An Allowance System That Teaches Earning AND Giving

Our brood

My eldest child is 12, so one could assume that I have been attempting to instill a good work ethic in my son for at least 10 years now.  He is the first child of our four who are 12, 10, 8 & 6 respectively, and by virtue of his birth order, the most prominent example of our parenting.  My husband and I want our kids to be achievers like most parents, but beyond that, we want them to be givers.  We don’t currently belong to a church, but when we did, it was usually a Unitarian congregation that suited our divergent backgrounds of former Catholic and Agnostic.  Until the new Unitarian church in town is re-opened, we are the sole stewards of our children’s moral compass, and that is a job to be taken very seriously.

My husband recently attended a sales conference in Miami that had some fascinating seminars.  One that impacted him greatly was the presentation on the “Entitled Generation Y”, that is, those kids who have been given everything without earning it, and feel that the world owes them.  It’s these kids that when asked what age they believe they are fully adults answered “thirty”!  When I was a child, Timothy Leary was quoted as saying “don’t trust anyone over thirty” which suggested to me that thirty was over the hill.  No wonder so many kids move back home after college – it’s not just the faltering economy, but the sense of entitlement.

Eeeek!  This must not happen to my kids.  What to do?  What to do? The first lesson out of the gate: electronics (tv, computer, x-Box, cell phone) are a priviledge, not a right.  They must be earned through other activities such as playing outside, practicing an instrument, or doing a chore.

wooden chore chartAh, chores.  The bane of my existence.  I can’t even count on my fingers the many different chore charts I’ve used over these past 10 years!  I even tried to design an innovative system myself using colored magnets and an intricate reward system that I never could make function just the way I wanted.  Don’t even get me started on the ‘enforcement’ of the charts.  What I have learned from all my efforts is that I end up being the ‘nudge’ or ‘irritant’ who hounds the kids into reluctant capitulation.  Ugh.

One thing that has made a great deal of impact on this effort was the acquisition of our chickens.  We already have 2 Beagles, 2 cats, 2 hermit crabs and a Beta fish who miraculously get fed daily, but chickens require more care.  I am not interested in doing it, so I made clear to the family that if they want to keep their beloved hens then they must care for them.  That worked.  It’s the ultimate in “natural consequences” – living domesticated creatures rely on us to stay alive.  The kids get that.

Now, how about those beds that need making, the laundry that needs to be put away, the rooms that need tidying?  We’ve also just moved into the realm of lawn mowing with my eldest, and the garage is an area in constant need of attention.

I have tried allowances to act as a ‘carrot’, but they often forget to collect it from me.  I recently found an online solution to my over 10-year quest for a system that works, and what I like about it is that it involves “giving”, which I mentioned earlier as a goal I would like my children to embrace.  It’s called ThreeJars.  One jar is for ‘spending’, one is for ‘saving’, and the third is for ‘sharing’.  Fabulous concept, don’t you think?!

3 jars allowance

Here’s how ThreeJars briefly defines itself: “ThreeJars makes allowance fun and easy for 5 to 13 year old
kids and their parents. Kids learn to manage their “money” through savingspending, and charitable giving jars – with guidance from Mom and Dad.”  The system is on an IOU basis from which the parents can add and subtract.  The allowance amount is decided together, but % of that amount to go to ‘share’ and ‘save’ is their decision to make.  Over time, the kids may make requests for ‘spending’ or ‘sharing’ through emails to their parent, and the parent responds “yea” or “nay” as they see fit.  ThreeJars’ service costs $30 a year for unlimited children, but the actual paying of monies to the kids happens at home per the adult’s prerogative.  The chore section is helpful if your family bases allowance on chore completion.  Often, looking to garner more funds, my 10-year-old son will make offers of chores with a value attached to it such as: Wash the Car – $3.00. It is up to me whether I accept or decline his offer.  It’s not all greed driven, though.  Yesterday that same son asked if he could donate $7.00 of his ‘share’ money to the ASPCA.  I said yes, and because ThreeJars has a direct relationship with about 21 reputable charitable organizations including the ASPCA, $7.00 was deducted from his ‘share’ fund and charged to my Visa on file.  If he had chosen to donate elsewhere, I would deduct the sum myself and write a check.  Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, not to mention, warm and fuzzy.

My kids love computers, so this online solution is so much better than a white board that can be altered either on purpose or by a shoulder coming too close in passing. It’s all there in black and white until I, or they, decide what changes.  Boy, do they love seeing how much allowance they are accruing each week, too.

Hallelujah!  Peace has been restored, chores are getting done, and giving is, well, “a given”.  Oh, how I love Three Jars!

Disclosure: I received a free year’s family membership valued at $30 to facilitate this review, but that only buys my honest opinions.


How to Become an Extreme Couponing Master

     We both have four kids, a husband, and a dog to feed, yet Kathy Spencer spends 75 times less than I do each week at the grocery store.  Clearly, I had to find out how.   She is, of course,  the self made Coupon Guru, with a new book out on the topic, and a website, where she shows shoppers how she does it.  When I heard she was giving an hour and a half “coupon class” at the RI Home Show, I knew I should to attend.Coupon Queen

     I was impressed not only by her ability to feed a family of six on $4 a week, but by her candor, her humor, and her willingness to share her money saving secrets.  Paying it forward seemed to be a large part of her message.  Along with the information she generously shares, she donates those items that she does not need, to others that do…pediatric hospitals, nursing homes, food pantries or friends in need.  She strategically combines coupons found in fliers from the newspaper, with sales going on in the store to get items for pennies or free.  One example of how she shops would be a  $1.00 off coupon used for an item that then happened to be on sale at the store for 3 for $3.00 that week, in which case she would by three & use three coupons.  That means free!   Another of her tactics is that when she does find those amazing deals on non-perishables like toothpaste or toilet paper, she stockpiles them to avoid having to pay full price in the future.   What she wants us as consumers to understand is that to survive day to day, improve our lifestyles, or to get the things we want, more money is not the answer, but saving money is.

     I was so excited by what I learned I immediately went home and started clipping away at coupons.  What I found when I tried to put what I had learned into practice, is that I have a lot to learn!  I combined coupons with sales, but only a few items I had coupons for coincided with sales, and I still needed some things that I did not have coupons for, or were not on sale.  On my first enthusiastic foray into coupon shopping I ended up saving $23.00 off my still astounding shopping bill , and  then $25.00 the second time around.  I have to admit the wind was taken out of my sails a bit, but I am determined to work on my strategy and figure this out.  I don’t ever expect to be able to cut my bill to mere dollars, but with a family of six every bit counts.

     Extreme couponing gained momentum with the economic downturn, and there is an entire T.V. show on TLC about it.   We don’t all have to go to the sometimes crazy lengths that extreme couponers might be willing to go through to get a bargain, like leaving their house at the crack of dawn, and going store to store to get the deals.  Kathy seems confident that we can all save with coupons, even if it just means cutting our grocery bills by 10 or 20 percent.   It takes some organization, but the payoff can be big.  Hearing her speak certainly inspired me to try.  My coupon organizer, (of course I had to run out and buy a cute one) is now bulging with yet to be had deals.  I guess if I can manage to shave $25.00 off my weekly food bill, adding up to $100.00 a month that is a pretty good start.   

     If any of you have mastered the art of coupon shopping, or have tips to help me learn I’d love to hear them!


Surviving Unemployment… or the “Pink Slip Blues”

Help WantedIt comes out of nowhere, or maybe it’s been looming for months.  You’re going along, following your routines, and meeting your deadlines, and  *whoosh! * the rug is pulled out from under you.  You’ve been laid off.

We all know someone who’s lost their job, but it seems like something that happens to other people – until it happens to you.  If you’ve ever seen “Up in the Air” with George Clooney, then you’ve seen very realistic firings and the varied responses that people have to them.  Well, when my husband lost his job in January 2009 his reaction was one  of positive thinking – we would ‘tighten our belts’ and ‘tough it out’ until he could find another job.

Wouldn’t you know that month would be the month that our dishwasher would bite the dust.  With his new found free time, my husband tried like mad to fix it.  He got out his soldering gun and looked up the broken part online, but to no avail.  He broke the news gently, “Honey, we are going to have to wash the dishes by hand until I get a job.”  And so we did.  I pulled out a ‘stepper’ I had purchased from Get Toned at Home, and stepped while washing.  I did have much nicer abs that year.  I saw it as a “make lemonade moment”.  Little did I know there would be so many of those moments that year.WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE

One of the most wonderful outcomes of this challenging time was learning just how great our community is.  We felt no shame in our situation.  My husband was a top producer at his prior job, but the corporation was tanking on Wall Street, and few were spared.  So, we told everyone our unfortunate news, and what a good idea that was!  We learned quickly how many programs exist to help those in need.  From the children’s school lunches to their sports fees, to extracurricular classes, we were able to find lots of financial assistance.  I learned that food stamps are now dispensed by a gold card called EBT  that you can swipe easily and discreetly at the machine you use for your ATM/credit card at check out.  What a help that was for our family of 6!

The first area to be cut– sitters and socializing.  I still had my Book Club and playgroups for the kids to keep me connected, but what I found was that I had the best kind of friends, too – the kind that are there in need.  When my dear friend Elizabeth (a contributor here) had a home party for CAbi clothes that winter with the new girl from Dallas as presenter (Carrie Humphreys – also a contributor here), I went to the party knowing full well that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) buy anything.  I started helping the others try on clothes after Carrie’s presentation, and Carrie asked me if I might consider being her assistant.  I said yes and have been with her ever since.  That day a few friends secretly picked out two pieces from the line for me which they casually bestowed on me at one of our kid’s sports games.  I was bowled over!

That was only the tip of the iceberg, though.  These amazing women never left me out of a lunch celebration or group outing.  For a year they kept me close and cheered us on.  We learned that the beauty of loss is when you see what you still have.   My husband and I grew closer to each other and our community in our hour year of need, and what seemed to be disaster was really a blessing in disguise.  Learning to live lean is a great lesson in these uncertain times, and I know the experience opened our children’s eyes to a new reality – one that much of the world faces daily.  Is it possible that we are better, more empathetic people now?  I sure hope so.  What I do know is that it really does “take a village” to get through the tough moments.

By the way, we replaced that dishwasher and I smile every time I turn it on.  Do you have a layoff story or a tip to share?

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