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A parent's guide to pocket money

Pocket money can be a complicated issue: when to start giving it, how much to give and whether it should be ‘earned’.

The idea of pocket money is that it gets kids used to saving (both in the short- and long-term) and teaches them how to live within a budget by providing them with a regular sum of money. But what they’re expected to buy with their pocket money can vary a lot. For older children does it include mobile phone credits and are younger ones allowed to spend it on sweets?

When should I start giving pocket money?

Parents typically start giving pocket money between five and seven years of age. This is when kids:

  1. can count
  2. have started to get a grasp of the different coin denominations
  3. have specific desires as to what to spend their money on

It is also a good time to explain and discuss whether they really ‘want’ something or ‘need’ something.

How much pocket money should I give?

How much is another issue. Parentline Plus advises: “Every family does things differently and while talking to other parents may give you an idea of how much other children are getting, it doesn’t mean you have to match it. Your children may get less pocket money but it balances out with other things you give them.”

When Susan Soper was fixing the rate for her children’s pocket money she searched on the internet for national average statistics.

These are:

  • 5-7 year olds: £1.38
  • 8-10 year olds: £2.16
  • 11-13 year olds: £3.74
  • 14-16 year olds: £5.66

If you have more than one child of different ages then there is also the thorny issue of whether to give them the same amount or grade it according to age. Most families seem comfortable with the older child starting earlier and having more as long as it’s explained to the younger child that they’ll be on a higher amount when they’re older.

Should I pay my kids for chores?

So, whether to give it unconditionally or with strings attached? There are two clear schools of thought on this and some parents expect tasks in return for the money while others see the chores their kids do as a separate issue.

Susan Soper adopted a mixture of the two so her boys get a flat rate regardless but can get a higher amount if their behaviour is good and they help out as expected. “We let them earn back any docked money by being extra helpful although we don't often use it as a sanction,” she says.

Parentline Plus says you should make sure you are not paying for chores you would expect them to do anyway – any chores they get more pocket money for should be above and beyond what they are asked to do around the house.

And remember to set a limit of how much extra they can earn or make it a one-off opportunity; otherwise you may get caught out.

The bigger issue for Soper has been relatives undermining the system by giving £10 notes whenever they see her children.

This is something Parentline Plus recognises can be a problem too: “If you have a separated or extended family make sure you are all on the same page. Grandparents may well feel they have a right to spoil their grandchildren but make sure this doesn’t undermine your decision if you have said no. Warn relatives that you are dealing with pester power at the moment and that you are helping your child see the value of things and how you have to save for more expensive toys or gadgets.”

A common problem that arises is that parents simply forget to give the pocket money weekly and therefore undermine the principle themselves. Juliet Bernard got round this with her two boys but setting up their own bank accounts and paying the pocket money in by direct debit every month. This also means she’s still the gatekeeper as she has to get the cash out for them when they need it.

Her oldest child, Joe, 14, has now asked to get extra money in return for work. “Joe wants to take up cleaning my company’s office and be paid for that. He has to give up his time and in return he gets money. It provides a better understanding of the value of his time and it’ll be a good discipline for him.”

Bernard adds: “Pocket money does give them a sense of having to save for things and not just going to my purse for things.”