Parents are cool. They give you cash just for breathing.
And so much of it, too: The average weekly allowance in the United States is $30 ($1,560 a year!), rocketing up from $17 in 2016, according to a new survey conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Institute of CPAs (Certified Public Accountants). The average age of children receiving one is 14.
Of course, not every mom and dad is down with allowances. In fact, as many as 33% of American kids don’t get any.
The survey doesn’t describe how those children feel about it.
Like lots of parenting topics, allowances are far from simple matters, linking such fraught themes as money, family, and love. To give or not to give is a highly personal decision, not easily resolved.
“I struggle, I do,” said Erin Tessler, 41, of Bryn Mawr, a divorced preschool teacher with three children aged 5, 8, and 11. "I want to instill the value of money, but I have not come to a weekly or monthly allowance situation that works for me and three children.
“And I don’t know any people in my circle who give allowances.”
‘We don’t … do allowance’
It is, in fact, easy to find folks around here who are opposed to handing weekly bequests to junior.
“We don’t really do allowance,” said Anastasia Shown, 39, of Overbrook, a married mother of two boys. “And we don’t pay for chores, either.”
Shown, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, said that Samson, 7, and Desmond, 5, get money from the tooth fairy and from gifts. Also, because she travels to Ghana for work, she gives the boys coins from that country.
“They enjoy handling money from their piggy banks and counting it,” Shown said. But allowing her sons to save up “so they can be obsessed with buying some plastic crap is not something I want to participate in. I’m not even buying books. We go to the library.
“We’ve kept the talk of money low, so they don’t usually ask to take money and go shopping."
Asked what he thinks about not receiving an allowance, Samson said, “I don’t know what an allowance is.” When he was told, Samson made an instant decision: “Yes, I want it.” Shown broke out laughing.
Jeff Davis, 46, a product designer in Chestnut Hill, is also a non-allowance parent to his 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. “My wife and I don’t see the point,” he said. “If my kids want to go to the movies, we just give them money.”
Beyond that, his children actually take home salaries. His son works at a skating club snack bar, and his daughter babysits.
“I can’t believe parents give their kids $30 a week allowance,” Davis said. “With what I pay for cell phones and things, I almost expect my kids to pay me.”
Of course, when it comes to allowances, many parents say the money isn’t as important as teaching their children financial responsibility. About 75% of Americans say that’s the primary role of giving an allowance, according to the survey for the Durham, N.C.-based CPAs institute, which was conducted among 1,002 adults in August.
But it is “concerning” that only 3% of parents say their kids save their allowances, said Sean Stein Smith, a member of the institute’s financial literacy commission and an accountant in North Jersey.
Perhaps parents can use it as a "starting point to have a better conversation on budgeting,” he said.
Experts will tell you there’s no single strategy for managing an allowance, although ideas proliferate.
For example, children should be old enough to count money, said Stephen Gray Wallace, director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. He was writing for an online site called Parent Toolkit.
Some parents don’t offer cash at all, but fork over allowances through debit cards or mobile payment apps such as Venmo, according to a survey commissioned by CreditCards.com. (It found that just 40% of American kids receive allowances in its survey, by the way.)
Pay for chores?
Paying for chores also becomes a knotty subject. It may be better not to compensate a child for making her bed because she should be doing that for free as a functioning, caring member of the household, some experts say.
Others counter that it’s reasonable to remunerate kids for working around the house.
“We pay for specific chores, though we don’t give an allowance,” said Dom Episcopo, 52, a commercial photographer who lives with his wife and 9-year-old son, Enzo, in Fishtown.
Enzo gets $3 for sweeping the kitchen, and $1 for setting the table. For vacuuming the hall, he earns $5. Regardless of the cash, cleaning up is not his thing, Episcopo said.
“Oh, my God, there’s always pushback,” he said.
According to Enzo, doing chores for money can “feel good but bad.” He explained, “It makes sense to do work to get money. But I wish I didn’t have to do it. I don’t like to vacuum.”
Dismissing allowances because simply giving children money “offers no lessons,” Episcopo has hit on another way to teach financial literacy: the loan.
Recently, Enzo wanted something related to his Xbox, and Episcopo lent him $25. “It was like a mortgage, with no interest,” the father said. “The lesson was he was obligating himself to something, then following through. It took him about a month to pay it back."
No matter where they come down on allowances, it’s clear from the institute survey that parents put a good deal of thought into it.
“I certainly do,” said Amy Harper, 49, of Bryn Mawr, a divorced mother of a 12-year-old son. She asked friends, she read books. Ultimately, she decided to give him $12 a week — an amount equal to his age, an oft-cited formula for deciding allowance.
While Harper doesn’t pay for everyday chores, she will offer her son extra money for big tasks such as weeding the garden.
Most important is teaching the boy the value of money, she said. Her rule is to divide the $12 into three categories: spend, save, give. For the giving part, her son can put money in the collection plate at church on Sunday, or give it to the guy who plays saxophone on their street.
As for the spending part, “when he wants to buy something, he’ll ask for an advance, and I’ll typically say no,” Harper said. “He can wait and save.”
Harper will continue to pay him an allowance commensurate with his age. But it won’t ever get to that national average of $30 a week, she said, laughing:
“I’m not paying him an allowance when he’s 30.”