Chores: to pay or not to pay our children

Regardless of your decision to give your children pocket money or not, another vexed question many parents face is whether to pay their children for household chores.

Let me make this clear. I’m not referring to pocket money that is tied to household chores. I’m referring to paying children to complete household chores, irrespective of whether they also get pocket money.

Pocket money vs paying for chores

We must clearly distinguish ‘pocket money’ from ‘paying for chores’. For me, pocket money is money given to children for no reason other than ‘because’. The children don’t have to do anything and they still get money. To put it more bluntly, it is money given to children simply for existing. Yeah, that’s really blunt! Despite this, I firmly believe there is a role for pocket money in children’s financial literacy and I write about how to correctly give pocket money.

Whether you decide to give or not give your children pocket money, this post is going to be relevant for you. This post is about empowering children to earn their own money by doing household chores.

The basic premise is: We pay the children when they complete their chores. We don’t pay if the chores are not done. Simple right?

Not quite.

The decision to pay children to complete household chores is as controversial as the decision to give children pocket money. Here’s a video presenting the two views:

Reasons for not paying children

Some parents don’t like the idea of paying their children to do housework because children ought to do it as part of their contribution to the family and household. Below are three very compelling reasons for not paying children to complete household chores:

Reason #1: Parents aren’t paid

Household chores are something everyone in the family has to do. Cooking, cleaning, gardening, feeding the pets, packing lunchboxes, doing the dishes, doing the laundry, etc. The list is endless and all of them have to be done so that the home is clean and functioning properly.

Parents do most of the housework because young children aren’t able to do most of it. When we do the chores, we don’t get paid, so when children do chores they can do, why should they be paid for it?

Reason #2: Kids live here too

The only reason chores exist is because people live in the house. An empty house has no chores. Similarly, if the only occupants in the house are the parents, there are fewer chores to be done. The children live under the same roof as the parents and contribute to the mess. So it’s only to be expected that children also contribute to cleaning up the mess. Without being paid.

Reason #3: They still have to do their chores even if they don’t want the money

Paying children to do chores presupposes the children actually want the money. It uses money as the carrot for enticing children to complete tasks they wouldn’t otherwise want to do. What if the children decide they no longer want any money? If you have a natural saver, he or she might be contented with not wanting to spend much money and so do not see a need to earn more money. Would we allow them to dispense with their responsibilities for chores? Not likely.

Does this mean we shouldn’t pay the children?

These are all very good reasons for not paying children to do chores. I agree with all these objections, but I still pay my children to do chores. The technique I use with my children addresses all of the above concerns.

We should pay our children to do household chores

I come across many parents who pay their children to do chores. Again, there are very compelling reasons to do so. Here are some reasons:

Reason #1: It teaches children the meaning of working

Many parents today do not have the option to stay at home. We all have to work, even though many of us would much rather spend that time with our young children. We work to earn money so that we can pay for the things that we need and many of the things that we want.

One way to teach our children the meaning of ‘work’ is to exchange their time and effort with money. In this way, they understand why their parents have to work. If parents didn’t work, the family won’t have much money to buy many of the things the family needs. With this knowledge, children become more understanding of parents needing to work and become less demanding on parents to spend 24/7 on them.

Reason #2: The children’s money comes from someone working

Young children often cannot earn their own money from outside the home. We usually give them spending money. But where do we get our money from? Working. If we have to work to get our money, it’s important we make that linkage to the children – they should also work for their money. In that way, they understand that mum and dad are not their personal ATM. If the children want money, they need to work for it.

Reason #3: It’s the only tangible way to teach children about earning money

When speaking with a few parents, I noticed that many parents who don’t pay their children to do chores actually use some other form of currency. A common one is the children’s electronic time. If the children want time to play on their electronic devices, they have to earn that time by doing chores.

Similarly, many parents use reward charts. For every household task the child completes, they get a sticker or a stamp on their chart. Each time the chart is filled up, the child is rewarded with an ice cream, an outing, a treat of some sort, maybe even electronic time.

The rationale for these other forms of currency is that it removes money as the focus of the lesson. Instead, the focus is on contributing to the family. I am not sure if I see the logic here. If we’re simply replacing money with other forms of currency, isn’t the focus still the other form of currency?

A more compelling reason is that the parents who use other forms of currency are not using household chores as a way to teach their children about earning money. This is fine, as long as you find other ways of teaching the children about earning money.  The only way to teach children about money is to use money. There’s no point using a representation of money to teach about money.

Reason #4: It teaches the children gratitude

Paying children to do chores reinforces the idea that it’s not easy to earn money. If they see something they really want to buy, I remind them of how hard they had to work to earn the money. They have to decide whether they want to spend all of their hard-earned money on 5 minutes of fun. Over time, this reminder will instil in the children an attitude of gratitude. Be grateful for when people give them things, rather than find faults with the given item. They will start to appreciate when other people pay for their things or buy things for them.

A grateful child is a less demanding child.

The technique that works!

Chores - laundry
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Here are 9 more reasons why children should be paid to do chores.

The technique I use with my own children reinforces their contribution to the family and at the same time, allows them to earn money from completing chores. Many positive messages come out of being paid to do chores and I want my children to learn all of those messages. It is also a way my children work towards a savings goal.


Categorise the chores

The key here is to identify chores that fall into one of two categories:

  • Tasks they complete as part of their contribution to the family.
  • Tasks they do as paid tasks

I don’t pay chores in the first category. I expect the children to contribute to the family by doing these chores. If the tasks are not done, the children are sent back to complete the chores. There is no withholding of payment and there is no excuse for not doing them.

I pay for the second category of chores. My family have a guideline for the type of tasks that can fall into the second category. Think about why you might be willing to pay your children to do to chores. This is the starting point to work out what type of chores you might pay your children to complete.

Once you have a list of chores in both categories your family knows exactly where each task fits in. The children know very clearly which are paid tasks and which ones are not paid. Importantly, they also know why certain tasks are paid and others aren’t.

Not having a clear reason for why we do what we do with money is one of the most common mistakes parents make when teaching their children about money. Find out what other common mistakes parents make in Top 5 mistakes parents make when teaching their children about money.

What do you do with your children and household chores? Share it with us in the comments below.