Money in the Piggy Bank

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    What are the best ways to teach kids about saving money and giving tzedakah? If they get an allowance, how much and at what age? 

    Dear Miriam,

    I don't have kids yet, but I'm wondering what you think are the best ways to teach kids about money. Should they get an allowance? How much and at what age? Should it be tied to doing chores? How do you teach them about saving for themselves and about giving tzedakah? I know these decisions are far off for me, but I've seen some of my younger cousins getting mixed messages about money, so I'm trying to figure out where I stand on these issues. 

    Signed,
    Money in the Piggy Bank


    Dear Piggy Bank,

    It is impossible not to sound like I'm bragging when I tell this story, but I swear, it really happened just like this, and it's a great tie-in for your question. I took my kids to the U.S. Mint in Old City (a great, free attraction if you've never been!), and we saw the enormous production floor where coins are actually made. My 3-year-old daughter looked over the precipice and, eyes wide, said, "If we had all those pennies, we could fill up the tzedakah box really fast!"

    Yes, I am proud that she associates coins with tzedakah, but we haven't quite gotten past the "coins go in here and it's called tzedakah" part of the equation. I gave her my childhood piggy bank not too long ago and tried to explain that coins in the tzedakah box are for other people and coins in the piggy bank are for her. She didn't get it, and I let it drop. It probably doesn't help that her little brother is now really into putting coins in slots, so we open the bottom of the piggy bank to remove the coins so that he can put the same ones in again and again. 

    All of this, though, is creating a familiarity with money that I think is healthy. We haven't started giving an allowance yet, but we want to, in part because, at age 3, my daughter has wants and desires, and I don't want or desire to buy her candy every single time we leave our house. My hope is that an allowance will give us the structure to say, "I'm not going to buy that for you now, but you can save your money and buy it for yourself." Also, she often hears us say variations on these statements: "We can't buy that because it costs too much money," "We can get something similar that costs less money," or "I don't have the money to buy that right now." Also, "You can ask for that for Chanukah." Again, I think this is healthy language to begin using so that there is a correlation between stuff you want and money you have. 

    Even though I am doing the kid thing now, you're way ahead of me in that you're asking these questions before you're faced with the grocery store tantrum. On the other hand, whatever you decide now may change when you actually have kids. Here's my general perspective, though: 

    • Start giving an allowance when your child understands that money can buy things.
    • Build up to that understanding by talking about money in an easy and conversational way, just like you probably talk about lots of other parts of life.
    • Give an amount that won't be a burden to you but will be meaningful to your child. A penny every week will take too long to translate into a purchase and lose its value along the way. A dollar a week for my 3-year-old would translate into far too many junky purchases and wouldn't be sustainable either.

    As for the chores question, this, I think, goes into deeper questions about household structure and values and responsibilities. Chores have value for kids, but I think an allowance tied to chores can lead to too many threats and too much negotiating. Perhaps there's a way to have a baseline allowance with additional money earned for doing specific tasks around the house.  

    The best way to teach about tzedakah is by example. Have your children see you give a dollar to a homeless person. Make it a tradition to empty your pockets into the tzedakah box before lighting Shabbat candles. Decide together where you will make your yearly contributions. Talk about the ways in which you support the local organizations that benefit your family. If your kids see it around them as a natural part of life, it will be a natural part of life.

    Since I obviously also have a lot of questions on the topic, I did a little research for both of us. I found a really interesting NPR story about allowances, an article on Kveller about allowances with a Jewish perspective, and a myjewishlearning.com piece on teaching kids about tzedakah. Hopefully these will give you a lot to think about and some day, when the time comes, you'll raise savvy, generous kids of your own, who will of course never have tantrums in the grocery store about wanting to buy candy. 

    Be well,
    Miriam