Hey, Kids, Guess What: Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees

Written on May 19, 2014 at 2:21 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

In a town where the majority of third-graders have their own iPhone (not an exaggeration), my husband and I have had a challenging time teaching our kids the connection between work and money. As in: You get paid when you work, period.

In our house, there are chores everyone is expected to do because they’re part of the family, and then there are extra-money chores. The kids have all come to degrees of understanding about this. Of course, in a family of four girls and one boy, everyone has to find their own way to stand out…which brings us to number 4.

At 14, she is the youngest girl. This is the kid who will let her ice cream melt on the table because she’s on the couch and doesn’t want to exert the effort to get up and get it.

After we’d had the “We’re not buying you iPhones or paying for a data plan” conversation about nine times, the kids figured out that nearly everything they wanted to do could be done on an iPod touch and started saving their money. One by one, they hit their goal and bought iPods.

Number 4 didn’t work and save so much as she managed to hold on to her Christmas and birthday money (they’re three months apart). This was quite a feat for her, but she felt no emotional connection to that money. She just waited, and it turned into an iPod.

A month after she got it, she cracked the screen. It still worked, sort of. She discovered she could exchange it with $100 for a refurbished one. With ample opportunity to earn extra money, it still took her over six months to save up. Somehow she made no connection between working and earning.

When I took her to the store she learned about tax, which I covered (I’m not that wicked). And all went well…until she broke it again a few months later.

With the charger cable stretched within an inch of its life across the main entrance to the living room, the iPod balanced precariously on the arm of the loveseat. It fell when her 11-year-old brother predictably ran into the room and tripped over the cable. The iPod’s power input broke off and it could no longer be charged.

I came up with an aggressive four-week earning plan for her, hoping that this time it would take and she would finally know the rewards of a job well done.

We made a list of weekly chores with dollar amounts. There would be a bonus each week if she did all of them, and an extra bonus if she did all four weeks in a row. I added on a special, one-time-only chore of picking up some trash on the property adjacent to ours to cover the sales tax.

After the iPod, this would be her regular thing. She’d have her own money for her Starbucks habit and whatever else she wanted. She seemed all for it.

But she forgot about it for a few days, and then it snowed and the trash was buried. Her friends harassed her to do the chores because they were tired of not being able to group chat. Six weeks later, she finally began.

The week after she got her iPod replaced, when I reminded her she still could earn money if she did her chores she said, “Nah, I don’t want to work.”

Interesting thing about these chores: When they aren’t done for money on the weekend, they become mandatory chores done for free during the week.

Once the snow melted, her little brother asked if he could pick up the trash for extra money. He filled five trash bags in half an hour and earned $15. He invested half in supplies for a lemonade stand for when it gets warmer, bought some candy and held on to the rest.

Last week, number 4 walked into my room holding her iPod with a brand-new set of cracks running up the screen.

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand, and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.