Once my kids hit middle school we began giving them an allowance. I could tell you that we started this childhood rite of passage because we wanted to teach them about how to manage their money, and that would be true. To a point. But our primary goal was a lot more selfish—my husband and I were simply sick and tired of opening our wallets every day to find nothing inside. Zero. Not a dollar. We were always broke!

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that kids cost money. A lot of money. Never mind
the expense of feeding and clothing them—that’s a given. No, I’m talking about all those little extras that you never think of like, “Hey, mom! Can I have $3 to buy lunch in the cafeteria today?” or “We’re going to the movies this afternoon. Can I have $10?” It’s that little stuff that drove us crazy. And depleted our wallets. Plus, it was hard to keep track of who was spending what and where. (“Didn’t I just give you money for that birthday gift?”)

That’s when we decided to close the Bank of Mom and Dad and give our three boys an allowance instead.

Our first step? We needed to choose an amount. Now most parenting experts would tell you that you should give your child a dollar for every year of age. So if your twins are ten, you should give them each $10 a week. That seemed a bit arbitrary to us so we came up with our own formula. We sat down with our kids and looked closely at their day-to-day lives and then decided on what we would pay for such as clothing, cell phone plans and after-school activities and sports fees and then gave them a budget for the rest such as entertainment (the price of a movie ticket once a month), gifts (birthdays, holidays, church), their craving for school cafeteria food—which we capped at twice a week—plus a small stipend. It took a few months of tweaking before we settled into a financial agreement that everyone could live with happily. For instance, the standard weekly payout wasn’t working for me. With credit cards and automatic payroll deposit, I was never at a bank and therefore always late in paying the kids. Instead, we opted for a monthly allowance and it’s working out much better.

But it’s not all about me, now is it? The kids have benefitted greatly from this as well. They now have total control over their own money and can choose to spend it, save it or give it away. What a great life lesson it’s been! For instance, when we first started the process, my youngest son was like a kid in a candy store. Literally. If he saw a toy in the supermarket, he bought it. Forget making his own school lunch, he ate in the cafeteria every day. I would try to counsel him (it never worked) but as much as it killed me, I never stopped him from doing what he wanted with his own money. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for him to figure out that he couldn’t keep it up. He ran out of money by the second week and then couldn’t afford anything else for the rest of the month. It hit home hard. And that, the experts say, is the best life lesson of all. Kids need to make money mistakes now while they’re young and the financial stakes are small. As parents, we need to let them stumble and fall no matter how difficult to watch. It’s how they learn.

It’s true. After six years of practice, all my boys are evolving into financially responsible young men. They’re learning to budget (one son even tracks his spending in a little notebook), to save (shiny, new electronics are expensive), and even to delay gratification in order to reach some short-term goal (they’ll often make their lunch for school every day, banking the allotment we’ve given them for the cafeteria).

I’d say that giving our kids an allowance has been a great success. Now if we could just somehow translate these strong money habits into strong study habits. Now that would be an awesome report card to see!

Christina Baglivi Tinglof is a blogger and the author of five books including Double Duty: The Parents’ Guide to Raising Twins and Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples.