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.