When it comes to pocket money, Andrea Mara discovers it's complicated
Some months ago, my eldest child asked me if she could have pocket money. I said I’d think about it – not to fob her off, but because I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a good idea.
Instinctively, I knew two things: unless there was good reason not to give a seven-year-old pocket money, it was probably a good way to teach her some basic financials. I also knew that whatever decisions we made now, we’d be setting a precedent for the next ten years, so we needed to get it right.
So I did some research and spoke to life and parenting coach Marian Byrne, who filled me in on all the positive things kids can get from pocket money. Here are a few pointers:
- It teaches them the value of money and of the items they buy. For example: they come to understand how many weeks' pocket money would it take to get a new game or toy.
- It allows them to practice making decisions around what to spend it on (or not) and the consequences of those choices. If they spend it all on small items, they may not have enough to cover a bigger item later in the week or month. This highlights the benefits of delayed gratification – waiting for things they want.
- It can be a way of allowing them control over some aspects of their lives.
- It can allow them to make choices that help them feel good about themselves, such as contributing to charity or paying towards the purchase of a friend’s present.
So other than the obvious downside of costing me money, it seems like overall, pocket money isn’t a bad idea. But how soon should you start?
“I’m not sure there could really be a guideline for age,” says Marian. “It really varies from child to child. Some are very motivated and focused and tuned in to pocket money, whereas others might reach the age of 15 and have never asked! So it’s best to be guided by your own child, and your own intuition.”
Marian, whose book Adding Life to Your Years is out this week, suggests that before anything else, parents should discuss the topic together. As adults, we approach pocket money decisions very differently to one another, and it’s often based on our own childhood experiences – either something worked well and we want to repeat it, or it didn’t work well, and we want to do the opposite.
When you’ve reached a consensus with your partner, the two questions to ask yourself are:
- Is your child asking for pocket money?
- Do you feel your child will be able to handle it?
If the answer to both is “yes”, then there are some further considerations to take into account:
- How much can you afford and how much are you prepared to pay? This is a very individual thing, but parents often ask around to get a sense of what their children’s peers get.
- What exactly is the pocket money to cover? The more specific you are, the fewer ‘discussions’ there will be going forward.
- When will you pay it? Pick a day of the week or month and stick to that, so there is clarity all 'round.
- Encourage them to divide the money into three categories - spend, save, donate.
- Avoid overcompensating for other areas you may be feeling bad about, for example, if there has been a separation, divorce or death in the family or you are working a lot and not around.
All of this advice from Marian gave me food for thought. If I’m going to give my daughter pocket money, I need to be clear about when and where she can spend it. What do I do if she decides she’s blowing the lot on chocolate bars on a random Tuesday afternoon, and eating them all before dinner? I want to give her the freedom to spend as she sees fit and learn from any unwise decisions, but I also want some common-sense ground-rules.
Another question I have for Marian is about siblings. Pocket money is often hooked on age – when it starts and how much children get. But instinctively, with only 20 months between my two daughters, I don’t feel comfortable with the idea that my older child gets pocket money and her sister doesn’t. I’m not convinced they should get different amounts either – I suspect the desire for sweets and magazines is equally strong in both.
“I would be inclined to give them the same amount, especially if they’re close in age, and one is going to be very aware of what’s going on with the other. It’s different if there’s a bigger gap,” says Marian. “Generally, trust your intuition and make sure you’re comfortable with whatever decision you make. If you decide to give different amounts, but you’re not convinced it’s a good idea and then you’re questioned by the kids, they’ll pick up on those insecurities.”
And what about chores? Instinctively I felt that pocket money shouldn’t be linked to chores, but I was curious to see what Marian’s advice would be.
“Many experts say that pocket money should be separate to chores. Chores are a way of everyone contributing to the running of the home and not something they do just for the money. Linking their chores to pocket money may lead to bargaining. However, no single approach will suit all families. If it’s linked to chores, ensure there’s clarity around what exactly is expected, so there’s no confusion as to what needs to be done, when, and for how much.”
So it seems pocket money is one of those quite nice areas of parenthood that genuinely has no set rules and no rights or wrongs – it’s about coming up with something that suits your family, being clear with your child, and setting some ground-rules. Like don’t blow it all on chocolate on Tuesdays.
Or if you do, be prepared to share with me.
Andrea Mara is a shoe-obsessed, coffee-loving mother of three from Dublin. When she’s not working or looking after the kids, Elissa, 7, Nia, 5 and Matthew, 3, she’s simultaneously making tomorrow’s school lunches, eating Toblerone and letting off steam on her blog.