Kid Finance 101: Chore Money Meets The Art Of Negotiation


Do kids still get an allowance for helping out around the house, or do their parents just hand them money because they’re cute?

When I was little, my brother and I each earned 25 cents every two weeks (if my father remembered and if he happened to have quarters in his pocket) in exchange for doing the dishes, taking out the garbage and occasionally running to the grocery store to pick up something for mom.

Jim usually had garbage duty, and I was the one to run to the store because I was older, and the store was across a busy street. So that worked out fine. The problem was always the dishes. I had been assigned the washing, and Jim the drying. As washer, I was to clear the table, put away the condiments and leftovers, then wash the dishes. As dryer, Jim was to dry the dishes, put them away and sweep the floor.

There was a fight every night. Why? Ask any nine-year-old.

The flaw in this otherwise-well-thought-out plan was obviously the rinse basin. Who takes the clean dishes out of the water and puts them in the drying rack? The one whose hands are full of soap or the one whose hands are dry?

Today, there are dishwashers (or, as I call them, dish-hiders), so it’s not as much of a problem. But even my mother couldn’t convince my dad to buy one back then.

“I already have two dishwashers!” my dad would protest, “Debbie and Jimmy!”

Today, even though they do own a dishwasher, my daughter Jen is trying to pass down the concept of working for money to her children. She devised a Household Chore Chart outlining specific duties that need to be accomplished each week. She doesn’t care who does what, it just needs to be done.

This was working out great until last Thursday when their son Orion, 10, got up the gumption to ask for a raise across the board. He had just pitched an invention to the school administration during “Shark Tank Week” at his school and had studied the art of negotiation. Applying what he’d learned, he was no longer satisfied with making 25 cents per job; now he wanted a dollar.

“A dollar!” Jen shrieked. “No.”

“Seventy-five cents?” No. “Sixty?” No. They finally landed at 50 cents per job, the price he had probably been going for anyway, but which allowed his mother to feel like she’d “won” — always the key to a shrewd negotiation. Orion’s sister (aka: the princess) high-fived him.

A short time afterward, Jen’s husband came into the house and asked, “What’s going on? Orion just told me he wanted a raise, and when I said no, he abandoned his farm chores and came in here. Now he’s folding laundry.”

Jen shrugged. “I poached him.”

Think of all the lessons learned here. Orion saw an opportunity for financial gain and leapt on it. His father lost a good worker by refusing to negotiate. Meanwhile, the princess came out ahead by not doing one darn thing. Just like a real princess.