Friday, March 14, 2008

The Coin of the Realm

I thought long and hard about the whole “allowance” thing. So many Expert Opinions™. So many ways of thinking about the whole issue (which I didn’t even know was An Issue until I started wondering how much the average nine year old gets these days)!

Finally, I settled on a commission basis for the Denizens. I structured it so that, with almost no effort at all, they can earn $1.25 a week; if they really apply themselves, they can actually make upwards of $20! (Thank $DEITY they don’t often apply themselves…)

I went to a local school supply store and got somewhat realistic play money – it is the wrong weight paper and the colors are ever-so-slightly wrong, but otherwise quite faithful to the real deal; the coins are plastic, but exactly the right size and color. Then I made up a little grid: Six rows (categories) with seven columns (one for each day), one section for each Denizen.

Make Bed / Tidy Room: Every morning after I’ve dropped them off at school, I walk down and peek in their rooms. If I see a reasonable attempt at making the bed and a space that doesn’t strike terror into my heart, I’ll give them a check in the ‘make bed / tidy room’ category. That’s worth a quarter.

Homework: When they show me that they’ve done their homework for the night, I give them a check. Have you ever heard a child whine because they didn’t have any homework to do? It is a truly religious experience…

Perfect scores on tests / classwork: When they bring me their graded papers, I give them a quarter for each perfect score. It is astonishing the difference this has made in at least a couple little minds. One little mind, however, really needs to quit daydreaming about fairy unicorn princess dragons and stay on task a little better. Ahem. Moving on…

Citizenship Bonus: The Citizenship bonus is my way of rewarding Model Behavior. Children who show respect to themselves and each other, children who go out of their way to make my life easier, say, clean up after their brother when he’s been on a tear, who win awards for being good citizens at school, or who finally get an actual cartwheel at gymnastics, get a check or two.

Other: We often strike deals with the kids. “I’ll give you a buck if you’ll keep your brother out of my hair for the next hour!” or “Two bucks to weed the backyard, and that’s my final offer!”

Deductions: Yes, there is a category for ‘deductions’. Deductions can be for things like…wanting a candy bar before we cash out on Friday (you have to pay an extra $0.50 if you insist on doing that). It can also be for extraordinarily bad behavior, and I have to wonder what people around me have thought when I’ve been stalking through a store with a whining Denizen in tow snarling, “If you ask me for a cookie one more time, I’m putting a check in your deduction row!”

The kids usually make about two bucks with their efforts; sometimes they really put forth the effort and have windfall weeks, other times, well, they put forth negative effort and get nada. There was even one week when Eldest had to pay me money. Not her best week ever…

So, what do they do with their earnings?

I have a Rewards Book. It is quite lengthy and changes frequently.

They can buy things like…candy bars ($1.25), or a trip to the ice cream store ($3.00). They can buy an extra hour of video game time for $5.00 (they usually get one (1) hour each, weekends only, timed - with this, they can buy an hour ‘after homework’ during the week, or, get a two hour turn on a non-school day). They can pick what’s for dinner, right down to the side dishes and dessert, for $5.00. (Hey, if you’ve been revolted for three weeks straight by the glop Mom’s been serving up? $5.00 to choose spaghetti NO MEATBALLS and buttered toast NO GARLIC and NO GREEN STUFF and then ice cream for dessert is a small price to pay.)

You want Chuck E. Cheese’s? $25.00, please. Build-a-Bear? Groovy! $30.00! You want to go to the mall and pick out a Brand!New!Outfit!? Who doesn’t?! Forty bucks, kid, and you’ll be stylin’!

There’s other stuff, too. Trips to the Lawrence Hall of Science, or the Monterey Aquarium, trips on a train, trips to local “fun zones” – and of course, the Holy Grail: Disneyland. Two Hundred Smackers, and I will pack you up and drive you down for a weekend with the Mouse.

They can also make a case for other things. For example, Eldest is going to Disneyland for her birthday soon, and she asked me if she could “cash out” her savings for a Disneyland gift card of equal value from the Scrip table at school. At first I balked, because she was talking about cashing out $100 and, well, uh, I’m on a budget and some junk? But, she made a good case for why it was fair and pointed out that her classroom will get $8 from the Scrip program for the card, sooooooo…OK. She’s getting a $100 Disney gift card to use on whatever she wants while we’re at the park.

I’ve tried to keep the prices more or less in line with reality. My hope is that my children will begin to understand that if you want something !AWESOME!, you may have to save for it. You may have to say ‘no’ to smaller things. You may have to work harder. Also, I’m hoping that the idea of consistently putting out a good effort, both with the small stuff (making your bed) and the biggest stuff (acing the test), has its rewards.

So far, it seems to be working really well. Their work in school has, overall, improved (with a few notable continuing issues); their beds are almost never made, but! Danger Mouse has been making a concerted effort this week, so I’m sure there will be demands for a beach trip coming up soon.

Also, I have to say that on a note of pure, unadulterated selfishness, it is wonderful how much more help I get from the children. Boo Bug will clean every mirror in the house for $0.50, and Eldest will empty all the trash cans for $0.25. She’ll keep Captain Adventure amused and occupied and out of my hair for a buck an hour. It is a small price to pay, people.

However, I got a clear warning that one day soon, I’m going to be busted on that $1.25 for the candy bars – Eldest went with me to WalMart recently, and pointed out that a HUGE box of Nerds cost $0.88. She said musingly, “Huh, mommy, check it out, that’s a good deal…‘cause, we pay $1.25 for a regular box, right? So…are those…on sale?”

“Uhhhhh, yes! YES THEY ARE! See the sign? ‘Rollback prices’, yup-yup-yup, hey! WHAT A SALE!”

“So, can I give you $0.88 when we get home, and get the Nerds now?”


Not a stupid kid in the whole bouquet…


Anonymous said...

Too funny! And a great system. Rather reminiscent of the one my parents tried to implement (on a number of occasions) when my brother and I were kids. Thing was, though, my dad was *cheap*. 10c for a load of dishes...10c to vacuum the living room...25c to pick a cup of gooseberries from the bushes down in BFE of our backyard...5c to empty the trash, etc. And that was just in the early 90's! Clearly you're keeping up with inflation better than he did ;-)

Kris said...

I love the plan and may need to implement something similar myself before C drives me up a wall.

Anonymous said...!!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

kelly said...

I am implementing your program SOON. I have been trying to come up with something for my "monkeys". You are a godsend!

Yarnhog said...

You are my hero.

Tola said...

*Thank You* for telling us about your system. so far i havent been able to find anything that works, and im willing to part with $10 just to see a clean room on Friday night. Of course, $1 is for church, and $5 has to be saved for a larger purchase (iPod is on the wish-list) but the other $4 is hers to do with as she pleases. so far she hasnt wanted it bad enough, and ive got a five and five ones hanging out in an undisclosed location. maybe i should stop feeding her?

Anonymous said...

re: them knowing the real prices of their snacks...this would be a good time to explain middle-men and sole-source providers. :)

I like your system!

Anonymous said...

Right now, since our daughter just turned 3, we're using a step system and at 10 she gets a goodie from the goodie box (small toys, ice cream for dessert, etc.). It's working, but I LOVE your system because it's teaching early finances with *money* (pretend money, but *looks* real)! We'll definitely be using your system when she gets a little older.
Thank you for sharing!!

Science PhD Mom said...

I am going to shamelessly steal your system. DD is ready to enter the wide world of finances, as she has been pleading for control of her piggybank. Hehe. She doesn't know what she's in for!

Rena said...

Great system! I've been paying my daughter 25 cents a chore (real quarters. She's 12 and I only have the one. Otherwise I can see how you'd go broke quick!) and she's pretty good at saving it up. Lately though, I think she's saved too much cash because chores haven't been getting done. Why bother? I've got 30 dollars, she says.

Carol said...

Absolutely genius! I think you just made my life much easier! Cheers!