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Use Allowance to Teach Responsibility Through Gains and Losses

Decide what privileges are allowed

Dear Dr. Fournier:

My son is getting older, and his father and I are going to begin to give him an allowance. My husband feels he should have one because he wants him to learn responsibility by having to work for his money and worrying about how to spend it. I don’t mind giving him an allowance but don’t think he should be made responsible for hav­ing to save for everything he wants. What advice do you have for this?

Audrey C.

Jackson, TN

Dear Audrey:


Even the most well-intentioned parent can “allow” an allowance to backfire when it is based on the false premise that it will auto­matically make a child more responsi­ble with money. The general wisdom out there is that when a child realizes that once he spends his allowance he will no longer have the money to pay for something else, he will become more cautious. While I agree with this, I don’t feel that it forms the entire picture, or brings out all of the understandings that will help a child in life once he has moved out from under the parents’ wings.

Consider the word “allowance” and ask yourself: What does it “allow?”

  • Does it allow your children to believe they are entitled to a portion of our salaries with no questions asked? An allowance given to a child just because he exists could lead to a teenager expecting a car simply because he has reached the legal dri­ving age.

  • Does it allow our children to spend money responsibly or save it irrespon­sibly while we continue to pay for most expenses? An allowance given to a child to buy whatever he “wants” may lead to an adult who turns to Mom and Dad for help with the rent while he spends his money on a vacation.

  • Does it allow parents to mandate that the garbage be taken out or the dishwasher emptied? An allowance given for home chores can lead a child to believe that family-related work should be done for a fee rather than free, out of respect for belonging and sharing.

The issue to consider is not whether to give an allowance but, as a family, to say explicitly what you will “allow” by giving it.


Parents should answer the question: “With this allowance money, what privileges do I allow and what responsibility is attached?” Write down what you hope to gain and what you could lose. For example:

  • Privilege: To buy desired items. (Assuming that approval is given by the parent. For example, is the child looking to buy an inappropriate DVD? A pair of over priced, name brand basketball shoes? A tattoo?)

  • Responsibility: To recognize the concept of choices and priorities for decision-making, and to come to the understanding of what is and is not an allowable purchase (as mentioned above.)

  • Gains: My child must demonstrate that he can budget for these items and can give up those that are not within his means.

  • Losses: My child doesn’t learn that there are times in life where there is no money for frills, and this may cause pain or poor choices later in life.

As you identify potential losses, set up strategies to counter them as best you can. For example, in the above case, a possible strategy could be to have your child contribute a set amount of his savings when an unforeseen expense threatens the family’s economic well­-being, such as needing a new transmis­sion for the car.

Another strategy is to teach your child to “pay himself first,” and place a percentage of what he is given into a savings account, without fail. If he gets a $10 allowance, but is required to put some away (for example a 20% contribution of two dollars) then he will develop a sense of priorities and get in the habit of caring for the necessities before he considers entertainment.

Allowances have become so com­monplace for children that they are “expected,” usually without anticipat­ing gains and losses. It’s up to us, as parents, to figure out what we are pay­ing for with our gifts of “allowances,” and to make our children aware of both the privileges and responsibilities that come with money.


Have a question about education, education-related issues or your child’s schoolwork or homework? Ask Dr. Fournier and look for her answer in this column. E-mail your question or comment to Dr. Yvonne Fournier at [email protected].


More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.