Creating an Allowance System for a Teenager


Last summer we finally started an allowance system for our son, Conner, who was 13 at the time.

Oh, we've tried giving him an allowance before, but I was never very consistent about actually giving it to him (kind of a key point) and for many years it just never seemed very pressing or important for him to have his own spending money.

Looking back, I think we put off many of the money issues that parents face with their kids because we lived overseas for a few years, and kids just aren't inundated with the marketing tactics and the peer pressure that they face in this culture and in American schools in general.

I Had to Stop Micro Managing the Handouts

No sooner did we move back to the States and Conner became a teenager than did my sanity start screaming for something better than negotiating every single thing that my son seemed to think he needed: Can I get an iphone? Can I go to the movies? Can I get an iphone? Can I get a new [enter name brand] hoodie? Can I get an iphone? Can I have some money to buy my lunch at school? (Can I get an iphone?) Can I Can I Can I??

We Had No Personal Experience

When it comes to doling out allowances, I've always struggled with the concept of paying my kids to do chores around the house: I believe that they should do certain things as a matter of course simply because they are a member of this family. I never got an allowance, after all. (And neither did my husband.) So I really struggled to come up with a system that made sense that would not only relieve my sanity but would also avoid turning my son into a hired hand.

I Decided to Make Up My Own Allowance System

I ended up creating a system of my own — at least, I've never come across anything exactly like it anywhere else. (If anyone begs to differ, please let me know: I'm sincerely interested.) It's a combination of paying him to do chores, while still making his chores his responsibility and not something he can avoid simply because he “doesn't care” about getting his allowance. (HA! Until the minute he wants something, that is! Right?)

I typed this out, we discussed it, and I printed him out his own copy. Let us not underestimate the ability of a teenager to reinterpret events after they have happened.

The question that begged to be asked, of course: How Much?

We didn't want to start out too high — after all, it's much easier to raise an allowance than to lower one! We set $30 a month as a starting point, fully expecting to raise that before the year was out. You might be more surprised than we were to learn that, so far, $30 has been more than sufficient.

Conners Allowance Guidelines:

Chores are part of being part of a family and a household. You will not be compensated for everyday chores. You are expected to help around the house as asked and assigned.

Conner Budgets His Allowance For…

  • Savings and Charity.
  • Gifts.
  • Clothing and shoes.
  • Entertainment (movies, etc.).
  • Lunches bought at school.
  • Snacks and drinks out and about.
  • Electronics, etc., for yourself (including cell phone use).
  • Other toys and wants, including souvenirs on vacation.

Parents Still Provide and Budget For…

  • Groceries (including for lunches).
  • Electronics for family.
  • Eating out with whole family.
  • Vacations with whole family (but not souvenirs).
  • Music lessons and needed supplies.
  • Sports, academics, and required school activities (not entertainment) and supplies within reason.

If you do not complete a chore you are assigned, you are required to pay the person who completed it for you. Prices and chores may change but start as follows:

  • Mowing ‚Äî What you owe someone else if who does it for you: $20
  • Other yard work ‚Äî What you owe someone else who does it for you: $5+
  • Dishes, etc. ‚Äî What you owe someone else who does it for you: $5
  • Dusting and cleaning your room: $5
  • Other chores as assigned TBD (To Be Determined)

Parents have executive authority and the final say in any changes.

Jolyn is a mother to three, husband to one, and the financial CEO of her Air Force family that currently makes its home in Ohio. She and her husband recently paid off almost $20,000 in consumer debt in less than a year and are now looking at a game plan to tackle their mortgage(s). Her family ultimately intends to become (and stay!) debt-free while still enjoying the important things in life. She blogs about their daily financial gains and setbacks and the choices that we all make that affect our financial freedom over at Budgets are the New Black.

Andrea here: When I first heard about Jolyn's allowance system, I immediately wanted to know more since we offer allowance to our oldest son. I love her philosophy and can't wait to share the second post with you next week! Oh, and HELLO to paying off that much debt!!

Do you have an allowance or chore system for your kids?

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  1. Our daughters are only 5 & 6 and we have them on a commission system: work, get paid–don’t work, don’t get paid. Their main area of work is the playroom. We have a chart in there and if they meet the guidelines set for determining when it’s clean, they get a sticker for that day. At the end of the week, we count how many stickers they have and they are paid according to a rubric. They have envelopes hanging on the fridge that they use for their expenses/giving (which are pretty much limited to church or other desired charity and the ice cream truck in the summer). They also can earn extra money by helping out with other jobs around the house, yard, etc.

  2. That system is fabulous. My only issue involves cell phones. I have always followed John Rosemond’s philosophy, “When you can pay for it yourself, you can purchase one.” I don’t know, however, if an allowance would mean my child would “pay for it himself.”

    1. Terri,
      Cell phones have been a big issue around here as well. My husband and I went to pre-paid phones last year and canceled our family cell contract: We’re just not big enough cell phone users to justify that monthly cost. It’s working out very well for us.

      That being said, it was a huge issue for our son. About the time we canceled his phone that was on the contract, he started discovering the texting and socializing perks with his classmates. He couldn’t beLIEVE he wasn’t entitled to a cell phone. When we canceled I did offer to pay for a pre-paid phone for him ($30) and match whatever minutes he chose to put on. He was sulking and said he didn’t want to bother if he couldn’t have an iphone.

      Of course, later he regretted it, and the offer no longer stood. But that’s part of learning, isn’t it?

      All of that being said, I think there are cases where a cell phone for a teenager w/be considered a need: When parents are divorced, for instance; or when teens are driving and holding a lot of responsibility for getting themselves, and possibly siblings, too, around to various obligations. In such cases, I think the parent just needs to assess whether they should provide the phone or if the allowance should be enough to cover the basics. (And above and beyond the basics — such as an iphone or the latest whatever — could be at the teenager’s discretion.)

      And now I’m done with the equivalent of another post. ;)

      1. Thank you so much for your reply!

  3. Both my kids 17 (just turned) & 10 get an allowance according to their age. Their age is their allowance per month…17= $17. This is not dependent upon their responsibilities of helping around the house, as I feel this is a responsibility they must learn not earn. (like I told them, noone will pay them to keep their own house clean when they’re adults and this is giving them experience for their personal responsibilities). The whole concept of giving an allowance is that I wanted to help them learn a lesson on budgeting. It’s been a great learning experience for things they think they want and to have to earn to make it happen. This being said, we do pay for our kids’ cell phones and family events out of our pockets.
    I do like your concept, and hope it works out great for you.

  4. Terri-nice post! I’m glad I followed you over from your site.

    We don’t have kids yet, but as a high school and middle school teacher I’ve had plenty of time to view some of the strange, new spending habits of ‘kids these days.’

    I never had an allowance in high school. I babysat to make my spending money for going out, going to movies etc. I remember having to chose between going to a concert, going skiiing and going to prom one year. And it’s funny because as clearly as I remember counting up even my loose change for those events, I never felt deprived.

    I think it’s really important to set down boundaries with kids. Your way sounds like a good way to deal with the rampant consumerism these days–without being overly strict.

    And I love that you don’t pay for chores!

  5. Katherine says:

    I was wondering when you should start giving your children allowance? My boys are very close in age (3.75 and 5) and I always worry about giving to one and not the other. I like your plan Jolyn but I know it is too soon to start something that advance. I thought I might set-up three piggy banks and give each child three dollars to start. I would have them tithe one dollar, save one dollar and spend one dollar.

    1. Katherine,
      Just from my experience, at about age 5 children are just ready to comprehend trading money for something they want. I will give my 5yo a dollar, for instance, and when we go to the thrift store he will look at the price and know if he has enough money for it… Change is still another story. ;)

      My 7yo just likes the number of coins she has; she’s not too concerned with how much they’re worth. Having them pay for their own treats, no matter whether they “earn” the money or receive it as an allowance, goes so far in teaching them what a dollar is really worth. They feel so proud, too, to hand over that dollar at the register!

  6. I love this idea! My kids are 6, 4, and 2. I think this would work great with my 6 year old. He has just started learning about money and I think this would work in great with what he learns at school. I also think it would be a great motivator to get his chores done. I don’t think he would like paying me to do them.

  7. I like that your son has to pay someone else if they do his chore. My husband incorporated something similar with my boys. They are 6,5, and 3 and do not get an allowance at this time. They do have difficulty putting their shoes etc.. away. My husband reminds them if mom or dad have to put the shoes away $5 comes out of their piggy banks…It is an excellent motivator, we haven’t earned any money yet. :)

    1. We actually did a very abridged version of this when Conner was six and kept getting out a new cup for every little sip of water that he wanted. At the end of the day I would find half a dozen (or more) of his plastic cups around the house. Finally, I told him for every cup over one each day that I picked up around the house, he owed me a quarter. Problem solved within a day. He simply did not want to part with his favorite coin. It hurt too much.

      I did another version of this just a few months ago, only this time it was for his clothes on the bathroom floor. I got tired of “reminding” him to pick them up. Finally I told him I wasn’t going to tell him anymore: I would just do it myself and then he’d owe me a dollar.

      I only got one dollar out of that.

  8. Chrystine says:

    We have a very similar system. Certain chores are part of living at home and being part of a family. If they want to earn additional money, there are chores with a value attached that they can do. I have two girls 15 & 13. They wanted cell phones. We bought track phones with double minutes for them ($19.99 ea) and did a family plan ($13.00) per month. They each get 30 units (60 doubled) each month. If they go over, they have to add the additional minutes (they must keep at least 10 units at all times for emergencies). They each get $25.00 per month: $5.00 invested, 10% tithes, and the rest as they wish. I also give them $30.00 per month for their lunch money. They choose how they will spend it (hot lunch, cold lunch, share lunch, etc) This really has been the best learning tool for my oldest. She spent all of her lunch money on a hoodie at the first of the month when we first started doing this and then had to go hungry or take cold lunches for the rest of the month. She hasn’t over spent since. With their allowance they are responsible for gifts, entertainment, additional phone, additional food, souvenirs, and clothing above what is budgeted.

  9. Clicked over for the guest post. We implemented a similar system with our girls (9 & 11) at the beginning of this school year. After several years of living overseas and traveling alot and getting “I want to buy a souvenir”‘d to death, we implemented a allowance plan complete with contract (behavior expectations & chores). The 9 yr old cried! when she had to sign – it seemed like a lot of pressure to her. But they’ve taken it pretty seriously and it’s worked. The 11 yr old gets a couple francs more as she has more chores, is older and travels independently to school so she has to cover her own snacks/drinks if she wants something outside of the lunch I pack.

    The girls now take along their own money for souvenir’s and we act as the bank if they need a currency conversion – but we don’t charge the conversion fee :). It has made travel purchases so much easier and they are more thoughtful about what they buy and consider the cost of everything. They also have to buy any electronics/toys/accessories with their allowance outside of Birthday’s & Christmas.

    Most chores they have to do as part of the contract but sometimes I have something extra and will pay separately for it. Allowance is deducted for bad attitudes/behavior, not doing chores or my having to repeat requests (clean up your mess in the entryway!).

    Because 11yr old is on city bus/train for school, we provided the cell phone – basic with a prepaid plan that I can load electronically. Costs here are ridiculous so can’t compare with US but, I’ve only had to recharge her phone with equiv. of $20 since August so we’re pretty happy with her “lack of use” so far.

    Both of them want an iPhone when we “go home.” They’d better start saving. :)

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