Making allowances: These days, kids are working for the money

December 21, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

Every Saturday, Janice and Stuart Kaiser give their two sons allowance money for compact discs, movies, clothes, candy and school lunches.

But giving goes both ways in their household.

"We don't have a military situation here," said Janice Kaiser, who doles out $10 to Ryan, 14, and $8 to Gregory, 12. "But if they don't do their jobs, they get docked pay."

Many parents have adopted the same approach with weekly allowances. Their message is unmistakable: The free ride is over.

"Parents are saying that they can no longer afford to give the kids regular income without [them] participating around the house," said James McNeal, a marketing professor at Texas A&M University who has studied the economic behavior of children for 25 years. "Both parents are working longer and longer hours, and they don't have as much time to do the things that need to be done, and they don't want to pay others to do it."

Mr. McNeal, who has studied the spending and allowance patterns of more than 1,000 families, from the rural poor to the suburban affluent, attributes the philosophy to the lingering recession. And he suspects the link between chores and allowance might be permanent.

Two decades ago, Mr. McNeal said, parents frequently gave allowances without expecting anything in return. But if parents are asking more of their children, they are also giving them more money. Average weekly allowances have doubled over the past seven years, Mr. McNeal found. In 1984, youngsters ages 4 to 12 got about $1.50 per week. By 1991, that figure had increased to $3.66.

Said Mr. McNeal: "Parents are worried that their kids won't have it as good as they did, and want to make sure that they have enough, and because of that, they are also taking a lot of steps to make sure that the kids learn the value of saving."

Some parents, he acknowledged, use allowances to make up for not spending enough time with their kids. "They often give their kids more to send a message that they still care."

Kathie Van Brunt has tried to teach the value of saving to her 15-year-old son, Nick. She used to give him $10 a week -- the average for his age according to one national survey -- plus extra money for food or movies. Now, Nick gets $15 a week, period.

"Last year, he just burned through money," Ms. Van Brunt said. "But I have decided that he must learn about the limitations of money. If he blows it, he blows it."

Many parents do not expect the allowance to cover everything. If her son's guitar breaks, for example, Ms. Van Brunt will pay to fix it.

According to Yankelovich Partners, a Westport, Conn., marketing research company that monitors youth behavior, kids are becoming economically savvy at an earlier age.

"They know how to buy things and where to get them for good prices," said Watts Wacker, a managing partner of the company, which surveyed 1,200 parents nationwide, from a spectrum of economic backgrounds, about allowances.

Children usually receive allowances from age 6 until they graduate from high school, the survey found. Those ages 6 to 8 receive an average of $2.79 a week while those 15 to 17 get about $15.

Barbara Coloroso, a Colorado teacher who founded Kids Are Worth It, a parenting organization, recommends starting allowances earlier than 6.

"Some kids can start at 3 or 4," Ms. Coloroso said. "I like to give kids that age a dollar in all kinds of combinations so that they can learn how to count."

Ms. Coloroso opposes tying allowances to chores, arguing that it suggests to children that they should help out the family only to get a financial reward.

In some households, allowances have been a casualty of the recession. Bethany Williams, 34, who teaches special education, has cut her kids' allowances from $2 to $1 a week.

"I feel so bad about it," said Ms. Williams, a single mother of three. "I've changed insurance companies and cut back in so many areas, and now this. I know it sounds so bad."

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