Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kids, Chores, and Cold Hard Cash

This is an article I originally wrote for Mormon Mommy Blogs. Since it captures several important aspects of our family life, I'm reposting it below- 

The tooth fairy laughs as she stealthily exchanges a small handful of coins for the lone tooth under his pillow. The thought occurs to her that this boy worked so hard at twisting out his not-quite-ready tooth this evening because it is book fair week at school. And while his mother may consider the library their second home, she does not GIVE her children money for the book fair. She does, however, provide them with ample opportunity to EARN book money- particularly during book fair week- but apparently it is easier to rip out a tooth.

Some seriously mixed-up priorities? Perhaps. But to me, it's also a reflection of Tyjah's concept of personal responsibility when it comes to money. And that maybe this whole family economy-chore thing we have going on is working...

In our house, chores fall under three caregories:

1. Personal Stewardship Chores
They may not pay rent but our kids' rooms are, well...theirs and by taking care of them they show gratitude for what we provide. It also helps that we have a live-in garage fairy. She may, without warning, creep into any child's room in the middle of the night and collect anything left out. She gets tired and takes some nights off, but she still manages to accumulate quite a stash in the garage. And next to my husband, she has become my best friend.

2. Family Contribution Chores
We have some chores that the kids do simply because they are members of our family. Things like taking out the trash and recycling, sweeping the front porch, and weeding the garden are all necessary for our family to function successfully. Everyone contributes as they participate in our regularly rotating family chore chart. It's important for kids to feel a part of something greater than just themselves. These unpaid chores and expectations help nurture that sense of family identity and also help them feel needed.

3. Paid Chores
Right now our family room is decorated with neon posterboard and Duct Tape. Classy, I know. But I love that my each of children's summer goals are right there where they constantly see them.

I noticed that each of them made financial goals, ranging from my twelve-year-old earning $40 per week to my six-year-old snipping twenty slugs.

That's right. Snipping Slugs.

She knows she earns 5 cents per snipped slug. Sounds a little weird, but if you could just spend ten minutes in our rainy Pacific Northwest vegetable garden, you would quickly realize both the income potential for my children and the vegetable-saving value of little fingers snipping away at our vast army of slugs.

I keep two pairs of scissors in the garden for on-hand slug defense.

How did it get this bad? How did we come to a point where we send our little ones out armed with slug-terrorizing scissors for a mere nickel?

It had something to do with too many trips to Target pushing a cartful of children all periodically whining, "Can I buy..." or "I want..." or my personal favorite, "But our's is old."

I started responding with, "Sure! Do you have enough money in your pocket?" It didn't take long before we all realized that they NEVER had ANY money in their pockets. It's kind of hard for kids to have opportunities to learn to budget, earn, save, and pay an honest tithe when they have NO MONEY. And since we felt those lessons were our responsibility to teach, we came up with a plan.

Hanging beside our regular chore chart, we have a paid chore list. It includes, well...slug snipping, for one, but also mowing the lawn, babysitting, reading books to the younger children, detailing our cars, and even detailing our vacuum (I hate cleaning out all of those canisters and filters almost as much as I hate a dusty vacuum).

Paid chores can only be done after all other unpaid chores are done. And since I don't want to pay my son to scrub out the inside of the kitchen trash can if my daughter did it the day before, the kids have to check with me before starting.

Aside from jokes about the tooth fairy incident, we've seen a lot of success with how they handle their finances.

Halle's budget/goals: Will take a lot more than twenty slugs, no?
While my little girl is saving for the next My Little Pony, my oldest son is off to a good start on his mission fund. He's also determined to go to BYU, regularly perusing the website, checking out the dorm options and mapping out his already-chosen major. And he's made a budget, too. Let me tell you, as a mother there's something so validating about seeing the shock on your twelve-year-old son's face when he realizes the discrepancy between college tuition and the $7 he earns mowing the lawn!

They are surprisingly generous, too. Just last week my eight-year-old son felt like the king of the planet walking around with his new shark teeth that his older brother bought for him at our local farmer's market.

Will our grown children all be sitting around the table someday collectively rolling their eyes at our little system? About the so-called garage fairy? Will they jokingly try to imitate me and the way I so often responded with, "Do you have enough money in your pocket?" Will they tell their children stories of early morning slug-hunting and how they kept a tally of how many nickels they earned? Maybe. Okay, probably. But I hope they all carry forward a sense of family identity, personal responsibility and a healthy respect for their financial stewardships.

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