Is an allowance about unschooling or respect? Probably both.

The first time we talked about allowances in our family it was my sneaky way to do math. My grade-school aged kids couldn’t tell the difference between a quarter and a nickel, because why would they have any need for that outside of a school assignment?

I opened a savings account for them and gave them a little extra to put into savings each week.

I gave them a little extra for tzedakah, and as their money in the pushke grew, the boys started talking about which charity to give to.

It was like I was in Congress — not controlling the states, but teaching them what I wanted them to learn by controlling the flow of money.

Meanwhile, my brother is an economist, and he was teaching his kids about compound interest via spreadsheets. I worried that I wasn’t teaching the right stuff. I couldn’t tell if this was an example of all parents teaching their kids what the parent is good at, or if it was an example of me doing a bad job teaching my kids about money.

Before I could decide on all that, we moved to Swarthmore, and there was no money. Allowance is not very interesting for families who have no money.

The Farmer locked me out of our money, and when I called a lawyer to fix it, the layer said it was a financial form of domestic violence and that I’d need to press charges. I didn’t know the boys understood at the time that I was refusing to press charges. If I had known they understood, I probably would have had more guts and pressed charges. But I didn’t, so we had hundreds of plates I moved from the farm and no way to get money for anything else.

The boys stole food from the grocery store in Swarthmore.

They only told me this years later.

“What????” That’s what I said.

They were shocked that I was shocked and asked, “How did you think we got food when you didn’t have money for food?”

This came up when we were talking about if they needed an allowance in Boston. They told me they just wanted an allowance so they could have money saved for if we ran out of food again.

I pretty much wanted to die. But I gave them allowances. As security. And like so many other homeschooling lessons, I learned as much from the allowance experience as my kids did.

5 replies
  1. J
    J says:

    If you were married the farmer could not do that.
    Unmarried it’s very difficult. Possession really is 9/10 of the law.
    If you left him, why didn’t you take what you owned with you? If he still has your money now maybe reach out bc old wounds have probably healed.

    How can you afford music lessons and AP lessons and not food. If so poor why not apply for food stamps. You could definitely get help for kids. I think it may be more of a budgeting and priority issue. Food has to come first. You can get rice and olive oil and bulk chicken. There are ways to have an affordable healthy food budget. Obviously eating out is hard but three people eating at home I think you could have afforded but possibly just felt other things were more important.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Im not going to answer every question but I’ll answer one, just to show you how much you don’t know. In Wisconsin we were classified as a business. So we were a dissolution of a business. He did pay me money for the dissolution of a business, in the end. But not nearly what I was entitled to because I didn’t fight.

      One thing I’ve learned from blogging 20 years is that I give the best advice when I am giving it from a place that I’ve been. I bet that’s true for you, too.


  2. Brenda
    Brenda says:

    I love your posts. It’s been years since we stopped homeschooling and I still glean so much from your experience. Thank you for sharing

  3. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    I’ve been utterly lame about allowances. I just buy my kids what they want, generally. Unless I don’t, and say buy it yourself; they figure out what the category difference is, and stop asking. Years ago, my son realized he could go out and busk and come home with a couple hundred dollars, and after that allowances were absurd (as were McJobs).

    My daughter can’t conceive of holding on to money for more than one day. But she can manage coinage fine, in dollars and euros, because if we go out we will leave her money to go out and get herself some ice cream, at home or abroad. Maybe that’s one of the differences of growing up in the city versus the country – where would a kid walk to and spend money out in the sticks?

    When I was a kid, we got an allowance for an instrumental purpose – cleaning our rooms. Which is to say, we got an allowance as soon as our rooms were clean. It worked, I guess, to make our rooms clean, and reduce our mother’s annoyance. Maybe I should put that in place for my daughter, because her room is a sty. My son’s room is neat as a pin – he tidies up as soon as he gets out of bed every day. I had nothing to do with that. So maybe an allowance is like a bridge, from where they are now to where they will figure things out for themselves, spanning the gulf of parental annoyance. Of course, if I gave her an allowance, my daughter would be flush for twenty minutes each week until she blew it on ice cream or bubble tea.

    As for investment, one can get a brokerage account for kids these days, for example at Fidelity. My son has held a stock portfolio since thirteen, which incorporates busking earnings plus cash gifts. That’s a good way to learn what “capital” means. He’s got a separate cash account where he saves money for purchases. He’s got a surprisingly good head for money.

  4. Minami
    Minami says:

    I remember doing this for my mom as a little kid. I learned very quickly that I had to save up my allowance as emergency food/car repair money for her to use. Never spent a single cent of the allowance myself.

    My brother was maybe more practical: as soon as he got his allowance, he spent it on something he wanted. That way, whenever my mother asked us for money, he could honestly say he had none. :P

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