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Columns Small Talk

Small Talk: The art of allowances

Jean Gillette hopes you will enjoy some of her earlier columns, in a sympathetic salute to all young moms today.

Once again, I am attempting to do some permanent molding of my children’s character and life attitude. We’ll get to sex and drugs later. For now, the concern is money. We have finally instituted weekly allowances, chores and predictable opportunities to earn additional money. The children are excited about our newest regime. No one was more delirious than I when my daughter actually offered to clear a path through her room, or when my son walked up to the kitchen sink and handed me his dinner plate.

I was overcome with a feeling like that of a death-row inmate suddenly hearing he can go free in a couple of years. I didn’t realize I had blotted out the possibility that someone other than me might someday lift a finger around this place. The concept, suddenly surfacing amid the usual debris of dirty clothes, scattered toys, tippy cups, day-old socks and who-knows-how-old hot dog bites, made me downright light-headed. 

I will admit to my fellow parents that I struggled through a few, perhaps premature, attempts to set up a reward-for-cooperation system. First we tried stickers on a chart. I read about it in every darned parents’ magazine, but somehow my little chips off the old block did not find stickers were worth knocking themselves out for. 

Then we earned or lost seasonal reward stickers that led to candy or small prizes at the end of a week. In October we had pumpkins, in December candy canes and so on, which the kids enjoyed. I, however, drew some odd looks after saying loudly, at the supermarket, “If you don’t stop that, you are going to lose a pumpkin.” In addition, I kept sort of losing track of when it was time for rewards and just how many pumpkins you needed to rate the Batman Cave or the latest Barbie.

Finally, my procrastination paid off. Public radio had a fabulous program one morning on children and money. The expert of the day very graciously spelled out the system that seems custom-made for us. Each child is guaranteed a basic allowance each week. It is part of belonging to a stable family, where they can always rely on love and a weekly stipend. They get it whether they are wonderful or terrible, do chores or skip them. My children get 50 cents. This is, I suspect, embarrassingly low wages in these parts, but what better training for real life?

Along with the allowance, we established that each child has a chore that they must do without fail. For this, they get no money and if they fail to do their chore, they lose privileges, not allowance. Finally they can earn additional money for doing undetermined chores or exceptionally terrific behavior. 

I offer dimes for wonderfulness and so far, it is working too well to be trusted. 

I suspect that the modest level of their earning ability will become a subject of hot debate right about the time my daughter discovers a hard week of work and savings will not buy her the entire contents of aisle 13 at Toys R Us. Surely this builds character. 

To this day I have trouble meshing my gut instinct that I really should be able to buy all my clothes at Saks rather than the thrift store, with my rational self who realizes I live in Southern California, have a house to maintain, two children to raise and the luxury of staying at home. 

Maybe my daughter will let me play with her Barbie. 

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who misses her allowance. Contact her at

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