Navigating The Pocket Money Conundrum

Pocket money for children

Pocket money for children…  It’s a minefield. When’s a good time to start giving it? How much do you give? Do they have to earn it? Alex Manson-Smith asks around.

I’ve been pondering pocket money recently as my older son, 5, demands yet another Spider Man magazine or Lego Ninjago set. I like the idea of giving him pocket money as it’s effectively passing the buck – not saying an outright ‘no’ and triggering a strop, but leaving the ball in his court: yes, you can have your tat, but only if you save up and buy it yourself.

Sadly, he’s still too young to get his head around the idea.

At 5, he’s starting to understand the concept of money, but the numbers mean little to him and he’s too young for lessons in financial responsibility. This is a shame, as pocket money sounds like a useful bargaining tool: misbehave and I’m taking it away… tidy your room and I’ll give you an extra 20p.

If they get on board with the chores = reward idea, it’s cheap at the price.

Research from Cambridge University (published by the Money Advice Service in 2013) suggests that a child’s core behaviour when it comes to money is already shaped by the age of 7.

Rather than test the idea, I’ve done what I always do in this situation, which is to ask friends with older children what they do about pocket money for children. I was surprised to find how different their attitudes were.

Alice, whose kids are 8 and 6, has gone in for the chores/reward system, and is finding it works brilliantly.

‘We give them £1 per week,’ she says. ‘We have a chalk board in the kitchen on which we’ve drawn five circles that represent 20p each. If the children are badly behaved we rub off a 20p, so their pocket money would be 80p. If they’re bad again they lose another 20p, and so on. They can gain their pocket money back or get extra for good behaviour and helping round the house, doing homework, etc.’

Jo, whose daughters are 8 and 3, agrees that, ‘£1 a week at this age is plenty.’

She also rewards chores, but wouldn’t use pocket money as a punishment. ‘If they’d done their chores but were super nasty or hit their sibling, I still wouldn’t withhold it,’ she says.

It needs to operate like the working world. If you do your chores, you get your pocket money. Consistent rubbish behaviour might require a review or pay cut.’

Experts agree that pocket money has huge benefits. ‘It teaches children the value of money from the beginning,’ says author and parenting guru Sue Atkins.

‘And they get enormous pleasure from buying something they’ve saved up for. My daughter was interested in photography and saved up to buy a camera. Because she’d bought it herself, she really looked after it. And my car has never been so clean.’

My friends have seen the benefits, too. ‘We do lots of maths in the toy shop and they quickly start understanding how money works when there’s a toy at the end of it,’ says Alice.

‘I think pocket money is essential,’ agrees Jo. ‘It’s the first lesson in money management. If you earn it, even better. It teaches responsibility, the value of money, how to save and the rewards your effort brings. And it’s not a bad thing to understand that the bank of mum and dad isn’t a bottomless pit, and that money is something we have to work relentlessly for.’

But not everyone is on board with the concept. ‘Ours don’t get pocket money and they’ve never asked for it,’ says Belinda, mother to two boys aged 9 and 6. ‘I wouldn’t want to instil a belief that money is a reward for good, or that a lack of it is a punishment for being bad.

Pocket money is a divisive thing and may be an old-fashioned concept, but it’s moving with the times.

Apps like Kids Money give children targets to encourage saving, while Go Henry is a pre-paid Visa debit card that allows over-8s to spend their pocket money online.

goHenry recently published the Ultimate Guide to Kids and Money. While there’s no hard and fast rules, some of the findings help to ascertain what’s normal:

  • Giving money to children aged four and five helps them to begin learning about money management. “Once your child begins to understand that you need money to get things from shops, they might be ready to try managing some pocket money”
  • Average weekly pocket money aged 8 is £4.25, aged 9 £3.54 and 10, £4.16
  • Pocket money in smaller amounts, frequently and regularly gives children a cash flow to manage.
  • goHenry parents pay an average of £1.15 to tidy the bedroom, £1.06 to do homework, 69p to empty the dishwasher and 89p to make the bed.
  • It is important to help your children set long term and short term savings goals by being clear that every trip to the shops will not result in a toy or gift.

I’m sure at some point I’ll be getting on board with all of this. But perhaps not just yet.

Alex Manson-Smith is a journalist, copywriter and blogger, and regular contributor to Mr Fox. She has two sons, aged 5 and 2.