A Senior Moment
'My Piggy Bank Caper'
by Rev. Bob Johnston

January 15, 2017

New Perspectives

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When I turned seven, my parents figured it was time to teach me about money matters. They started to dole out a regular allowance---25 cents a week. I don’t remember if the money was accompanied by a lecture on the “ground rules,”--- how much I could freely spend or what amount I had to save for big events such as the CNE. I don’t recall if my allowance was dispensed on condition that certain chores were completed.

What I do clearly remember was carefully depositing my precious quarter each week into a brand new, red piggy bank made of some kind of ceramic plaster. More significantly, that innocuous little pig unintentionally led me into a foolproof scam which ultimately grew my nest egg far faster than the weekly allowance could have ever done on its own. Here’s what happened.

Over the following few weeks, I had become increasingly proud of my piggy and of the slowly-accumulating savings contained in its belly. In fact, I was so proud that whenever extended family or other visitors arrived at our home, I innocently proceeded to grab the piggy, hold it under the nose of each guest and, shaking it dramatically, demonstrated how many quarters were hidden therein.

This had the unfortunate result of causing the adult guest to look flustered, then awkwardly fumble in their pocket or purse for some loose change which they reluctantly plunked into my bank. At the time I could never discern why their smiles which accompanied each plunking seemed so rigidly fixed. Only after many years, did I belatedly realize that I had been unwittingly practicing a crude literal shakedown, using embarrassment rather than a gun as my weapon.

This confessional trip into my shady past serves only as the preface to a discussion about children and allowances.

Over my many years as a family life educator, this subject often came up during question period. While inflation has bumped up the amount to typically one dollar per year of a child’s life, the principles underlying the role of allowances remain the same.

Based also on my own experience as a parent, the following are some common guidelines.


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WHEN TO BEGIN: Writing in Today’s Parent (November 8, 2013) Susan Spicer tells a story about Margaret Johnson, a credit counselor in BC, who described her conversation about money with a class of young children. When she asked them where money comes from, one little girl confidently replied: “A machine.” When she further inquired what happens when the machine runs out of money, the child again asserted: “You just go to another machine.” Around age six or seven, little Tommy or Rachel is able to comprehend the concept of basic money management.  Allowances can provide parents with the raw material for budgeting in real everyday situations---excellent lessons for future adult life.  Money does not flow endlessly from the “machine.”

: Many families follow a formula of directing the allowance toward certain objectives. For example, one condition might be that the child must save a portion of the allowance toward some future goal, can freely spend another percentage as they choose, but must give away a third smaller amount to a charity or some other need in the local community or a wider cause. Most kids would readily contribute toward supporting a third world “foster child” or giving to a programme for endangered wildlife. Allowances can impart family values.

NOT CONNECTED WITH CHORES: An internet resource, WebMD, notes that six out of ten families provide children with allowances. It further reports (no source cited) that one-third of parents pay children for doing chores, thus connecting their allowance with work completed in the home. Most experts would disagree with this practice, as would I. Chores should be done as an integral component of being part of family life without expectation of reward. Every child, regardless of age, is capable of making some contribution to the efficient running of the household.

The primary problem with the chore/money association is that a child could decide he or she does not need money on any given week so refuses to do the assigned task. On the other hand, if some major extra job needs to be done, a youngster can be “hired” and paid to do so.

FAMILY TALK: As with most areas of family life, decisions are better received if each member has some voice in the discussion which precedes the final agreement. A child can be asked what amount per week they consider reasonable and how it should be used. (Naturally, parents still retain the final decision-making authority.)

NO BAIL OUTS: As hard as it will be to watch a child who budgets unwisely and then lacks funds for the Saturday movie, a wise parent will not routinely bail that boy or girl out. When a child learns to resist the urge to impulsively “spend it all at once,” he or she is preparing for the sometimes harsh realities of adulthood economics.

These above guidelines are only offered as suggestions. Each family determines its own path to money management. Just be careful how your child or grandchild makes use of that little piggy.
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