Why We Pay Our Kids to Keep Their Room Clean (and Do Other Basic Chores)

Why We Pay Our Kids For Chores

Every single time Dave Ramsey (the financial guru who has built his career out of telling people to get out of debt) mentions paying children a commission for work done and not an allowance, the internet loses its mind.

“Some things are done just because they’re part of a family!” is the line repeated most often.

“I do tons of chores around here for which I don’t get paid!” is the second most repeated line.

I get what they’re saying. Indeed, some of my closest friends subscribe to this thinking. However, we still pay our kids for their chores. Let me tell you why.

It ties money to work and value firmly in their minds from a very young age

I think I was 28 when I asked the most important economic question in the world: Where does money come from? And I didn’t mean a mint. When I was a child, I had made the connection between my father going to work and getting paid, but I still thought money was something given for time and not for the value one brought to the economy.

I know what you’re thinking – what child understands value? Well, I would argue that when they are paid according to the chores they can do, we get them started thinking in that direction.

For instance, my daughter who is seven, can do more important chores than my youngest son, who is three and they don’t get paid according to their need but according to the value they bring to the table.

Interpretation is important to a child, not just observation, but setting up opportunities that invite dialogue and discussion are just as precious. That’s what my husband and I aim to do.

It helps them apply their math skills

My children are paid every Friday. Then they get to choose to spend some of it, save some of it and give some of it to our church. We have minimum requirements for saving and giving and they get to buy either candy or a toy with the rest. Of course, we reserve the right to veto any purchase.

Because they spend so much time counting money and considering how much they’re going to be paid and how to spend it, save it and tithe it, basic money calculations become pretty easy for them.

We recently bought a Kumon workbook so they could practice their money counting skills but they had the hardest time. I was wondering why until I noticed that the coins were not to scale. Of course! I thought.

It gives a tangible count of wins and losses

I was listening to a podcast recently by Andrew Pudewa about motivating students and he made a very important point about winning and losing.

Pudewa said that motivation is either intrinsic (something children are naturally interested in), extrinsic (made into a game of sorts) or forced (also called the “or else” motivator.)

I find that paying for chores covers all three of these bases.

Megan McArdle in The Up Side of Down mentions briefly that punishment is most effective when it is consistent and quickly meted out, but more importantly, when recovery from it and rehabilitation is swift. This is easily done with commissions.

When the children don’t do their chores and payment is withheld, (we don’t do this often, but it has been done) they learn that it is not a devastating blow – that there will be another opportunity next week, another chance to win. This is incredibly motivating and teaches them an important life lesson – not to be crushed by failure, to look for the next opportunity; it’s just around the corner.

It gamifies their lives

My children love video games and I whole-heartedly support their passion. Recently, I watched Jane McGonigal talk about gamifying one’s life and how it can help even adults do better at difficult things. I know I perform better with the family budget, for example, if I can turn it into a game.

I love that the children get to experience the same excitement about their chores, that they don’t see work as work but as a fun exercise to create value.

Paying them for their chores gets them thinking in this direction.

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Author: Purva Brown

Writer / blogger at http://TheClassicalUnschooler.com – unapologetically blending two seeming opposites.

5 thoughts on “Why We Pay Our Kids to Keep Their Room Clean (and Do Other Basic Chores)”

  1. Would your kids do these chores if you didn’t pay them? What if you just asked them to do them

    That is the important question.

    If the answer is “no,” then perhaps you should ask yourself if you are just bribing them to do the stuff they are supposed to do. Remember, no one will pay them to keep their rooms clean as adults. And there are lots of ways to learn about money.

  2. Kris, Sure they would! No one will cajole and nag them and inspect their rooms as adults either. I don’t see any difference between that and paying them for a job well done. Money is just a tangible expression of appreciation.

  3. Our system is pretty loose. They get paid for keeping their room clean and basically do whatever chores I assign to them through the day of a relatively small nature. They’re usual things like cleaning up after dinner, sweeping, and so on. I pay them one amount for all chores; they get paid on Fridays and then of the payment they get to spend some, tithe some and save the rest.

  4. This would be a disaster in my house 😂. My kids would weigh out how much time each chore took vs how much money they were paid vs how long it would take to accumulate an amount worth spending and then decide they could live without the money. I know this because I’ve tried. On top of that they have started their own business that nets 10x more than what I would be able to pay them for chores (they pick up yards for dog owners). I’m down with teaching the value of money, but I’m not down with me being the only one contributing to keeping the house clean. They also got to where they were expecting money for doing things they should have been doing anyways, like keeping their shoes out of the living room and such. It created a nightmare. However, I think this is one of those “what works for you” things and I’m glad it works in your family!

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