Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New lessons from an allowance

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

This is one in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, my partner and husband, Crackerdog Sam. Sam updated his July CarNatPar post with lessons Mikko's learned in the ensuing months since first receiving his own fun money, while I am guest posting today at Natural Parents Network about our family business.

Guest post by Crackerdog Sam

I wrote a post this summer that's long overdue for an update — our experiment with giving Mikko, at age 4, his own allowance.

The first one dealt with the allowance as an example of our overall parenting philosophy, to give our kids as many real-world experiences and decision-making chances as we can, and let them learn by trial-and-error as we help to guide rather than dictate. I detailed how Mikko had learned all sorts of things we hadn't anticipated — while we had secretly hoped to cut down on the constant begging while shopping, and perhaps teach a little math to our youngling, he was teaching himself economic realities like splitting the bill and deficit spending, dabbling in traits like compromise and generosity, and discovering how to follow through on an objective.

Mikko's learned much more during the intervening months, both things we anticipated and things we didn't:

  • Addition and subtraction. When saving up for something he wants, he's been known to count down the days and dollars until he can afford it. I can ask him how many days (or "sleeps," as he calls them) that he's been saving, and how much the item he wants is (usually a Transformer), and he can tell me how much he has left to save. This translates into other arenas, like if I tell him how many errands we have to run, and he starts complaining after a few of them that he wants to go home, I can ask how many stores we've been to, and how many we should have left. (This usually satisfies him, too, because he can imagine how much longer it'll be as opposed to just asking him to be patient.) So far his math is limited to numbers 5 and under, since $5 is usually the most he can bring himself to save so far (and I rarely go on more than five straight errands).
  • Less begging, more requesting. Again, this was something we'd hoped for initially, and it took a while, but it happened. There's a huge difference when shopping from having to say "no, you can't have that," or "no, we can't afford that," and getting to say, "you can have that if you want, but I thought you were saving up for a Transformer." Just in general we get to say "yes" more to his requests: "Yes, you can get that truck, but it costs $30. You'll have to decide if you want to save up for it." It's less of an antagonistic way to interact on our end, and on his end, it opens up the world to him to know that it's all accessible to him (for a price, of course, but that's the way of the world).
  • Saving his money. Mikko hasn't yet learned the idea of keeping a portion of money unspent for a rainy day or for an unexpected interest that crosses his path, but he has figured out that there are toys out there that cost more than he receives each day, and he can now wait with anticipation until he has enough to afford it. This kind of delayed gratification, I think, has added to his enjoyment of the said toy when he gets it, since he seems to play with those ones more than the cheaper ones that he just browsed and bought. Tapping into this element of anticipation also made it easier for us to talk up a fun thing we'll be doing soon (going to a baseball game, a Lowes' kids construction project, a visit from friends) as a way of increasing the excitement and decreasing the boredom of whatever we're stuck doing at the moment.
  • Panhandling. Technically this isn't something Mikko has done, but I found it fascinating that it crossed his mind. He sometimes asks how he can get more money (other than by just waiting longer), and over the summer his grandparents would often volunteer to fill that void if he asked. After they'd returned home, he was asking how he could get more money, and came up with the idea that he could ask "some of these people," as he gestured around a store at a bunch of strangers. I told him to go ahead and ask if he wanted to (of course, knowing that his shyness made that unlikely). But it is a way that people get money. He's inventing a fair number of real-life economic solutions to problems, much like with deficit spending.
  • Using layaway/wish listing. Again, Mikko hasn't used a real layaway program for anything (or paid any of the associated fees), but he's embraced the concept of having a store hold an item for you until you can pay for it. I once tried to be the layaway agent, buying something for him that he could then save up for and buy from me, but discovered that he couldn't understand why I wouldn't share my toy with him that he knew I had in my possession. I've since switched to telling him that "layaway" items have to stay in the store, but I write his name on the toy (with my finger) so that no one else will buy it and he can come get it when he has enough money. This has taken the edge off of his ingrained scarcity/hoarding instinct that was making it hard for him to choose among several toys. Fortunately, he hasn't yet wanted a toy that's gone out of stock, or I could get in trouble. But in recent weeks he's putting two or three things on layaway every time he buys something, so we wouldn't be at a loss for alternatives. (Plus I'm getting dozens of ideas for Christmas presents.)
  • Buying used. Our neighbors had a garage sale this summer that we happened to pass by, and Mikko picked out four or five rather expensive toys that he bought for only $3. I explained to him that he could get much nicer toys for his money if he wanted items that someone else had played with for a while but was done with them. He likes this idea of reuse and we've done several trips to Goodwill for things where he'll ask about every item, "Is this one that someone's finished playing with?" ("Yes, the whole store is things that people are done playing with," I somehow have to keep explaining.) To some degree, the thrifty bargain hunter in me was thrilled by his foray into pre-owned merchandise, since I love thrift stores, too. But there's also the can't-keep-the-place-clean despairer in me, which isn't as fond of the rapidity and size of the used toys that pile up. I've been talking to him about donating or selling some of the toys that he's done with, but so far he's resisted — with the exception of his new two-wheel bike that he's still a little afraid of. "You can sell that bike. I'm done with that bike," he tells me. "Selling used" is going to take a little longer.

I share all of this not to bolster an argument that allowances are necessary for kids or even always beneficial — results most likely will vary; children vary; situations vary. I simply find myself marveling at what directions children will take things when you give them open-ended opportunities. Mikko has learned so much hands-on in just a few months that would have had nowhere near the impact if we had just tried to sit him down and explain the same ideas and concepts to him. Even if it did all sink in, he wouldn't have had the pleasure of discovery and we wouldn't have had the pleasure of being surprised by what he was able to intuit. The more I parent, the more I find I love being surprised by my kids.

Crackerdog Sam (that's his hobo name) is a full-time work-from-home parent. He shares both the working and the parenting of four-year-old Mikko and four-month-old Alrik with Lauren of Hobo Mama.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.
  • A different kind of life... — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!
  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.
  • Material v Spiritual Wealth - Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family's realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.
  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.
  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the "real cost" of working outside of the home.
  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.
  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.
  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here's why.
  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she's made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.
  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.
  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.
  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.
  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget - and her perspective on creating and mothering.
  • Jemma's Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen's monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.
  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.
  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.
  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.
  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she's lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.
  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.
  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children's financial future.
  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.
  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.
  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.
  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family's lives at the same time.
  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.
  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she's willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)
  • Money could buy me ... a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.
  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.
  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old's learned from having his own spending money.
  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.
  • It's Not a Baby Crisis. It's Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.
  • "Making" Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.
  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.
  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.
  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.
  • Money Matters... But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.
  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.
  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive...Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living - and her surprise at what she learned.
  • Mo' Money, Mo' Problems — Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family's finances.
  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn't always do it.
  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family's approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.


I'm a full-time mummy said...

Oh this post is awesome! Makes me want to try that on my 2.5 yr old boy!

mrs green @ littlegreenblog.com said...

wonderful! I didn't give our DD pocket money until about a year ago when she was 9. I love how it's worked out for you. It hasn't worked at all for us and just burns a hole in DD's pocket until she gets to the shop to spend it on crap...

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Look at you all unschooling with the math and the allowance and the things like this! Kieran has been figuring out addition and subtraction from out of nowhere recently by asking, "when Roo is 5 years old, how old will I be?" And then he answers himself - and usually, he's right!
At any rate, thank you for following up on your post. It's nice to know how Mikko is handling the money and purchases - I'm still toying with the idea of doing it with Kieran, especially since he's *really* ramped up the "I want! I want!" every time we go to the store. Yikes.

CatholicMommy said...

Great post! I'll share it with my husband as we continue the allowance conversation. (The baby is only 15 mos, so we have a little time before we need to make a decision.) Thanks for sharing your experience!

melissa said...

I have always thought that I would give my children an allowance, simply to provide experience in saving and create more opportunities for doing math. Mikko is definitely proof that there are a multitude of other benefits to the practice, however, and at a much earlier age than I would have expected!

Becky said...

I'm just as impressed with this post as the last one. Last year, before I read about the disadvantages of rewards & punishments, I thought of giving fake coins to my child (when she gets older) to purchase items in stores. My intentions were good, but after reading these posts, I think just giving actual money (without having to earn it through behavior) would be easier. As you said, every child and situation is different, so we'll see how it'll turn out for us. Thanks for writing about this! Mikko is a smart kid.

Zoie @ TouchstoneZ said...

Great post for the carnival. I love all the things he has learned over these months since your first post. The responsibility combined with the natural feeling of wanting those toys is a big motivation to learning value and math quickly and thoroughly, isn't it?

I've noticed a larger interest in imaginative money play (store, restaurant, etc) since we began allowances.

I am also continually surprised with what children will come up with when gently supported.

Unknown said...

It never would have crossed my mind to give an allowance to such a young child - but it seems to work! My little guy "earns" pennies for his piggy bank that we made, but he has no idea how much he's got in there and only plans to buy a "train and truck" with the money when the bank is full. After reading this post, I feel motivated to try a slightly modified version of an allowance with him. He just started the "Please can I have ____? Pleeeeeeasssse????" and expects to get it. Maybe he can have his own bit of pocket change...

My oldest started getting an allowance around 7. He had a hand-me-down hand held game thingy and used to buy used games (mom doesn't buy video game-related junk!) He then learned about trading games with other kids, selling back his games, etc. I stayed out of the whole thing - if he traded an expensive game for a piece of junk, he learned his lesson. I only got involved once when a much older kid tricked him into trading 90% of his games for two very broken ones.

Deb Chitwood said...

What a great real-life learning experience you've given Mikko! I love the intentionality you've used in approaching each situation that comes up. Mikko's understanding of money is awesome, and your ways of maximizing his experiences are, too! Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

Momma Jorje said...

Great to see an update! I remember reading your original post and thinking that I need to remember this when Sasha turns 3. Now I've got my 13yo with me, too... I may need to *start* her on a similar plan!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the follow-up post, Sam! It was fun to read your list of the results (so far) of your experiment. My favorite is "panhandling"...I love that he came up with such a creative and adventurous solution. =)

Tmuffin.com said...

I'm so glad you posted this follow up. This is such an intriguing experiment to me, and I love everything that has come out of it. I can't believe Mikko can add and subtract! And the other lessons, like saving up for something better, and the fact that you can't just have everything right away... and dealing with that hoarding instinct. What a great way to teach a child the ways of the world~!

I can't wait to try this with Baby T. He currently thinks everything costs three dollars, and will slap it into your hand, but when his Mom-Mom said the other day that she wished she had a million dollars, he walked up to her and slapped it into her hand (always imaginary, of course). Maybe HE should teach ME a lesson about allowance!

Arpita of Up, Down And Natural said...

This is so interesting to me! DH is FANTASTIC at managing our money, savings and planning financially and I only started qualifying as acceptable a few years ago. I often wonder if it's because whenever I wanted something, my parents usually bought it for me without explaining the finances behind it, whereas DH was on an allowance and aside from Christmas and his birthday didn't just get "given" things. I used to feel bad for him because of this, but honestly I am now starting to realize that the reason we are able to stay afloat and manage our finances well is because he was taught these financial lessons very early on. The drive to get "that next toy" has followed him in to adulthood, and has drastically shaped the work ethic in him that I so much admire.

Kelly said...

I've so enjoyed reading these posts and seeing the directions Mikko is taking with his allowance - I am definitely inspired to give this a try when mine is a bit older! I especially like how you outline your philosophy at the beginning - giving him as many real-life situations to try as possible. As much as I want that to be the case, my brain often just doesn't work to think of such things...so very happy to have the inspiration! :)

Lisa C said...

So interesting to read this. I don't know why exactly, but the idea of allowance just turns me off. Maybe it isn't right for us, not the right time, etc, but still really great to see how it is working for you guys!

Btw, Michael has spontaneously started doing math, it's so cool!

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

I will definitely be trying an allowance with Baby when he is older. I'm glad it's working out so well for Mikko.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! I appreciate that you found it interesting and was able to spark some thinking about what you might do with your families.

A couple of thoughts:

Arpita: One thing I didn't get around to mentioning in the article is that we _do_ buy things for Mikko (and not just at birthdays and Christmas) beyond what his allowance covers. The allowance isn't really an either/or thing (either he's the one in charge of buying what he wants or we're the ones in charge of choosing what to buy him). It's mostly just an opportunity for him to experiment with some measure of control and decision making. There's still room for us to be gracious in giving him things beyond that.

mrs green: Just as another way of looking at things: I have very fond memories of the crap I bought when I was a teenager (that's when I finally got an allowance of my own) even though I eventually outgrew it and got rid of it all. Magic tricks, firecracker poppers, comic books ... it's all kind of stupid but I still wouldn't go back and buy myself something sensible if I had the chance to re-do it. Part of growing up and making choices, I suppose.

To no one in particular: I was going to include an aside in the original article about the absolute presumption of the term "allowance," as in, "I'm in charge, I have all the money and power in this relationship, but I'm going to _allow_ you this bit of money since you're dependent on me for even the smallest things." I wasn't sure if that amused only me, though.

Amy: Speaking of things I thought might amuse only me, I'm glad someone else found his plan for panhandling hilarious.

Phoebe said...

Loads of really good ideas here that I'll keep in mind for my girls! I do think it's important to learn about money early on. Thanks for this!

Lindsay said...

Interesting post. For some reason my instinct is to be opposed to allowances (maybe because I didn't get one?) but it sounds like Mikko is learning tons of great lessons and doing lots of creative thinking. Hmmmm

Rachael @ The Variegated Life said...

Very funny that Mikko considers himself "done with" the bike he hasn't really used yet!

Also, I'm amazed at how attuned you are to all that he's been learning in just these few months. I wish I had had an opportunity to learn so much when I was younger! Dunno that I would have thought of panhandling, though.

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