they are and need to be done, for no reward. End of story.

“Bribing your children with money to get them to do what they need to do, is another bad tactic that paves the way for poor self-discipline later in life.

Another reason why paying for chores isn’t a good idea can be explained by the following question, says Roussouw. “If your child has enough money, what reason do they have to do a chore if they don’t need the money? This question demonstrates the danger of making chores subject to reward. If there’s no need for extra money, it is highly likely that your child will argue that they don’t need the money so they don’t really see the point of doing the chore. Or, can you imagine your child’s face if you stop paying him for a chore that previously got him some extra money? Chaos!”

Other options

“You have to decide what you give as pocket money (an allowance) and what you’re willing to pay extra for. The idea behind pocket money is to give your child the means to engage with money and make money decisions – good and bad. It’s a tool, and some part of it should be given for free.

“A wage, or whatever you want to call that extra income, is the money you may give for work done. A good way to identify these kinds of opportunities is to ask yourself what work or task that you were going to pay for, can your child can do instead? Next time you want to take your car to the valet, offer the R90 to your child to do it, or get them to help in the garden. In both cases, you were going to spend the money one way or another if you weren’t going to do it yourself, and it’s also a way of encouraging entrepreneurship.”


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