Natali Morris Blog

October 6, 2015

Why You Shouldn’t Pay Your Kids To Do Chores

I’m not above rewarding (bribing) my children but not for chores. I do not believe children should be “paid” to do chores and I am prepared to make the case. So here goes.

allowance jars

In The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money, author Ron Lieber argues that kids should not be given the option to do chores for money. If chores are tied to a monetary incentive, children can opt out and forego payment. It doesn’t work like that in the real world. If I don’t do my chores, the house goes to pot. If my husband and kids don’t do their chores, it puts a burden on others. Chores are not an option. Chores are the responsibility of each team member. Period.

You don’t have to look hard to find research that giving children incentives to do something is not good. It diminishes the lesson, hinders learning, and dampens their enjoyment of the actual task. In one study, children were asked to do coloring projects. The children who were rewarded stopped coloring as soon as the treats were brought out. The children who were offered no reward colored longer and were more animated about their projects than the children who were doing it for the loot.

We all have to use bribes, I get that. I bribe my daughter with cookies to wear pants because otherwise she would throw a tantrum to wear her most formal dress every single day. But we should all use bribes sparingly folks! Oh so sparingly.

So then what is allowance? Allowance is not an incentive to do what they must learn to do. Allowance is a weekly stipend to teach them about money. These are two completely separate teachable moments.

Lieber argues that kids should get an allowance to learn financial literacy. He recommends giving them three jars to split their allowance evenly, labeling them Spend, Save, and Give. So we did just that. Note: the jars must be clear so that they can see the pile-up of money. Piggy banks don’t work for this.

allowance jars

I don’t think it is ever too early to start this! My 3 and 5 year-old children get $1 in each jar every Saturday. Here are the lessons that they have learned in roughly 8 months of this system.

Spend Jar

When they want a new toy and it is not a birthday or holiday, I tell them to grab their Spend jar and we head to a toy store. We’ve done this many times and it is a wonderful lesson, especially when they want toys that are close to $40 but only have $12 to spend.

This is hard for me! Of course I could cover the difference but that negates the lesson. I’ve seen my children save for things and it is so much more meaningful when they finally afford them. I’ve also seen them waste their money on things I thought were stupid but bit my tongue. I need them to learn what it means to waste money. I want them to realize when they blow all their dough on something that they don’t really play with.


Just a warning: making your child pay for their own toy with their own money can irritate other shoppers. Kids cannot check out quickly. I make sure to explain this to anyone in line with me, asking for patience, and thank the cashier for their patience too. Most people are kind but not everyone will be. Our Target now has self checkout and that is much better for the kids because they can feed their bills directly into the machine.

This also takes the onus off of me when they ask for things. The rules are: Mommy and Daddy take care of Needs. They have to save up for Wants. If they are really saving for something, they can ask to do extra jobs for money but those jobs have nothing to do with their chores.

Also, sometimes Grandma foils my plan and slips larger bills into the Spend jar but I do not interfere with this. That is Grandma’s prerogative.

Note: We do have some rules about Spend money. No Spend money can be used on contraband. You’ll have to set your own definition of contraband in your house but so far no one has asked to make purchases that I had to intervene thankfully!

Save Jar

This weekend the kids and I went to the bank to deposit the money from their Save jars. They each have no-fee custodial savings accounts with Bank of America. They handed over their jars of singles and coins and got deposit slips back. The deposits were small but they both understood that the money was to be socked away to grow in the bank. I will eventually funnel this money into their IRAs with electronic fund transfers. They don’t get that just yet. What they do get is that this money is not for dinosaur-shaped erasers or other made-in-China junk that they are free to buy with their Spend jars.

Give Jar

It is equally important that they understand the power of giving. My husband believes that this is not only an important ethos, but also a way to increase your own wealth.

You must let your children choose how to donate their Give jar money. This weekend my daughter said she wanted to give hers to the kids whose daddies had died. She had seen a commercial for Folds of Honor on my husband’s show. I showed them some videos from the Folds of Honor website and they both handed over their Give jars. Of course, I did not mail a wad of singles to the charity. I took the Give jars and kept the singles for upcoming allowances and put the donation on my credit card.

Cute story: Because of the two separate donations, Fields of Honor wrote me to make sure it wasn’t an error. I wrote them back explaining that those were my children’s allowances and they responded with this email. I was truly touched by this.

I am a big believer in this system to teach my children our family values: financial literacy, goal-setting, and generosity. I strongly urge you to read the book for further tips on doing just that.

I’d love to hear about your family’s systems for allowance and chores. Share in the usual ways. And of course, if you’d like to stay on top of my posts and workings, please click below to subscribe to my Chief Home Officer updates!

I appreciate that you’ve read this and I appreciate your feedback! Very much, my friend. Very much.


27 responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Pay Your Kids To Do Chores”

  1. Oscar Sessions says:

    This is a great article except for the save jar going to an IRA. Retirement is a looooong time away. I’m actually firmly against IRAs but if you do use one use a Roth. Anyways, wouldn’t it be better to see the possibility of them using that money? For college or a house or a baby perhaps? You will probably be gone when they retire so why not plan to actually see them spend it? If you want to hear my full IRA argument feel free to contact me. I will lay out my reasons and you can list yours.

  2. Jason Howell says:

    Fantastic tips, Nat!! Our five year old gets a weekly allowance, half of it goes into her piggy bank (not see through unfortunately, but she painted it all by herself so its "hers") and half goes to savings. We’ll have to adjust so we have the three directions instead of just two.

    Question: When you are giving your kids $1 per week, are you splitting that into 33 cents into each bucket? Or are you dropping $1 into each bucket?

    • Natali Morris says:

      Thanks Jason!!

      Okay to be clear, I give them $1 per jar, not $1 total. So far the oldest hasn’t cried foul that he gets the same as his younger sister. He has no idea that the oldest would get more traditionally and has no problem with relativity. However, one guy on my FB page mentioned that he gives his kids $1 per year they are old. So a 5 year old would get $5. It’s a great rule of thumb but would present me with the challenge of splitting it up. Another person on Twitter said that they do 50% to the Spend jar and 25/25% to the Give/Save jar. That would work too I suppose. Nuance, right? We’ll have to figure out how we give them increases. Haven’t thought that far out yet!

  3. Mike...nopolis says:

    Growing up in a pretty much traditional Chinese family, there was no such thing as an allowance or chores. I either do the tasks my parents told me to do else I get beat or miss meals. I started washing dishes using a step ladder at 4 and did it daily until I left for college. It wasn’t one of those cute TV moments of a son helping her mother dry dishes. Once my parents decided I had learned how to do it on my own, I did 100% of it. My wife always tells people how lucky she is because I came pre-trained. I do all the grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning and various "chores" and nothing feels like a chore, it’s just what I know and I’m good at it. I feel like I should bribe her to learn to do these things.

    As far as allowances go, I had ZERO dollars as a kid, there was no spending money or lunch money. We packed a portion of dinner for next day’s lunch and that’s it. At 13 I got my first job teaching swimming, all the money I earned went straight to my parents who said it was time for me to contribute to the family…in reality they add that money to the money they have been putting aside for me towards SAT prep courses and college tuition.

    Majority of old Asian parents are so different, they love you without saying the actual words. But they will do everything to teach you even if it means they beat you into learning, they will deprive you of all the childish toys you want in order to make sure you can go to college and not think about how you would pay for it.

    I’m not sure how I would go about parenting, but it definitely would not be the way my parents did it, though I see how it has made me into a responsible adult, I never really had a childhood. I hope my child doesn’t say "where’s my allowance" and I end up saying "When I was your age I got nothing…" I have a hefty savings and will set aside enough for education, but teaching them the Give, Save, Spend idea is an important lesson seeing how some people are so poor with their finances as an adult. Thanks for all your contributions to parenting NDC.

  4. Moody says:

    This is great. Thank you so much sharing these ideas. My kid is only 15 months old so he doesn’t get that yet. But I believe I’ll start doing this very soon.

  5. Mic Cullen says:

    I’m not a parent and never will be, but this is an excellent article.

  6. katie spencer says:

    I’m going to try this with 4yr old because she has no idea about money and this sounds like it will work well for her

  7. George says:

    Your on to it

  8. Meredeigh says:

    I know that this works. I wanted to teach my daughter the value of money, and to teach her the value of generosity so set up with her a similar system to this when she was four. She had three tins just like these jars. We would go to the bank together with her savings tin. She chose the charity or person in need for her giving. She learnt that she had to save her spending money for sometimes weeks for the big ticket item she really wanted. At 13 she realised she could ‘work’ for her money. She continued this system for herself, with guidance chose proportions that she was happy with putting into each now electronic ‘jar’. She is now 18, has been working full time (on a basic wage) for 18 months, has brought her own car, been on an 8 week European trip that she paid for, lives in a flat and pays her own way and continues to give generously to the needs she sees. She is a living example of knowing that she can make wise choices with her money and that each spending choice has a today or future cost that must be considered. I highly recommend this life long lesson to any parent. Stick with it and help your children build a good future

    • Natali Morris says:

      Wow! That is as good of a success story as I’ve ever heard!! Good for you for raising such an independent daughter!

  9. Kaite says:

    I love this idea. My son is 3, and has no chores he is responsible for outside of cleaning up his toys before moving on to next/ect. When he chooses to help me with things he is not responsible for, he gets a penny per chore (we have 3 dogs, so most often he chooses to help take them outside for potty break or to feed them. He’d get 3 cents if he took each one out by turn with me). Then we swap out for nickels/dimes/quarters/dollars when he has enough. He doesn’t know how much each is worth yet but has fun counting it out with me so hoping with constant exposure it’ll come with time. He has earned $18 over the past year, bought himself a toy screw driver once but likes saving the rest. This was a really interesting read as I hadn’t considered the effect on motivation in the future in this way. I love how the jars provide opportunities for kids to learn so many aspects of responsibility and finances. Thank you for sharing. I am excited to introduce this to him

  10. […] let me take this opportunity to assert that I DO NOT believe in paying children to do chores! I’m with Ron Lieber on this one. My kids do chores because we are a team and our household […]

  11. Renee Cook says:

    This was really interesting! A couple weeks ago, my 3.5 yr old (oldest kid) asked for money for the VBS jar. I said I wouldn’t just give her money but she could do some extra work to earn money. Our kids (2 & 3.5) pickup the toys every night, help clear dishes at dinner time and help set table. Basically, they’re expected to not be slobs in our home and participate in family work. But, the “work” I told her was optional for extra money could be deemed chores… she loaded the washer and folded towels, unloaded the clean dishes, helped clean the bathroom, etc.. long story short, it “worked.” She was excited to give money she had earned to the VBS jar which she understood was for feeding hungry kids. She then asked to do more jobs to earn money so she could buy gum. We’re on the fence about how we’ll continue going forward because of the dilemma between wanting our kids to understand money comes from work (not just from mom and dad giving it to you) but we also want our kids to participate in the family and help out just because it’s expected and they’re part of the team.

    How do you address the whole money-comes-from-work thing? 🙂

    • nmorris says:

      Well I think that is why it helps them to have a spend jar and a give jar. This way they can add to their spend jar and buy “dumb” things like gum and plastic made-in-china toys that they will forget about in about a week. 😐 This one is hard for me. I hate to see them waste but they have to learn to waste so that they learn not to. At least that is what I tell myself.

      This is another reason that we give them a base amount but they can “earn” more with chores that they do not usually do. One reader gave me this awesome suggestion: they are expected to keep the common area and their rooms clean. But if they do something “for me” or for my husband, that is worth extra money. For instance, clean out my car (although let’s face it, it is a wreck because of them!!!! but i digress), or clean my closet, or organize my purse, whatever. If they do something I commission that is not their responsibility normally, they have elected this work and therefore get paid extra for it. Make sense?

  12. Nikki says:

    I am a 57 year old retired teacher. I taught for over 30 years and worked in day care while putting myself through college. I saw many children who were taught the value of money and others who were not. I saw some who “had” money, some who “had no money”, and others who were in the middle. There are ways to teach the value of money wherever you fit in this category. Children have to be taught these lessons or they are not responsible adults. As a child we were given a dollar a week (keep the age in mind). We were to put 10c in savings, give 10c to church, and spend the rest. I don’t remember there being a designation or purpose for the savings. This did not last a very long time, but it was a valuable lesson. Due to our family situation, my sister and I started buying clothes and other things as soon as we started babysitting. We were both brought up to be responsible and babysat at an early age. I loved this post because it is si true and necessary. I am pretty responsible with money. I just wish I had been taught at an earlier age about IRAs and Roth accounts. I don’ t think it is ever too early to start talking about college, savings, and other monetary things. I worked at daycares while I put myself through college too. I think these are important tools for children to learn and many children are missing out on these valuable lessons. Thank you for this post.

  13. Dilfart says:

    I totally think you should get payed to do chores.

  14. I m a grandma of 4 girls (11yr old and 8yr old) and my daughter do pay the girls to do chores . but they also have things that suppose to do as a team ,(like 1 week one does set-up the table ,one empties the drier and carries the laundry to the sofa were (everybody )folds they cloths ..its funny see all 3 girls include my daughter folding cloths ,
    and I pay them too for babysitter my cat when I go out, (paint my toe nails my bed ,carry my laundry etc .and they save to buy toys they seen and want, I didnt raised my kids that way because , I come from other country were we dont pay ,,we help with shores for free ,as part of our way to learn , I was self employed for 14 years doing wedding flowers and when my grand/twins born I sold the flower shop to baby sitting and soon I start adjusting to different ideas including make crafts with them play games and pay for their achievements,, now I watch my daughter and husband ,and Im so proud of them, I wish all children have good parenting and Love ,unfortunately we see so many young generations taking wrong Rhodes because lake of parenting Love .
    I love your blog , plus your R.E.videos with your husband ,you guys are a very busy couple ( keep up good job)
    God bless,
    Filomena dapaz

    • I love this! Thank you for your thoughtful response Filomena. I love the idea of cat sitting for extra cash. So cute!!

      (Also, a very belated thank you for this note and apology for a belated reply!)

  15. Ross says:

    I just found this blog and disagree w/ a lot of this posting. I have an 11-year-old son. Teaching your kid that they get paid for work being done is not “bribes,” it’s capitalism. Paying them a weekly allowance regardless of work is the opposite.
    Just like in the real world, we have a list of expectations that our son must do every week, regardless. We then have a daily chore list that he does and gets paid for. He then collects this money at the end of the week and can spend on toys or whatever. This is how the real world works and this is what we are teaching him.
    “Allowance is a weekly stipend to teach them about money.” What are you teaching them? They get money regardless of work? Where in our society to you get a weekly stipend? I could make all kinds of comments about government programs, but won’t.
    The idea about the jars is great.

    Also, there are advantages to an ESA to a 529.

    • Ross, I understand what you are saying but what if your kid decides he doesn’t want the money so he can skip the chores? I don’t present housework as an option for my kids, just like it is not an option for me. It is the price of being a family and living together. We all must help. No one gets paid for that. I wish I did! I do however pay them for housework that is not their responsibility. Like washing my car or doing shredding in my office. If they clean something of MINE that is not their responsibility, I will give them some extra. The rest is not negotiable for money or reward. It is expected.

      As for getting money for nothing, I see this as a completely separate lesson. I am teaching them to learn about money with a VERY small amount to manage. It is not a trust fund draw. We’re talking about $1 per week.

      I 100% see your reasoning on this and do not agree. But I do think that these are two separate teachable opportunities here. Thank you for sharing your feelings!

      (Also, apologies for a very belated response!!)

  16. […] Morris has a couple great posts on the topic and I’m largely stealing the ideas from her, but here is how we set it up […]

  17. […] lots of online help out there. I read a post from the blog of Natali Morris, “Why you shouldn’t pay your kids to do chores”. In it, she mentions a book that I picked up from […]

  18. […] as fun ways to integrate these lessons at home. Check out financial guru Natali Morris with her article about why we shouldn’t give kids an allowance. For a more in depth look at educating your […]

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