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I Make My Kids Give Up (Part of) Their Allowance

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Bethany Sanders: How do you teach your kids to be generous individuals?

kid putting money in piggy bank

When I hand my kids their allowance each week, they know that it's not all theirs to keep. Like many parents, we use the give/save/spend system: They get their money, then they head right to their jars to divvy up their dollars.

They both have a savings account, but whether or not they save is up to them. What is required, though, is that a portion of their allowance go into their "give jar" every week.

I don't set an amount for them to give, but in an average week -- if there isn't something big they're saving for -- they're likely to donate 25 to 30 percent of their allowance. In the last few months, they've donated to organizations of their choice, including the Red Cross and Partners in Health (both for Haiti), Kiva, Leader Dogs for the Blind and the World Wildlife Fund. Their allowance isn't large, and their donations don't add up to much, so we match what they give to make it a minimum gift of $10.

Raising generous and empathetic children is an important part of our parenting philosophy. Comedian and financial guru Peter Dunn, of, thinks teaching the act of giving is important, too. "Scarcity is an important lesson to teach a child," he told me in a recent e-mail. "It is harmful for your child to see a pile of toys that they don't use in their play area. A compassionate child is destined to be a compassionate adult."

Dunn recommends having a family giving jar that everyone contributes to, because children are quick to catch on when parents aren't walking the walk. "The best part about helping a child learn to be compassionate is that you are forced to look inward," says Dunn. "Children can sense intent. If you intend to not practice what you preach, then they will detect this." (That's a good lesson in nearly all areas of parenting, says the mom who ate cake for breakfast today.)

Sending a few dollars a month to our favorite charities is a good place to start, but I don't want my kids to think that money is the only way they can be charitable. Giving time and talent are important, too. Here are some tips for helping your kids be more generous:

Start small when your kids are small. Giving is a foreign concept to most preschoolers, who are at a developmentally appropriate self-centered stage.Try this: When you bake goodies for an elderly neighbor, double the batch and keep some for your family, too.

Let kids choose their own charities. My kids continue to surprise me with their choice of charity every month. I start by giving them a category: animals, the environment, children, etc. Then they tell me who they want to help.Try is a great site for choosing quality charities.

Don't just write a check. It's so easy to donate online today, but kids need a concrete vision of where their donation is going.Try this:Walk your kids into the Red Cross to deliver a money order; take them to the food pantry to deliver collected cans; or buy items on your local animal shelter's wish list and drop them off, taking some time to play with the animals.

What's your family's favorite way to give back?

next: Older Moms Buck the Trend of Falling Birthrates
26 comments so far | Post a comment now
pornors April 16, 2010, 3:57 AM
Black Iris April 16, 2010, 8:34 AM

I don’t make my kids give away any of their allowance. I have always thought that wasn’t teaching real charity or compassion because it is forced. And in a way, you’re just giving them a lower allowance and contributing some of your own money.
I like some of the suggestions here, having them choose how much to give or where. I think I will try creating a charity jar for the family that we all put money into and then decide where to give it away.

Gail Cooke April 16, 2010, 10:28 AM

I don’t think making kids give part of thier allowances teaches them anything. Seems like forcing them to give up their money would make them not want to give when they finally get the option to do it on thier own volition.

Nikita April 16, 2010, 10:43 AM

I would NEVER make my daughter do this. What is the point of giving them the money to begin with? And forcing them to “give” shows them that even if they work hard - they will never be properly rewarded. I’ve never understood parents that do this. I dont offer an allowance, I give my child as she needs it and for what she needs it for. Its always worked well for us…(and we donate our old ITEMS to charity, and our time - you dont have to belittle your children to show them how to help those that are less fortunate).

SS April 16, 2010, 12:15 PM

Forced giving isn’t giving. It’s taking. I think it’s mean to give a child money only to take some of it back. I’m all for teaching kids the importance of charity and I plan on doing that with my child but I want him to want to give. Bringing your kids with you to do volunteer work and educating them on how helpful donations can be plants a seed in them. When they see how donations help the less fortunate and see their parents lead by example they’re more likely to want to give themselves. I think these kids are going to be relieved when they grow up and get to actually keep all their own money.

Cheryl April 16, 2010, 12:58 PM

I think this idea can work. Money management is a discipline, just like anything else. I want my kids to save in automatically, and also to give automatically. I don’t view this as forcing them, any more than I force them to brush their teeth every day.

Anonymous April 18, 2010, 7:00 AM

so who tells your kids that their $10 is really going to organizations overhead?

anon April 18, 2010, 5:17 PM

let them keep the money

Brittany May 17, 2010, 10:42 AM

I don’t think it’s “awful” of parents to do this with their kids. I don’t think it’s pointless because the kids are “forced” to give to charity. I highly doubt the author of this article takes a gun, put it to her own child’s head and starts screaming “GIVE TO CHARITY RIGHT NOW OR I’LL BLOW YOUR BRAINS OUT!” Now THAT would be truly awful and make the child not want to give in the future. Sit down with the kid, explain it to them at a level they can understand that whatever they give—money, time, items etc—regardless of amount is needed and appreciated. If the child is elementary school age explain how Little Billy across town is going to absolutely *love* the crayons your Tommy bought because Little Billy loves to color too. Tell your high maintenance drama queen cheerleader daughter how money for basic necessities like the nice shampoo, conditioner and body wash she enjoys would be amazingly generous to a women’s shelter. Just like with adults, it’s all about how you present the information. Explain how it will benefit the person who’s receiving the contribrition and how it’s a benefit for your kids as well. People have been convinced to murder innocent people, I should hope you’d be able to convince your child to do something GOOD.

NoThanx July 12, 2010, 10:43 PM

Prepare your son for adult life. Make him earn his own spending money, then give most of it to his sister.

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