How to Instill Work Ethic in Your Kids With Paid Chores

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Last weekend, I was listening to the Beyond the To Do List Podcast with Erik Fisher and caught bits and pieces (in between my kids screaming) of an interview with Rachel Cruze, Dave Ramsey’s daughter. They were chatting about a new book she co-authored with Ramsey on raising money-smart kids: Smart Money Smart Kids.

I haven’t checked out the book yet, although it sounds worthwhile enough to make it to my queue. What raised my curiosity was Erik’s conversation with Rachel about how to raise kids that understand what it means to work, and understand how work equates to earning money. In Rachel’s view (and I’m paraphrasing), we’re bringing up a generation that has a deep disconnect between work from money.

One of Rachel’s suggestions (and, by association, presumably one of her Dad’s as well), is to start kids on paid chores program for chores they do around the house. Not all chores, like washing dishes or picking up their room, would be payable, because some simply count as expectations and contributions to the family. But some chores, the “optional” ones, could carry a financial reward that can teach kids as young as four the important work-earnings connection.

I spent the rest of my weekend giving this some thought. Growing up, I recall a couple of ways I made money that are fairly consistent with this principle. My parents would pay me a buck for every dress shirt I would iron for my Dad. Of course, I was naturally limited by the size of Dad’s wardrobe, but at 5 minutes a shirt, this part of my allowance would add up quickly. On the other hand, I was expected to wash, dry, and fold laundry without any kind of financial reward. That was an obligation on my part to the family.

Fast forward 20 years, and my son turned four just a few short months ago. I started to think about what we expect from him, however small:

  • He needs to put his dirty clothes away and can’t leave things laying around on the floor.
  • Any books he takes off his bookshelf have to make it back (not always in neat order, but we help with that part).
  • Our multi-purpose room (a.k.a. the “play room”)  floor stays clear at all costs.
  • During dinner time, he helps with setting the table and clearing the dishes.

I think my son’s understanding of money is fairly good for his age. We try to get him involved with the budget process as much as possible, in terms he understands. He knows that resources are finite–when he’s able to get one thing, it’s because he can’t always get something else. He also knows that the money in his piggy bank took a while to save up, and that any decision to spend it should be considered with some thought. He had a conversation with himself about it the other day, carefully weighing the pros and cons of what could be done with the money.

If we wanted to implement the Ramsey allowance plan, what are some of the extra chores that he could do, right now? I found an age-appropriate list at WebMD that included things like:

  • Help dust the house, and spot-vacuum with the handheld.
  • Pull weeds from the flower beds and water the plants.
  • Unload parts of the dishwasher or help put away dry pots and pans.
  • Help with making meals.

I liked many of these and thought they could be appropriate for paid chores. All of the ones I listed are things that he doesn’t do right now and they would all be at least somewhat challenging for him. As my kids grow up, this would be an adjustable list–while he might get paid for unloading the dishwasher now, it could become an expected family chore when he’s a little older. I’ve got to think through that transition a bit more, but I think replacing current paid chores with new challenges would be rather seamless.

What are some of the chores I would expect to tack to their “payable list” on as the boys get older and more capable of helping the family?

  • We have a bit of land around the house, so yard work is both physically demanding and time-consuming for our family. As they age, I would expect them to take one a bigger role in keeping the yard, with financial rewards consistent with the effort and difficulty of the task.
  • While basic pet care, like feeding and walking, would be part of the family duties, there are plenty of additional chores which might be part of the earnings list, like giving the dog her bath.
  • “Advanced” cleaning around the house (a.k.a. the stuff that rarely gets done) would gladly make the list. They could take their pick from: washing the refrigerator, Windexing the windows, power washing the siding, dusting the picture frames, etc, etc…

The natural question is how to keep kids motivated to do the “optional” chores if they don’t have explicit “negative” consequences for avoiding them. Rachel Cruze points out, and I completely agree, that every kid has something they want–a new bike, a trip to see Mickey, even something as small as bubble gum. If parents aren’t too quick to say “how high?” when kids say jump, and instead let kids save up for their own wants, motivation to work for money shouldn’t be too far behind.

What do you think? Have you seen the effects first-hand, positive or negative, of the paid chore approach?

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