The one thing I’ve probably struggled with most as a parent is finding a chore system that teaches good money habits without making my kids feel entitled.
For me, money has been a personal struggle. I was one of those kids who graduated from college with 30K in debt and a nice sampling of credit cards to go with it. Although I had a good job, debt quickly became a reality and I didn’t have the spending habits to stop it. Until I was nearly 40, having enough money for my expenses every month was a wish and a prayer… or as some call it, “one paycheck from disaster.”
The culprit? I had very poor money habits, but most importantly, no education about handling money whatsoever. And I’m not alone. Statistics show that 8 out of 10 Americans are in debt. Fortunately for me, I was able to get out. But for many, life is one big debt pit and they never get a handle on it.
That kind of lifetime struggle is the opposite of what I want for my kids. I’d rather teach them how to handle the hard money lessons now. Better to lose a few bucks than a few thousand, right? Trouble is, you can’t teach kids to manage money without giving them money to manage. And I didn’t want to pay my kids an “allowance” just for honoring me with their presence.
So I did what we all do, I sort of avoided it. I figured it would wait until the kids were older. Meanwhile, money quickly became a big issue around our house. I had a preteen girl who lived and died by fashion trends (translation- wanted every cute outfit in the store). And a teenager who was becoming more and more active with horses, camps, and activities that required a lot of money. This dynamic was causing great friction as I was always the bad guy for not having room in the budget.
Oh, and then there were the youngest two. They wanted everything in the store. Gum. Toys. Oreos. Even though I have rules against these things (that I do enforce), it was getting ridiculous to even take them with me. I knew I was really missing a great opportunity to teach my kids how to manage money, but I still felt stuck.
Until I read Smart Money, Smart Kids. I’ve gotta admit that I love Dave Ramsey. His money principles were largely responsible for helping me dig out of debt. This book, co-authored by his daughter, was a game changer.
Using what Dave taught me, I came up with a totally new chore system that teaches good money habits. I was thrilled when the book addressed the age old problem of “to pay or not to pay” for chores. Finally! A solution to my struggle. Here’s the secret: some chores are done because you live here. And some are done to teach you to manage money.
Brilliant, right? You do have responsibilities for living here and no, I’m not paying you an “allowance.” However, I am willing to pay you for work above and beyond that. Using this foundation and a few other parenting strategies I love, I came up with a brand new chore system we’ve been testing for the last year. I think it’s safe to say the jury is in. It works!
My oldest paid for several camps this summer. All of my kids have had the opportunity to donate to hurricane relief funds, buy gifts for their youth pastor who is leaving, and of course, give a regular tithe. Oh, and the grocery store trip is bliss. They know they have to bring the money if they want something not on my list. And now they are empowered to do just that, instead of being frustrated with the constant “no.”
A Chore System that Teaches Good Money Habits
Step 1: Have a family meeting
I called a family meeting (something we started after I read another great book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families). During the meeting, I taught my kids a few foundational things about money from Dave and Rachel’s book. Most importantly, the Sorgius family doesn’t do debt. (That means no, I won’t let you borrow money to buy gum even if you can pay me when we get home.) I realized this one bad habit was teaching very bad principles about money to my kids. Not only about debt, but about compulsive “gotta have it now” spending.
We also talked about the importance of working hard and how everyone has to earn money to buy things. (I’ve recently been supporting this discussion with Created for Work. It’s a book written for boys, but applicable for anyone.)
Step 2: Make a list of work that needs to be done
As we concluded our family meeting, I told the kids to be thinking about all of the work that needed to be done around the house as I would be asking again in a few days. When we had another opportunity for a family meeting, we sat down and made a huge list of work (we used this paper). This included everything that EVER needed to be done around the house (inside and out). Everyone contributed things they knew were messy or needed attention.
When the listing got slow, I put it down for the day. Each morning for the next week or so when we came to the table for family devotions, I asked if anyone had thought of additional things for the list and we added a few over the course of the week.
Step 3: Determine frequency and work load
As a general rule, Dave suggests giving kids 1-5 jobs to start with and letting them grow to 10 or so. Of course, this will vary greatly depending on how old your kids are. My 6-year-old got 5 jobs right away because he’s been doing chores for years now. My 9-year-old stuck with 5 jobs, because I didn’t feel he was ready to tackle more. The teens got 10 each. This worked really well for us, but I’d suggest easing into this kind of schedule if your kids aren’t used to chores.
The other question we faced was frequency. Some chores need to be done every day, like tidying your room and making your bed. Also things like loading the dishwasher or sweeping the kitchen. To make this easier, we gave bigger jobs (like sweeping the floors every day or doing the dishes) a better paycheck. Some smaller things like tidying your room daily were not given a higher pay because some of that really should happen simply because it’s your space.
I sat down and thought through some of these things before I called the next family meeting so we would be ready to assign jobs.
Step 4: Have an employment day
Finally the big day came and we called another family meeting. This time I brought out the giant list and we visited it again. I asked for any late entries and then we counted all of the jobs. THIS WAS THE MOST POWERFUL PART. When we got the number, the children were shocked. “Who has been doing all of these jobs?” they gasped.
I couldn’t have asked for a better response from them! In fact, that’s exactly what I wanted them to see. One person couldn’t possibly get all of this done and that was clear to them. (Score one for mom!)
The next step was to start dividing tasks. First, we made a list of things we thought everyone should do as a part of living here. These are jobs you don’t get paid for, but are expected to do. Most of them are things that are difficult to assign to others, such as clearing your plate from the table and putting it in the dishwasher. Also included are picking up your own things from all rooms of the house, helping with groceries, and helping with meals.
With those off the list, I then let the children “apply” for various jobs. They had to state why they thought that was a good fit for them or why they liked it. Everyone really enjoyed this. The youngest got to pick first (so we could make sure some of the easier tasks were given to him). Next was his 9-year-old brother. Finally, my teenage girls took turns picking one job at a time.
Below is what we came up with. Remember, this is just a reference. Your needs and kids will be different!
Step 5: Consistently expect work to be done, and pay accordingly
Probably the most important step is setting the standard. With every single chore, TEACH your child the proper way to do it. I chose to do this slowly. Each week when I inspect, I note one thing that needs to be taught and then I hold them accountable for that the next week. I also use lists to help them know the steps for each job.
The key to making this system work is consistency. If the kids do the work and don’t get paid because you forget all the time, it’s not going to work. Granted- there’s always grace, so be sure to give that to yourself. But be more consistent than graceful, ok?
We do chores on Friday. It’s our best day logistically. From time to time, it slips into the weekend. All chores that are done weekly are completed that day. Then they bring their sheets to me for payday. This is important—> I actually get up and walk around the house to inspect their work.
Most chores are worth $1. If completed to my specifications, that will be given. If not, I have the child correct the mistakes, but I deduct a fee for re-training, usually $.25 to $.50. We tally up how much they earned and then divide it into 3 categories: save, share, and spend. My boys put $2 in save and share, with $1 in spend. This is intentional to teach them first to focus on others and the future. And lastly to focus on that pack of gum. The girls have a similar percentage they follow.
If they lose money for a chore not done or not completed properly, they must still divide their total in the designated order: share, save, THEN spend. This keeps them from being able to spend when they aren’t doing all of the work. And it keeps me from having to deal in a bunch of loose change.
A few miscellaneous rules:
- You cannot work on paid chores if your responsibilities (chores you do because you live here) are not done.
- School is also a priority and cannot be neglected for work.
- If you cannot get to your chore because of the above rules or because you simply neglect it, mom reserves the right to offer it to someone else and pay them instead.
- If one of your siblings is sick (or if you just feel like it) you can SERVE them by doing their chores for them. We don’t get paid for serving others. It’s a gift.
Again, I really recommend you read Smart Money, Smart Kids. This post has given you a glimpse into how I set up my system, but for maximum effect, you need to learn the foundations your kids should know and the many levels of ways you can influence your children both negatively and positively through the process.
A word about the cost of this system:
Yes, it’s expensive to pay for chores like this. For me it ranges from about $30-$50 per week because I also allow them to pick up extra chores on things that don’t get done regularly or aren’t assigned. (Like pulling weeds, raking leaves, deep cleaning the inside of the fridge, etc.) Just remember one thing. This isn’t money you are losing or spending. It’s money you are delegating to a specific purpose. Instead of buying clothes for my girls, they are now in charge of that. I was buying them clothes before, so nothing really changed about the amount, only the person who does the spending.
This also applies to summer camp and some extra-curricular activities, too. It’s amazing how they race to pick up extra jobs around here to earn the money to do these things. It’s money I probably would have GIVEN them before. But now they are learning to make wise choices, manage their money, and save for big things. Something most adults can’t even do!
I consider this to be a WAY better plan than the one we were on before where I had to nag them or throw some kind of party to get them to do the chores around the house. And then lecture about staying on our budget. Now they get practical hands-on experience with it and everyone is loving it! What do you think?
FREE Printables Chore Card
I’ve created a super fun printable version of our chore system. Read more about it here.