Sunday, June 12, 2005


My dad is not the only source of strange childhood memories. My mother, a mathematician-turned-stay-at-home-mom, devised a rather strange system when it came to an allowance for my sister and me. I started getting an allowance at the age of four. This may seem young, but I figure if the kid is old enough to beg for candy while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, they’re old enough to get a small allowance and waste their own money on the candy (coincidentally, I was about four when I turned to my dad and said “Commercials are lies, aren’t they?” Perhaps I had purchased something with my new allowance and found it didn’t live up to my expectations. Who knows?) Remember, it’s better for a kid to make small mistakes with a small amount of money early on rather than making big mistakes with a lot of money once they are out on their own. The allowance started out simple – one quarter a week for every year of age. We had to buy non-necessities, including toys, movie tickets and refreshments, in-state amusement park tickets, and desserts (soda counted as a dessert, by the way). In the summer, our allowance became $5 dollars so we could buy snacks at the snackbar at the pool. To prevent us from buying and eating tons of desserts, there was also a limit of three desserts a day, with Mom defining what quantity of any given food constituted a desert (six Thin Mints, 4 Tagalongs, 3 home-made cookies, 2 pieces of fudge, one bowl of ice cream, etc.). However, because part of the point appears to have been to limit our sugar intake, desserts already in the house had to be purchased from Mom. This included home-baked goods like chocolate-chip cookies and mint peanut-butter fudge (yes, you read that flavor right. It’s the only flavor my mom likes that the candy industry hasn’t stolen. Shhhh!) There was a whole price structure:

Home-made cookies: 10 cents a cookie
Fudge: 25 cents a square
Soda: 25 cents a can (I also recall 10 cents a glass when taken from a 2-liter bottle)
Girl Scout cookies: each cookie was the cost of the box divided by the number of cookies – Thin Mints were cheapest at 6 cents a piece
Ice Cream – 50 cents a bowl maybe? Can’t remember. Didn’t have it quite as often.

Whenever company came over, I would get excited if for no other reason than dessert would be free that night. Christmas and birthdays meant free toys as well as toys we weren’t patient enough to save up for. Which brings me to savings.

Apparently, when I was little, I lost something important to me but did not have enough money to buy a replacement. I panicked and threw a fit and finally my Mom leant me the money, but ever since I have been a compulsive saver. I saved up for and purchased my Nintendo and a TV for my room (Nintendo came first and was stationed in the family room until I got the TV a couple of years later). Grandma’s Christmas and birthday checks helped, but most of the money was from saving my allowance.

My mother started to realize that my sister was not developing nearly the level of savings habits that I was. So when she upped our allowance and added clothes to the list of things we had to buy ourselves, she created a budget. Half of each week’s allowance had to be set aside for clothes. Fifty cents was for offering at church (Tithe? Methodists don’t tithe!). I think there was at least a dollar or so we were suppose to save for gifts to friends and family. This kept either of us from spending all of our allowance on non-necessities only to find we had ten dollars to buy a season’s worth of wardrobe with. Even K-Mart ain’t that cheap.

These days, my sister still spends money more freely than I do, but she’s way better at saving than many of her friends. While her peers beg their parents for spending money, she’s paying for part of a trip to India that she is taking starting next week with money she saved from her job. My parents are paying the rest. (It’s college-related. My parents were kind enough to pay for both of our college educations. Nice, eh, what?) My parents hear their friends complain about how their kids want $90 shoes or refuse to buy anything off the “Sale” rack. “How is this a problem?” my dad says. “If they want it, they can buy it themselves.” So spoiled by us, my parents are. :)

Now, not everyone can afford to give their kids an allowance. But I think allowances are important for the middle-class and upper-class kids who have everything provided for them, particularly if their parents have trouble saying “no” and meaning it. It’s more difficult to gauge the value of money when the supply seems endless or at least dependent only on how much you whine.


Anonymous diana said...

I never had an allowance. I would get large lump sums at Christmas and my birthday that had to last me all year. We were broke so begging for icecream truck money wasn't going to work anyway; can't squeeze blood from a turnip, right? I have to say that my savings abilities aren't up to par with yours, but I am pretty good.

When I was pregnant I saved several thousand dollars from my paltry income, so that I could stay home with baby Charles for a little bit. It was a good thing that I was able to do that because I only had three weeks of payed leave; I had used up all of my vacation the month before I got pregnant. Can you say surprise? Also, I did not take a sick day the entire time that I was pregnant; not even when I was eight months along with the flu. That was hellish. It was too valuable for me to have after the baby was born. As fate would have it, I didn't have to go back right away because I was able to work part time as my sister's research assistant from home.

My latest savings scheme is for no day care. I am going back to my job full time in August, and I am going to work Sunday through Thursday 6pm to 2am. Charles works 7am to 3pm, so one of us can always watch him. The cost of daycare is such that my full time income would be the same as working part time from home and taking care of him myself. Also, I will make an extra 10% by working the night shift. I have been very frugal for the last 10 months, and I will be excited to have some money.

By the way, I did buy those $100 shoes. I was in elementary school, and I used my own money. It was a very disappointing spend. I think that is when I learned about commercials being lies. I could have done so much cool stuff with $100. Back then that would have bought like 200 ice creams.

6/12/2005 6:04 AM  
Blogger Jody said...

I also didn't have an allowance. Starting at a very young age (2ish, maybe before) I had a list of chores. The completion of each chore was associated with a particular "salary" Failure to complete a negotiated chore was associated with a fine in addition to not receiving the salary.

As I got older the jobs got more complex and the pay higher.

The first big item I bought was an AT-AT (was about $40 - I had to save for a couple months). Of interest, my brother and I pooled our savings to buy our Nintendo. We didn't buy a TV, however, because no one was allowed to have a TV in their bedroom.

6/12/2005 10:28 AM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

The importance may be an early exposure to money management, whatever the source or amount of money. When your parents struggle to afford the basics, it's easier to see that money is not unlimited than if your parents seem to be able to afford whatever they (and you) want. The first time you have money of your own, the temptation is to spend it. Better to make a few mistakes with your Christmas money than wait to make them with your paycheck. The temptation is still there when you get your first paycheck (especially if you get your first paycheck before you've seen what living expenses are), since it's way more money than you were probably used to seeing in one place before then, but every little bit helps.

6/12/2005 12:40 PM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

I saved about a year for my Nintendo, a little less for the TV. I think my Mom regretted letting me buy the TV, though, because I was less motivated to come out of my room.

6/12/2005 12:43 PM  
Blogger Kitsune said...

Teaching kids about money certainly is part of good parenting, by whatever method is financially viable. (This could turn into a rather long post about ways and means, but I'll skip all that and just get right to the story.)

My mother was a school teacher, so, she liked to tie as many lessons together as possible. "Allowance" came from two sources: weekly chores and grades. Both had ulterior motives. My sister and I had a list of chores we were supposed to do every week. There were some mandatory ones and some optional ones for a little extra money. The biggest mandatory one was "keep your room clean". Mother was the judge of what clean meant. If the room wasn't clean, there was no allowance. Period. Cleanliness was part of the education. Not only did we have to budget, we had to do it in an OSHA approved environment. (The lesson: hard work doesn't necessarily give you success: compliance with the establishment does.)

The optional chores were things like clean the car for a few extra dollars.

The other method of garnering income was to keep high grades. We received a certain amount per letter grade per subject on the report card. This method worked well until I fell into the "it's not cool to study" crowd. That certainly worked out well. Sigh... The intended lesson was of good... intention.

I think the method of charging for deserts is a good idea. I will have to remember that for when I am the one who is doling out allowances...

6/13/2005 2:59 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home