Why I Pay My Toddlers to Work

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We’ve recently started a pay-for-work regimen around the house, and I have to tell you, I kind of love it. Clothes are being put away (cheerfully) and groceries are being carried from the car (gleefully) and we’re working together as a team (joyfully). Well, ‘joyfully’ most of the time – see ‘gnashing of teeth’ incident below.

Most importantly, I’m planting the seeds of understanding the way money works. First lesson – you do work, you get paid. Maybe my two year old doesn’t really get it, but my almost four year old is totally eating it up.

I’m following the game plan (sort of) laid out in Smart Money, Smart Kids by Dave Ramsey and his daughter, Rachel Cruze.  The second chapter spells it all out (that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the book, to be honest). Instead of waiting until I get the perfect money jars and go to the bank for dollar bills and discuss the minutia of the plan with my husband, we just sort of jumped in this week.

My kids are 2 and (almost) 4. Here’s what we do and why:

1. Designate some chores that can be ‘teachable moments’. I chose putting away laundry and groceries to start. I picked these because duties like helping set the table and clearing dishes, cleaning up their shared room, putting away toys, etc. are already expectations and part of our daily routine. I like the idea of helping out around the house because we’re a family and that’s what we do – not because we’re motivated by money for it. Also, I don’t want to pay my kids every day, every meal, every time I ask them to do something.

I picked laundry because I HATE to do laundry and let it pile up, so I could really use some help getting the task done. I chose groceries because we shop at Aldi, and I never remember to bring bags, so it’s much faster to carry all 67 items inside if I have four chubby legs helping me.

2. Pay them immediately after the chore is done. The book recommends paying enthusiastically – “I really appreciate your help! Thanks for working so hard!” – and right away to cement the idea that work equals money. Check and check.

The book also recommends paying in dollar bills – wadding them up and putting them in a clear container so the child(ren) can see the money grow. This was holding me up because we don’t keep a wad of ones on hand and I avoid driving across town at all costs (naturally, our bank’s nearest ATM is across town). Also, I fretted a little but about making Pinterest-perfect jars with ribbons and twine and names written on chalkboard paint. That never happened, so I took out a sharpie and wrote their names on pasta sauce glass jars that we had set out to reuse. Done.

Instead of waiting until we had a reason to drive across town in addition to the bank stop, I just paid the boys in quarters and they were delighted. At some point they’ll understand that four quarters equals a dollar (a first grade skill, I believe), so I don’t really harp on it. I just say, “Here’s your dollar! I’m giving you four quarters. Would you like to count them?” We count. We stack. We dump all the quarters out and count them all. We shake the jars around like popcorn. It’s fun and exciting and there are lots of number concepts touched (coins are the best manipulatives, really) and vocab building opportunities.

3. Make a plan to go to the store with the money they earn so they can spend it.  Money is great to have, but its true value is what you use it for. Eventually we’ll get into the joys of giving and wisdom of saving, but for right now, we’re only focusing on spending. You worked hard, you earned some money, you get to buy whatever you want.

We’re planning to go to the store on Fridays and occasionally on Saturday so that their daddy gets to see them choose items to buy and interact with the cashier. Our first trip is coming up – so I’ll let you know how that goes. When we’ve gotten money as small gifts for holidays in the past we’ve gone to the dollar store or hardware store to pick out toys/balloons/gadgets etc.

4. Be consistent: don’t work, don’t get paid. My youngest decided he didn’t want to help put away laundry earlier this week and thus didn’t get paid. He was upset that his brother got quarters and he didn’t. There were tears and general gnashing of teeth.  But he helped the next time, and I think the incident really drove the concept home for the older son.  You gotta love the lessons that siblings glean from watching each other’s choices and consequences, right?

Maybe someday I’ll get around to making a cute chore chart and those jars with decorations in a color palette that simultaneoutly match our house decor while invoking playfulness and whimsy…but until then, we’ll take it one day, one chore at a time and focus on the rewards of working and learning together as a family. What about you? Have you started teaching your kids about money? Do moms of older kids have insights or lessons learned to share?

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Mandy moved back to Nashville with her husband (Joe) to raise their kids a few years ago and is convinced it was one of the best decisions they've made. She loves setting off on adventures of all sorts, whether they be roadtrips to the coast, nature walks around their block in East Nashville, or camping with friends and family. Wherever she is, you will most likely find her with a book or two within arm's reach. Mandy stays at home with the boys and her baby girl and works as a grantwriter and general website whiz for small non-profits. A lover of spreadsheets and lists, she occasionally gets personal about personal finance, sharing challenges and strategies of efficiently managing a household, at her blog: Stay At Home Money Manager. You can email her directly at stayathomemoneymanager [AT] gmail [DOT] com.

7 COMMENTS

  1. My 5-year-old has been feverishly doing dishes and laundry to earn money for more Legos. It’s a great system for us. We chart the money on a dry-erase chart so we don’t have to worry about keeping change around the house. I do look forward to getting into the giving/saving issue one day soon, but we aren’t there yet.

    • Christy – I love the idea of limiting the realm of spending to Legos. Was that your son’s idea or did y’all suggest it to him? So far my boys have gotten toys from the Family Dollar… but then on the way out on our second trip they (naturally) passed the candy section. I immediately regretting saying they could get ‘whatever they want’. It ended up being a good lesson because they had to put a toy back if they wanted to get the candy… but I think the trash monster got most of the bags of gummy worms and gummy bears after a few days. Amazing how much sugar a dollar can buy you!!
      Thanks for your comment – and let me know how you got to earning money for Legos when you get a chance! mw

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