If You Give a Boy an Allowance…

When my son and daughter were toddlers I did some research on whether or not I should give them an allowance when they got older. Some sources said that you shouldn’t give kids money unless they do work way above and beyond the normal running of the household. They need to learn to be a part of a family and contribute without expecting to be paid, was the reasoning. Others said that an allowance should be tied to their age and not have anything to do with what they do around the house. As they argued, an allowance is an, “allowance,” after all, and not a wage.

The piece of information that tipped the scale for me was that young men with autism, who are high-functioning enough to have jobs, often did not see the point in working. They did not understand the connection between putting in effort on something that maybe isn’t as fascinating as a video game, and receiving pay for that effort. Many also didn’t understand the value of money – that you can buy new video games with it!

So when my kids were in early elementary I started giving them an allowance. Well, really it is more of a wage. But I call it an allowance, simply because that is what most other parents call it. Thankfully, since my kids are only 15.5 months apart and since my older child is the one with autism, that brings their maturity level to, well, the younger one being only slightly older. So I am able to expect the same amount of effort out of both of them and can, therefore, pay them both the same amount of money. Thanks be to God for that! I don’t envy those of you who have to continually explain to the younger ones why they get less money or to the older ones why they have to do more for the same amount of money, depending upon how you work it.

I wasn’t sure how much to give them, so I wrote down everything I expected of them, from getting dressed and brushing their teeth, to cleaning the cat litter and emptying the dishwasher. Then I decided to assign $.05 to each task, since most of them could be completed quite quickly. All told, their allowance added up to $3.50 a week. I required them to tithe at least 10% to our church and required that they save some in a long-term savings account. I will let them have the money when they go to college. I want them to see the benefit of saving a little bit of money over a long time so that they are prepared to save for retirement. Because those of us with autism aren’t big on changing our routines, I realized that the more I could make this allowance experience like an adult’s paycheck experience, the better. So in the end, they had $2.50 to spend every week.

I tried that for a couple of weeks, but found that wasn’t enough money to be meaningful, to my son, in particular. There isn’t much that you can buy for $2.50 these days. At least, not any Lego sets – which is all my son with autism ever wants to buy, unless it is a Lego video game. So I doubled the amount so that they had $5/week to spend.

Now in two to three weeks time, a really cool toy can be saved for. At first I didn’t require them to save for the tax, but by the time they were in upper elementary, they needed to plan for that, too. And I generally do not bail them out at all, even if they are just a penny short. They need to learn that you may not buy something unless you actually have all of the money to buy it, especially when it is something that you don’t actually need. Every once in awhile I will let them make extra money by doing extra jobs around the house. But lately I seldom do that. Both of them will probably end up with a salaried job, and we all know that you don’t get extra pay for extra work when you are salaried. At least not usually. So I want them to learn how to budget and save within that framework.

The two things I love the most about giving them an allowance is that I can say, “Sure you can have that item, if you want to spend your own money on it,” and, “You will not be getting your allowance if you don’t get your chores done.”

Just last year I found another very good use for the allowance. My son, in particular, was having a hard time finding a reason to study enough to get the grades he is capable of getting. So I told him that I wasn’t going to be paying for poor grades. After all, school is his work, and you don’t get paid well at work if you are sloughing off. Our teachers update the electronic grade book weekly, so that the parents can see what their students have been doing. So every week I check the grade book. If there are grades below a B, because my kids truly are capable of A and B work, then allowance money disappears. Generally I take away $1 for a C and $2 for a D or F. That seemed to really get my sons attention, so he is now taking his studying more seriously. It has been keeping him motivated this year, too. He lost a couple bucks last week because he put computer time before study time, but he is back to being motivated to put in the time on his homework this week. Yeah!

So allowance may not be the right thing for every kid, but it has been working for us, so far. Though there are a few other things I would like to use it to teach them as they get older. Like, you can’t spend all of your money on toys – you need to eat, too. I’m not sure how to do that, yet…

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Heather Holbrook

I found out that I have Autism upon having a son with the same "disorder." Ironically, I was voted, "Most Likely to Succeed," by my high school classmates. But had I been born now, instead of 40+ years ago, I would have been considered a different sort of special. This site was started to encourage other Autistics and the people who love them .

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