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The Money Messenger -- Back to School with Allowances
August 06, 2009


Welcome to Issue #021 of The Money Messenger!

The Money Messenger brings you the latest on your kids and money.

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The Money Messenger

In This Issue

The Summer Wind-Down This month's articles focus on getting back into the groove as school rolls around. Transitions can be challenging - especially when you feel like you were just starting to master the summer schedule

A reader's question on how to manage a clothing budget for her 15-year-old son

What's next?

Note from Jennifer

Happy August! We are marching towards the first day of school in less than two weeks here. It is hard to believe that the summer marked by the school calendar is nearly over. The temperatures haven't started cooperating yet but soon enough it will feel like fall too.

With any change in season - marked by the school or regular calendar - there can be changes in allowances and chores too. Depending on the kids and teens, what has been working so far may be just fine as the school year starts. Or maybe they are itching for a change because they are in middle (or high) school now. It can pay to take a look at where everything stands no matter how they feel so everyone can get on the same page before the school demands fully kick in.

School isn't the only thing happening in August, though. August 8th is National Garage Sale Day. Whether you want to have one to clear out the stuff you've piled up over the summer to replenish the family vacation fund or for charity, join neighbors across the country and have your own garage sale.

August is also National Inventor's Month. In celebration, there will be a special edition of the The Money Messenger in mid-August focused on young inventors and how they can make money with their inventions.

In the meantime, stay cool and enjoy the rest of the newsletter!

Feature Article
Kids Chores and Allowances: Knowing When to Change It Up

One of the keys to teaching children about money is finding ways for them to have and manage their own money. An allowance is a great way to do that whether it is tied to completing chores or not.

The approaching school year can be a natural time to review or start allowance programs. A new school year can mean a change in how much homework there is, after-school activities and how much spending money the kids need or want. Using those changes as a basis for updating (or starting) allowances can be a natural match. Here are some tips on making that talk go as smoothly as possible.

  • Figure out who pays for what. If parents are going to be picking up the cost of school lunches, clothes and clubs, there may be very little additional cost to elementary kids. For my kids, this would be stuff like paying for "postage" on interschool mail (which is a penny per letter), an occassional after-school snack from the vending machine and the events such as the fall carnival.
  • Consider changing up the allowance program. As kids approach middle school, it can be a good time for them to take more responsibility for their money. Is this year a good time to consider increasing the allowance amount along with what kids are responsible for paying?
  • Take a realistic look at how the current program is working. Is the allowance being paid on time? Are the kids putting a portion in savings and also being required to use some of their money on things that they want but that you don't want to pay for? All of these are key pieces to educating kids about having their own money - even if they make mistakes with it. If what you are doing is not working, change it.

If your kids are doing chores (tied to an allowance or not), you can also review the chores for kids at the same time. Check out these suggestions for taking a look at your chore program.

  • Talk about the chores that are being done now. How much time do they take? Are they still appropriate given the kids' ages? For example, when my kids were younger we needed to track them putting their shoes on the rack instead of in the doorway (or the middle of the kitchen). Now that they are older, that item is off the chore list and is just part of what is expected.
  • Review the activities, clubs and overall school-related responsibilities that the kids will have going on. You can use this to adjust chore schedules. For example, if Wednesday includes drum club before school and geography club afterwards (with a soccer game that night), you might consider whether any chores should be scheduled for that day.
  • Talk about ways to get chores done faster. Kids are not always the most efficient in how they do things. I like think that this is because they haven't had enough experience but it could also be because they don't really want to be doing the chores. If kids feel like chores are taking up a lot of time, they will be even less likely to move faster. Some chores can be turned into speed challenges (how fast can you empty all the trash cans?). Try to think of ways to help your kids look at chores in this way to make it less painless for everyone.

With these ideas as well as tips on allowance basics and chores for kids suggestions, you can start the school year off right.

Feature Article
Tween and Teen Allowances in the New School Year

The changes that come with teen and preteen allowances seem to come faster and on a bigger scale than those with kids who are younger. The needs and wants for money are likely to increase every year (it may even seem like every month!). The list can range from a high-tech calculator for school to new clothes to weekly entertainment whether for school events or movies. The price tag can get pretty high really quickly.

An allowance can help by helping your to sit down with your preteen or teen and get a handle on what types of expenses are coming up. This may seem odd since an allowance is just money, but there are great ways to use it as a money management for teens tool. The key is to handle the setting of the teen allowance and their budget as part of the same conversation. Try these suggestions when reviewing this year's allowance with your teen.

  • Set the tone for the conversation as part of planning for starting school. It can be challenging to talk to teens about money - especially when it involves making choices - so including it as part of another aspect of his life can help. It also is how real life works. Money is part of most decisions and life changes. Also, set the stage with your preteen or teen that not everything on the list may make the cut as being covered by either the family budget or an allowance. That may mean that they have to think of ways to earn money on their own.
  • Make a list of every expense that you can reasonably think of that will be coming up for your preteen or teen before Christmas. Keeping this to the fall semester (at least here in the US) can help this seem less overwhelming, plus you may be less likely to miss things.
  • Go back through the list and start estimating how much each thing will cost. Be realistic and keep in mind the family budget. No matter who is going to be paying for these items or activities, there will still only be so much money to go around.
  • Go back throught the list one more time and decide who should pay for which item. You may decide that your teen should pay for all of her own entertainment but that you will cover $200 worth of clothing. Any clothing requests over that would be up to her. This can involve some negotiation but it helps your preteen or teen get an understanding of money management in a very personal sense.
  • The last step is to determine whether the items on the teen list are going to be covered by an allowance or by earning extra money. This will be the basis for the amount of their allowance for the coming school year. Ideally, a teen allowance won't increase to the overall family budget. It should simply shift the responsibility of paying for certain things - and having to decide which ones to pay for - from you to your teen. I know this may sound easier than it will be, but give it a try. You can always make improvements as you go.

Want to connect the allowance to preteen or teen chores? Check out these pages for ideas on preteen and teen chores and teen chore contracts.

Ask the Editor!

Here's where I answer your questions. Hannah sent in a question on how to handle clothing expenses at back-to-school time for her 15-year-old son. Here's the advice:

Clothing can be one of the most expensive and most stressful parts of back-to-school shopping. The latest must-have wardrobe additions seem to cost the most and one pair of jeans could eat up the whole clothing budget!

Besides only shopping at discount stores, there are other ways to manage the budget and get your teen involved too. Try one or more of these ideas to see how they work for you. Keep in mind that some teens are more money-minded and could handle their entire clothing budget while others should start with a smaller portion. You will know best in which category your son fits.

  • Start with the total clothing budget. This is what you, as a parent, can or are willing to spend on back-to-school clothing. You can do this in total or by item or some combination. For example, the clothing budget could be $250 in total. Or it could be $75 for jeans, $50 for shoes, $60 for shirts, etc.
  • Discuss the budget with your son and get his input on the total and the categories. While he doesn't get to carve out a bigger portion of the the family budget, he might have some thoughts on whether he only needs jeans and shoes right now.
  • Make a list with your son about what he needs to buy now to start school. In our area, we will actually be buying very few clothes to start. The kids will still be wearing their summer outfits for the first few weeks. Given how fast they grow, I don't want to buy stuff that may be too small or too short before they can even wear it. Even if that is not the case for your son, having a list can help get the basics covered so he doesn't end with too much or too little of one thing.
  • Let your teen decide if he wants to use money of his own for things that the clothing budget won't cover. Part of encouraging teens to manage their own money is to let them have some freedom in making buying decisions. Deciding to upgrade his wardrobe is one of the most common ways to let your son start making these types of decisions.
  • Go shopping with your son for at least part, if not all, of his back-to-school shopping. The idea here is not to veto everything. It's to help him compare prices and shop more on budget instead of buying on impulse. Teach him the magic of asking a salesperson to hold an item for him that he thinks he can't live without to particularly on more expensive items.
  • Encourage your son to save part of his clothing budget until after school starts. He may find other ideas once he gets back in school and having at least part of the clothing budget still available can go towards those options.

You could try one or a combination of these with your preteen or teen as you shop for clothes as any time. Unlike groceries or other household necessities, tweens and teens can make immediate connections between money management, budgeting and clothing. Use this combination as a way to get them involved and excited about managing their own money.

Coming soon...the next issue of The Money Messenger

A special August mid-month issue will focus on kid inventions and inventors including what you need to know about getting your idea out there, patents and copyrights. Look for it in a couple of weeks!

September's regular issue will focus on money games for all ages. Whether you are trying to teach your younger kids how to count money or challenge your teen with budgeting and investing, there are plenty of game options to make the lessons more fun. Learn more about some of these ideas in next month's issue. If you have questions you'd like to see addressed for that issue, just use the Contact Form or email me at

Talk to you soon!

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