PracticalDad:  Paying the Kids?

As the kids age and want more financial independence – but are still bound by child labor laws and a slack summer labor market – how much should a parent participate?  Each of our kids receives an allowance, commensurate with age.  But they also want more as they age and that doesn’t mean that we’re just going to fork over more dollars, so how do we handle it given the parameters outlined? 

In our case, we’re "fortunate" to live in a house with an exceptionally  demanding yard.  Frankly, I’ve never bought a house with yardwork in mind but if I knew then what I know now, I’d have thought twice about agreeing with my wife about purchasing it.  The previous owner was a gardening fanatic who did exquisite work, especially with the heavily sloped backyard.  Unfortunately, he spent all of his time on the yard and with three active kids, that simply hasn’t been the case here.  The back was filled with a runner ivy that has simply overwhelmed and choked out everything and things are officially a mess.  While hiring a lawn service to handle the yard and keep the back under control would be the easiest alternative, it’s also the most expensive and one that teaches the worst possible lesson to the kids – that unpleasant tasks can be farmed out to someone else and that money solves everything.  In a country whose economy is changing and income stagnating, it’s the worst possible lesson of all.

In this case then, I decided to hire the kids to work alongside me.  From a conversation with friends this weekend, they thought that I was nuts since it was something for which they would clearly expect the kids to help.  In their view, such projects are part and parcel of the family and home life, where if you want something nice, then you have to help keep it that way.  While I appreciate the view, there’s something about the scope of this project that takes it into a different category.  There are other aspects that led me to propose payment.

  • If the kids want some extra money but I don’t want to just shell it out, then they can earn money through hard work.
  • The work will be done regardless, and the amount that they earn is a function of how much time that they’re willing to put in on the project.  They want more, then they earn it and learn that pay depends upon performance.
  • I’m still saving money on the deal.  When we had someone lay mulch three years ago, it cost almost $2000 and took three grown men two full days to just lay the mulch and didn’t even touch tearing out the existing foliage.
  • This is a project and there will be a semblance of order to it, from start to finish.  It’s important for the kids to see that there’s a method to doing something apart from just arbitrary tasks such as emptying trash and mowing the lawn.  This will also be a learning experience, much as Eldest’s work to refurbish the god-forsaken fish pond that abuts the back deck; it needs some annual maintenance but the savings from her tackling it – and while we did it together, she did the lion’s share – were in the range of about $3500.
  • Holding payment over their heads helps to keep me in the position of "boss".  Kids can and will become a bit contemptuous and shifting myself temporarily from father to boss will cut down on the backtalk and argument.  This is why I’m doing this but if you really disagree, then don’t get paid.  That’s life, kid.

This is going to be a major project and will entail a significant amount of work.  It isn’t going to be cheap but it will be far, far less than if I’d hired an outsider to do the job and frankly, if the money is going somewhere, I’d rather that it stay within the family.

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