Kids earning pocket money?

The Silicon Graybeard recounts the story of a nine-year-old girl who wanted to earn some extra money.  Her mother advertised her availability to help with domestic chores – leading to a visit by the police, to ensure she wasn’t being exploited.  The mother concluded:

The knee-jerk distrust of all adults around all kids is a hallmark of our times. Where we could see verve, we see vulnerability. Where we could see neighbors helping neighbors we imagine the worst. Where we could see kids growing up with confidence and competence, we see a rising tide of anxiety.

Letting kids do some work for money isn’t making them into slaves. It’s making them into adults. That shouldn’t be a crime.

I couldn’t agree more!

When I was a child, as soon as I was old enough to understand the concepts of “money” and “work” and “earning”, my parents gave me a list of domestic chores.  (It changed over time as I grew older and more competent, of course.)  I was given pocket money of five cents for every year of my age, provided that I’d completed the chores allocated to me (cleaning up dog poop, mowing the lawn, washing the car, etc.).  If I didn’t do one of them, I was docked one cent, every time.  I rapidly ended up “owing” my parents about three weeks’ pocket money – and learned the hard way that if I wanted spending money of my own, I had to earn it.  It was an early and object lesson in the realities of life.

As I grew older, and wanted more expensive things (like a bicycle, for example), I was expected to come up with a proportion (usually half) of their cost, earning the money by doing extra chores for my parents or odd jobs for the neighbors.  When I became a teenager, that expanded to include holiday employment at local shops.  I mucked out cages and tanks in a pet shop, and worked as a shop assistant at a snooty upmarket store (having to wear a smartly pressed shirt and tie, and act politely and respectfully to customers, too – anathema to a teenager!).  My parents would wait until I had my share of the cost, then contribute the other half.  Having got what I wanted, I was expected to use it, not just let it lie around gathering dust.  When I got my bicycle, I rode it to school, a mile and a half away, thereby saving my parents the cost of the drive there and back twice a day (we had no school bus system in South Africa at the time).  I didn’t complain.  It seemed perfectly logical and natural to me.

I think this mother’s doing precisely the right thing by encouraging her daughter to earn the money she needs to buy what she wants.  I reckon she’ll appreciate it much more after having had to invest her time and energy to get it.  I think it’s a sad reflection on our society that such incentives to independence are now frowned upon.

What say you, readers?  How many of you were expected to bring your part by your parents when you were growing up?  How did you earn extra money?



  1. My parents were more the "You do these chores because you're part of the family, and being part of the family means you have to contribute to the smooth running of the household."

    Later in life, when we were adults, they started paying for things that we did for them.

  2. I started earning money outside the family at 12, mowing yards. I had to pay for the gas and maintenance on the mower, in addition to doing the mowing, raking and trimming. I bought my first car with my own money at 14. It instilled a work ethic that has paid dividends for me over the course of my life.

  3. Had a $20/month allowance. Not enough, so got a paper route and mowed lawns at age 12. At 15, Burger King starting at $3.35, then 3.50, then 4.25/hour. Last semester of high school, delivered meals at a hospital MWF, Sea Cadets Tu/Thur, and McDonald's on the weekends. While maintaining a 3.3 GPA. the only time I was at home was to sleep.

    Then I joined the Navy.

    After accomplishing that, I have endeavored to never have to work 2 jobs ever again; but I know I can if I have to.

  4. I was nine years old when one of the elderly neighbor ladies asked me if I could hull a couple of bushels of walnuts for her. I said sure. I remember that she offered gloves, but I didn't no steenkin gloves. Yeah, that's when I found out how permanent walnut hull stain is. It does not wash off.

    She paid me $5 which at that time and for my nine year old self was a princely sum.

  5. I don't know how many times my parents "volunteered" me to mow some neighbor's lawn, or pull weeds for someone. I was lucky if I ever got paid. Usually, I got a sandwich and a cold glass of lemonade.

    Now, I did have some paying gigs – $5 was big money for mowing a lawn, when I was doing it. One lady had a peach tree and I got all the peaches I could carry, as well as the $5.

  6. Raking leaves in other peoples yards, mowing their yards, walking that mower all over Fort Riley for 2 years when I was in the 5th and 6th grade making $5 per yard. My dad kept our allowance at .25cents per week until we stopped asking for it. We still did all the chores around the house. Got jobs at 12 and 14 and through high school. At a certain point you just realize there is no point in counting on that whole 25 cents a week for anything even in 1969.
    On the other hand, my brother and I were rolling in cash because there was an astonishing number of people willing to pay kids to rake and mow etc.
    Not so much anymore. The liability on injury in something like that is astronomical. There is no limit on what their lawyer could demand if the modern tyke gets hurt on your property in your employee.
    8 years here in this hood now and the high school student government came by once to rake my leaves. One of the cutest girls I've ever seen so I said yes. OTOH, said no to the one little boy that came by with his mower. Not willing to risk it.

    Kind of sad really.

  7. Our four kids were all required to have summer jobs beginning at the age of 15. This was in addition to any domestic chores they were assigned. Must of worked — they all have a strong work ethic and generally go above and beyond what is expected of them.

    As for me — I asked my father why he purchased a snow blower the year I left for college. His response was simple — "I didn't need one until now…"

  8. No allowance, no pay from the parents for anything. I was expected to work on the farm from the time I got home until eight or nine at night, then I got to have dinner. When I got old enough to leave, I left.

    When I was around 30, I returned to the town where I was born. I had no trouble getting a job and a place to live. The folks said they were glad to see me, and I guess they were because before too long it was, "Jackie, do this" and "Jackie, do that". No compensation, not a word of thanks.

    I learned to say No, Hell no, and Are you kidding me?

    And that was that.

  9. Started with a paper route. then went to mowing yards as I got my license to drive and then spent a couple of summers baling hay. I would get the call and rounds up a crew and head out. Worked almost daily through the summer.

    The boy worked at a landscaping company this summer. But we probably spoil him some. Although he did write a book and sell it to some of his school chums so there is that.

  10. Much like others who have commented, I started off with mowing lawns and doing a paper route. IIRC, the lawns were for $5, including edging, went up to I think $10 by the time I was done. Gotta admit, as OldNFO said, it instilled a good work ethic and realizing the harder I worked, the more I made. Started working in gas stations (Texaco was first, Esso was second, they were about 2 blocks apart) when gas was 20-some-odd-cents a gallon and we cleaned ALL the windows, checked the oil and water, etc. on every car that came in. Still remember the great sausage, egg and mustard sandwiches for breakfast at the pharmacy that was in between the two stations. A little later I drove a parts truck for the local Chevy dealer. Most of the money I made went toward gas for running around, or for a drag racer I built in my parents' garage.

  11. My husband started a lawn mowing business when he was nine because his parents couldn't afford food for the family. He supplied food and then started contributing to the house payment. His dad wasn't lazy but he didn't do well in real estate. My husband worked that lawn business until he was 18 and moved out. He sold the business to another kid in the neighborhood. He is hard working to this day. He should have had more time to play and have fun but he really learned to have a good work ethic. I'm very proud of him. I had to do chores growing up and I did get a small allowance. Everything had to be done "right" so I learned how to work also. My first boss told me I was the best dental assistant he ever had. Kids need to learn how to work!

  12. My sisters and dad and I made hot plates – glued & grouted small tiles on a piece of plywood, with felt on the bottom, to use under hot pans for tables. After 50 years, my aunt still has one. Also sold light bulb; and yo-yos; and candy (sisters sold GS cookies), usually for some cause, but we got some money commission. Then a paper route. Cleaning cars (by hand, using their vacuum from their garage for the inside), with their hose. Collecting bottles and old paper. Some small gardening.
    When older, worked as bagger in a supermarket, put groceries into paper (trash) bags; then in a dry cleaners; then in a drugstore (with a great popcorn machine; free popcorn for me!) — the drugstore/me also made key copies plus cut roll-up blinds to the right size.

    I was reminded of these jobs also when reading Snowball, the bio of Warren Buffett, who did lots of odd jobs when young, too.

    It's terrible that "liability" and other legal fears has killed so many opportunities for young folk to get money by doing some real service.

  13. Mowed lawns, shoveled snow, sold things door to door (candy, flower seeds, Christmas cards, whatever), even babysitting for spending money. No allowance, do chores as assigned. Junior Achievement got me firmly hooked on sales, with which I've made a living the last 41 years.

  14. From 9 to 12 I earned my money milking my elderly neighbors two cows (milking machines were then way to expensive), from 12 to 18 I helped in the local woodworking shop every day after school and after I became a legal adult and finished high-school I got a job and paid for my college education.
    I got in more than one kerfuffles with my sister because she gave her children practically everything they wanted since she wanted for them to "have a real childhood, and not have to struggle like us". I told her she makes them into helpless and useless jerks, but she always had the final argument: "you don't have kids so you have no clue what it's like". The fact that my wife and I couldn't have kids was turned against anything I said. In the end the kids didn't turned out to bad, but her daughter took until she was 27 to become truly independent while her son is still somehow "finding himself" with 25, although working through his masters degree in project management.
    People tend to blind themselves to reality out of love but in the end everybody loses not accepting the harsh reality.

  15. I have a young 11 year old neighbor. He comes by daily to make sure I'm not dead and on Saturday he wants to help clean. Mostly he want to vacuum as I have a Dyson and it's light enough for him to handle. He does other age appropriate jobs, hauling debris to the street, potting and planting veggies and herbs, etc around here and I pay him the standard minimum wage. He uses the money to buy gas and equipment for his mini bike and online games.

    I don't know how long this will continue as he is approaching those teen years but he does understand that work=cash.

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