Vermont Public is independent, community-supported media, serving Vermont with trusted, relevant and essential information. We share stories that bring people together, from every corner of our region. New to Vermont Public? Start here.

© 2024 Vermont Public | 365 Troy Ave. Colchester, VT 05446

Public Files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact or call 802-655-9451.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Spencer Rendahl: Making Allowances

My 9-year-old daughter comes home from school at least once a week with new tales of what other kids receive from their parents: 20 dollar-a-week allowances, Iphones, and trips to Disneyworld. We’ve had conversations since preschool about how “different families do different things,” but this mantra rang increasingly hollow as kids around her acquired more and more stuff at an increasingly dizzying pace. I began to wonder how I could possibly help her learn the value of money without losing my sanity – and my wallet.Then I spotted a new book on this subject at my local library: “The Opposite of Spoiled,” by New York Times personal finance columnist Ron Lieber. He notes that with more of society’s costs shifting to younger people – think ever-increasing education and health care costs and falling retirement contributions from employers - the need to teach kids the value of money has reached a new level of urgency.
Lieber‘s book offers a radically simple plan. Give your child a dollar a week based on age, but have her divide that into 3 pots for “Give,” “Save,” and “Spend.” Provide kids with the basics: a coat, a couple pairs of shoes, and swimwear, and cover their activities, if possible. But let them manage their own money for everything else.
When my daughter learned her allowance was being raised to 9 dollars a week, she jumped for joy. But it came in three labeled mason jars, each containing three dollars. As Lieber recommends, I explained that her “Spend” jar money would be for ice cream out with friends, birthday presents, and extra clothes beyond the basics. She could also use that money to buy audiobooks – or she could check them out for free at the library.
Her “Save” jar is for bigger-ticket items, and she found one immediately: her school yearbook.

The “Give” jar prompted the most conversation. “I’m not giving money to charities that make kids eat healthy food,” she declared. “That’s fine,” I replied.

We discussed charities she could support, like her church, a soup kitchen and the humane society, among others. We discussed family charitable giving and I explained how buying a new Ipod for herself would not count as charity. And I’ve tried to make it clear that at least for our family - money is about choices.
Now, instead of hearing me repeat my “different families do different things” mantra, she can do her own thing. And hopefully, gain wisdom and generosity along the way.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
Latest Stories