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 PetethePlanner.com, 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 this: CharityNavigator.com 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?