Updated on 10.13.10

What Does an Allowance Pay For?

Trent Hamm

Melinda writes in:

My twelve year old daughter and I are having a money war of sorts. At the start of the school year last month we went shopping for clothes together. I said she could spend $250 any way she chose as long as she got a certain number of items – some underwear, some socks, some jeans, some shirts, and so on. I told her that she could spend more, but it would come out of her allowance. She proceeded to buy only the minimum amount of socks and underwear so she could buy another shirt that she liked. Now she’s having to do laundry twice a week and is complaining all the time about it. I told her to use her allowance to buy the underwear and she says that’s completely unfair. What do you think?

I think this is an experiment that had great intentions that went badly, but there are a lot of interesting pieces worth discussing in here.

First, I really like the idea of using this situation to teach your child about budgeting. In the end, that’s what’s going on here – good old fashioned budgeting. This experiment takes the concepts of budgeting and puts them into something concrete that the twelve year old can really understand and take part in. The idea of using additional money for budgeting

Second, I think you should buy her the necessary underwear and socks. This might surprise some of you because it’s obvious that the child made the mistake of spending that money on a shirt instead of the undergarments. The key thing to remember is that an obvious mistake to an adult isn’t an obvious mistake to a pre-teen, and forcing the child to get by on three or four undergarments is not exactly a great choice from a hygenic angle.

Instead, chalk this one up to a bit of a lesson learned for both of you. The idea is good, but the undergarment requirement from you as a parent should have been higher. If someone is required to do laundry twice a week because their undergarment count isn’t high enough, they should consider more undergarments. Not only will they last longer, but they’ll save on water and energy use by not requiring the user to run laundry loads with only a few items in it.

However, this question leads into a much broader one: what items should a child pay for out of their allowance – and what should their parents pay for?

While it may seem like a black-and-white rule for some, the line between the two can be extremely different from household to household. For example, in Melinda’s household, the child is being encouraged to spend their allowance on undergarments, whereas in my own household, this would never even be a question – we would buy such items for our children.

Where is that line?

For us, the rule of thumb is simple: the parents take care of basic needs, period. Basic needs means food, water, clothing, housing, school and field trip fees, and so forth. While our children remain at home before college, we will provide these things for them without any impact on their allowance.

However, we will often provide for just the basic needs. My children will always have clean clothes, but the shirts might just be generic t-shirts and denim jeans. My children will always have food, but that might come in the form of a sack lunch instead of $10 to spend at McDonalds.

Expenses for “wants” either come out of their allowance or are earned in some fashion. We give our children a small allowance each week that’s not tied to chores, but our oldest child now has the occasional opportunity to do more things to earn money. For example, if I’m out in the yard raking leaves and he spends an hour and a half filling trash bags with those leaves, I may give him a few dollars for his extra effort.

What about those “unexpected” situations? If something unexpected comes up, they may get a very small allowance advance to cover the minimum cost, but that’s all – and by minimum, I mean $3 if they’re going to stop at a fast food restaurant with some friends or something similar to that.

But I don’t want my child going without! Going “without” on small things is a valuable teaching tool. It teaches them that they can go without things that their friends have. It also teaches them the value of not spending their allowance all at once. (Of course, these lessons have to be coupled with involved parenting and discussion. That’s an assumed part of the equation.)

Remember, your job as a parent is not to be your child’s “pal.” It’s to take care of their basic needs while teaching them the skills they’ll need to survive outside of the relative safety of your home. One big part of that is personal finance, and lessons like these build that groundwork.

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  1. Amanda says:

    A suggestion for next year’s shopping: You buy the underthings and then give her $200 for everything else!

  2. Jim M says:

    Trent, I think you are absolutely and completely wrong.

    The parent set up a problem. The child had to think about to solve the problem. The choice the child made to solve the problem was bad, but it is not the parent’s fault for setting the minimum too low. Changing the rules of the game because the “minimums were too low” would set a precedent – if you find the rules unfair, you convince someone to change them.

    I picture this scenario the same as the Social Security debacle. If I can’t retire on Social Security alone, it is MY fault for not doing the calculations, not the Government’s.

    Age (pre-teen or not) is not an excuse. I wish my parents had taught me hard-nosed budget & retirement lessons when I was 10.

    Make the kid work for the money to buy more undergarments.

  3. Micayla says:

    Wow Trent! I don’t know when I’ve disagreed with you so strongly. My gut reaction is that it is a very bad idea to teach that mom will bail you out if you make poor financial choices- although you do have a point about the hygiene issue. If mom goes with your recommendation, I think it needs to be made crystal clear that she won’t be bailing her out in the future.

  4. Micayla says:

    Wanted to add- yes, parents should provide for needs- and this mother DID provide for needs. I get what you’re saying about obvious to a 12 year old is different than obvious to an adult- but 12 is MORE than old enough to know you need more than 3 or 4 pair of underwear.

  5. Jackie says:

    I think the daughter should be getting socks and underwear as any upcoming holiday/birthday gifts.

  6. valleycat1 says:

    In the specific example from Melinda, this isn’t a simple case of what should come out of the daughter’s allowance. She’s old enough to learn a lesson on trying to game the system.

    If this had happened when my daughter was 12, this is the option I’d have given her: you can buy more undergarments out of your allowance, or you can pay me back for the special blouse you bought out of the clothing $ and I’ll buy the undergarments – & they’d be basic versions. And next time we’ll shop together for the basics & I’ll buy; extras or the difference between what I’m willing to pay & what you want are out of your allowance.

  7. Monique Rio says:

    What’s interesting to me is that the 12-year-old is claiming that the situation “isn’t fair”. I suppose it isn’t fair that she wasn’t informed of the consequences of buying the minimum amount of underwear, but it’d be interesting to find out what she thinks isn’t fair about it. If I were the parent that’s what I’d want to find out.

    So many people (not just 12-year-olds) claim their life isn’t fair, when really they’re saying “I don’t like how hard my life is!” I wonder if that’s really what she’s complaining about.

  8. EJW says:

    Pay for the underwear, take the expensive garments and have her buy them back from you with her allowance. Give her a re-do.

  9. Becky says:

    What happened to the underwear she had before she went shopping for school clothes? Did she suddenly outgrow it all? Or throw it all away?

  10. Claudia says:

    I was raised in much the same fashion as Trent describes – my basic needs were provided for by my parents and “Above and Beyond” things needed to be earned. I grew up without ever recieving an allowance. Before we get all in a huff about how allowances teach children about money, let me explain. Chores were considered part of the “cost of living” to my parents. Their theory was that if they were out raking leaves, I should be out helping as well. I was responsible for keeping my room clean, helping with the dishes, yard work – that sort of thing – because it was upkeep of the home. Since, as household members, they were responsible for those things (and didn’t recieve an allowance to do it), I was also expected to help without the reward of an allowance.
    That’s not to say I never recieved any money from my parents; money was given occasionally to me when I needed it – for trips to the movies with my friends, that sort of thing. But it was only given when it was deserved; after looking at what I had done as a whole. Was I doing well in school? Was I being responsible and respectful?
    The thing I thought was most constructive about my parents’ method was that they drove home the notion that money was a limited resource and that we all had to work together and share what was available. If I wanted that designer t-shirt for the start of school, I had to understand that it might take away from my opportunities to go to the movies with my friends later. They never said “no” (to reasonable requests) but sometimes I paid for my decisions later. (No pun intended…)
    I think its most important – regardless if you decide to go the allowance route or not – that we stress upon our children the importance of priorities. Like Trent says… THINGS are not generally what make us happy, but rather the time spent with family and friends.

  11. Jared Oldham says:

    Growing up my parents purchased the items that were needs. Wants fell into the category of paying for it ourselves. We were given an allowance but it was earned by doing specific chores around the house. The most important thing is my parents when establishing this system made a fairly detailed list of what was a need and what was a want. We also had the opportunity to re asses this list every so often. As for the lady above’s situation, I don’t think that bailing the girl out is a good option. Around my house we had the opportunity to make extra money by doing something that was not part of the regular chore list. I would give the daughter a chance to do that for the extra underwear needed. Then re evaluate wants and needs and make sure you are both on the same page. After that stick to your guns, if she decides that a new purse each way becomes a need and is not buying what she really needs, she needs to learn.

  12. lurker carl says:

    I wouldn’t expect preschoolers to know but a twelve year old knows how many undergarments she needs each week.

    The girl isn’t doing without, she is complaining about washing socks and underwear because she traded the undies for a shirt. There is no need to use machines when a few minutes of scrubbing in the sink will get them clean and then hung up to dry. If she doesn’t want to spend HER money to fix that mistake and Mom pays for them, Mom should take the shirt.

    By the way, three sets of undies is not any less hygenic than ten sets.

  13. Annie says:

    I would buy the undergarments and then make some adjustments to the rules for future shopping trips. But I grew up without my basic needs being met. Once I turned 16 and got a job, I was responsible for everything I needed: clothes, shampoo, toothpaste, school lunches, etc. I also had to forgo some medical needs, even though we had insurance because the copay was too much. I still have some resentment about that 15 years later.

  14. Sheri says:

    Two things:

    1) The mother’s budgeting idea was great, but maybe she shot too high, given her daughter’s temperament and age. For a 12yo, I’d be inclined to give the child $100-150 for “fun” school clothes, with the parents buying things like underwear and a few sensible basics. As she gets older, skew toward giving her more money, but buying fewer staples for her.

    2) At this point, end the stand-off by giving her a large economy pack of briefs as soon as possible as a “gift.” (Halloween? “Just-because-I-love-you”?) If the problem is she stinted on bras, then she can handwash those for a few months until the holidays, when (of course) they will count as one of her gifts.

    As a parting shot, has this mother introduced her daughter to thrift shopping? That would allow her to stock up on a lot of fun items, and leave her enough money to buy the needed undergarments NEW!

  15. Johanna says:

    When I was in grad school and working as a teaching assistant, we had to take a class on learning how to teach. As the instructor told us, the point of teaching is not to prove that you’re smarter or more knowledgeable than your students. Tricking the students into making mistakes and then gloating about it is not good teaching.

    Similarly, if a parent is always setting up a child to make bad decisions in order to “teach her the consequences of her actions,” that doesn’t strike me as such good parenting. If, while they were out shopping, Melinda had said to her daughter, “Are you sure you only want four pairs of underwear? That means you’re going to have to do laundry every three days, since you can’t wash the pair you have on,” she might be justified in saying “I told you so” now. But if she didn’t, she should buy her daughter some more underwear. Seriously, basic underwear is not that expensive. (If the daughter wants fancier underwear, *then* she can pay for it herself.)

    As for what an allowance should cover, I agree that it can vary from family to family, but I think the parents need to be responsible for coming up with a set of rules in advance, explaining them to the child clearly, and enforcing them consistently.

  16. Belinda says:

    There are many unanswered questions here. How many pairs of underwear did the child already own? Was she specifically told how many she needed to buy? Simply turning a 12 yr old loose in the mall with $250 and instructions to buy whatever she wants as long as she buys “some” underwear is where the experiment went awry.

    My daughter was 12 just a few years ago and I do not believe “the obvious” would have occurred to her either, that there are 7 days in a week and therefore I need 7 pairs of undies. There needs to be some guidance there.

    I do totally agree with Trent that a child’s basic needs should be provided by the parent, and that includes clothing. That doesn’t mean the clothing has to come from Abercrombie. It means my child will be fully dressed appropriately for the weather or occasion every day. If she wants an item that is not in the budget, she must buy it with her allowance. But that should be separate from the basics, imo.

  17. Des says:

    “Instead, chalk this one up to a bit of a lesson learned for both of you.”

    But the lesson won’t be learned by both. The daughter will learn that if she spends her money foolishly then complains enough someone will bail her out.

    Wait…I guess that actually *is* how things work here in the US, so maybe its not such a bad lesson after all…

  18. Johanna says:

    Another thing: If the mother set a minimum number of pairs of underwear and provided no other guidance, the daughter might have heard that and thought “Mom thinks I’ll be all right with four pairs of underwear, so that’s how many I’ll get” – even if she otherwise would be capable of thinking through how much underwear she needs on her own. I can see how she might feel like she was misled.

  19. Reader says:

    Depends on how much the allowance is. Can she buy the undies in a week, or would she have to save for a month? Three pair of kinds basic underwear isn’t terribly expensive, even to a twelve year old as long as she has some form of income (i.e. allowance). It doesn’t sound like we’re talking about the girl having to save for six months in order to *fix* this. As others pointed out, it isn’t a hygiene issue if she’s washing them. IT’s a convenience issue over a low cost item. I think the girl should cover them no matter how poorly the requirements were outlined because it WAS her choice and it’s a relatively cheap lesson. It’s better to make a $3 mistake now that teaches her to think ahead than a $300 mistake in a few years.

    Another option is to split the cost. Tell the kiddo that perhaps the ‘rules’ weren’t clear, so you’ll take responsibility for part of her bad decision and therefore pay for half of a small pack of the cheapest brand.

  20. Robert says:

    Good idea to make her do wash twice a week. Kids need to learn that 1. things cost money and 2. luxuries like extra shirts sometimes means fewer underwear. There’s a give and take with money, especially when you’re younger and out on your own for the first time. Good life lessons being handed out early.

  21. Kerry D. says:

    As a parent, I know my kids would take the lesson that mom will always bail you out… If I really cared about her getting more undies, then taking back a shirt in trade would be fair.

    In our family, we’ve experienced wants for “fancier” clothing items than we would normally buy, and have made those come from allowance or replace other holiday gifts they would have received.

  22. valleycat1 says:

    As for the larger question of what an allowance should be spent on, as a child & later as a parent, it was an agree-to weekly amount that once handed over to the child was the child’s to spend. With age appropriate increases at birthday-time, & periodic discussions regarding concepts such as savings, fun money, giving to others, deferred gratification etc.

    As far as paying for chores done around the house, my parents didn’t pay for us for performing routine ones, and any payment for something out of the ordinary was negotiated/decided in advance – not randomly rewarded after the fact.

  23. Troy says:

    I’m with Trent. Parents pay for kids basics. Including clothes.

    Kids allowance is for extras. Going out with friends. A new video game. A gadget. etc.

    But the basics are covered.

  24. Rebecca says:

    If the daughter wants more undies, mom could suggest trying to sell some items of clothing that the daughter is tired of to come up with a little extra money, they hitting Target or Wall mart for some boring, but cheap underwear. Or the daughter could take on a short term chore or job around the home or for a neighbor, like raking, to make a few dollars.

  25. Amy says:

    I have to disagree with Trent and agree with some of the previous comments. Melinda did provide for her needs because she does have underwear. If she wants more then absolutely it should come out of her allowance especially because that was what was agreed in the first place. Bailing her out because she is whining will only encourage more whining and the expectation of being bailed out.

    Good luck Melinda! Giving children basic needs is relatively easy. Parenting, now that’s tough!

  26. Rachel says:

    As soon as I had my first babysitting job (age 12), I had to pay for nearly everything myself–my parents bought my undergarments but that was it. Any and all clothing, shoes, movie tickets, field trips–all of it, I had to pay for it, and I am SO grateful because I know the value of a dollar now. It also made me really friendly with thrift stores and hand-me-downs.

    My junior year of high school I saved up every penny of $200 to go to NYC with my choir. My senior year, it was $300 for Nashville.

    I pretty much can’t remember the last time my parents bought me anything, but I love them for it.

  27. Andi says:

    We had a similar situation last summer. My 8-year-old daughter and I went shopping for a swimming suit for the summer (we won’t go into whether it’s a need or want). She found a suit she thought she was pleased with and we bought it – maybe $10. She wore it to the pool once and became self-conscious. It had a cartoon character on it and she decided once she was around other kids, she might be a little too old for the suit – no one teased her, just a conclusion she came to on her own. For the next week, she didn’t want to go to the pool and it took me that long to figure out what was wrong. I, too, wanted her to learn something and yet not be punitive. After some conversation, where she realized taht I can’t afford to replace good clothing on a whim we came to the following agreement. We could look for a new suit (kind of tricky since we live about an hour from any shopping areas) and she would pay half. Because my daughter doesn’t like to spend her money on these types of things, SHE suggested we start at the consignment store. We found a suit that fit, was marked down to $1.50 – her share was $.75 – and her younger sister was able to wear the cartoon character suit. Win-win-win.

    As a side note, I’m not suggesting they go shopping for underwear at a 2nd hand store. Rather, that there is surely a solution in the middle that everyone could be happy with.

  28. KED says:

    It seems to me Melinda was clear ( I said she could spend $250 any way she chose as long as she got a certain number of items – some underwear, some socks, some jeans, some shirts, and so on.) Now a whiny tween is about to break her resolve.

    When I was growing up we were expected to help around the house, in the garden, in the yard, etc. as part of a shared family responsibility. Additional work on the farm (ie. in the tobacco field )yielded a kid-size salary. That salary gave us the freedom to purchase and select our own clothing and school supplies. (My parents were so smart.)

    In regards to paying for school and field trips….Trent your kids are young. Field trips are cheap, wait until they get in middle school or high school. My daughter competed in several competitions as part of school activities, some were covered by fundraisers, others were not. Think in the rage of $ 350.00 to $ 3,500.00. Well mom and dad didn’t cover them entirely either, I had her pay half to appreciate the amount of hardwork it takes to get that kind of money. She had to work or find sponsors but “half” was still alot. You may want to rethink your “field trip” policy.

  29. Bill says:

    @#19 Andi
    Proof at last you can get a female bathing suit at a thrift store for $2 dollars. Trent is vindicated!!

  30. Steve says:

    I agree with #10 Johanna that what is important is not the exact rules regarding what is and isn’t covered by an allowance; but that they are clearly communicated and consistently enforced.

    I don’t think there are quite enough details for us to give advice on the poster’s question. Did she tell her daughter “Make sure you get some underwear” or “get at least 4 pairs of underwear”? If so, well the mother is at least partly to blame. In that case I think her daughter would learn something if she owns up to her mistake and buys some more (basic, not fancy) underwear.

    On the other hand if the daughter was deliberately following the letter of rules and not the spirit, well, doing lots of laundry for a while won’t kill her. Sooner or later she will use part of her allowance to buy some underwear.

  31. Mary says:

    I wouldn’t know about having kids, but I wouldn’t want my kids to have an allowance. I know it teaches money budgeting, but I’d rather have them appreciate the money they do get when they get it, and for them to use it wisely. Also the whole work ethic thing. I never got an allowance when I was growing up, I had to do chores just because it was part of the housekeeping to live there. Everyone pitched in. I feel like I have a lot better sense of motivation if it wasn’t for that.

  32. Courtney says:

    I think Melinda had unrealistic expectations of her daughter. I mean c’mon, she’s only twelve and that’s pretty much how you would expect a kid of that age to handle the situation. It’s fine to let her have some input into choosing the clothes, but the parents should be the ones determining the amount of underwear, pants, shirts, etc. that she needs.

  33. Johanna says:

    @Steve (#22): Thank you for being more articulate than I am today.

    Another relevant question is, how much is the daughter’s allowance? Is it enough that she could reasonably be expected to afford her own underwear (in addition to whatever else she’s required to pay for with it)? It *should* be common sense that the more things a child is responsible for paying for with her allowance, the larger the allowance needs to be. But as they say, common sense is not so common.

  34. CB says:

    This doesn’t even sound like an allowance issue. Frankly, I think it was the mother’s failing to 1) give a 12 year old carte blanche with the clothing budget, 2) suggest an inadequate minimum number of underwear and think that any 12 year old would be sensible enough choose to buy more. It’s 10 pairs of undies coming out of the budget- cheap ones or fancy ones, the minimum is 10.

    Without a doubt the mother should buy her kid underwear. Why is this even a question?? It’s not like she’s asking for a toy. How can someone justify spending $250 on fall clothes (did she have no clothes at all??) and then debate spending $20 on underwear?

    My kids get a few new pieces come fall, not a whole wardrobe. I buy the things they’re possibly short on- as much to save myself the laundry as it is for them to have new stuff. Is it even wise to teach your kids that they “need” a new wardrobe every fall?

    I do give my kids an allowance. They each get $5 a week and they don’t get paid for chores. They do chores, but that’s not how they earn allowance- that’s just the responsibility of life.

    The allowance money is for them to buy their wants. They are 6 and 8, so I’m satisfied with them learning delayed gratification, the pleasure of buying something with their own money, etc. I don’t force them to save. I do not buy them “wants” unless it’s an occasion (birthday, special reward, holidays). In the end, giving an allowance saves me money and teaches them that money must be managed wisely to get the most out of it.

    I applaud this mother for trying to teach her daughter about budgeting. I just think this attempt went a little awry. And yeah, underwear and socks for Christmas sounds like a plan.

  35. hsdell says:

    For the first time out, it’s a good lesson either way–tweak the agreement next time.

    We did the same sort of thing with our daughter when she was about 13 (now 20 and in college).

    For the first year or two we calculated how much we spent on clothes for her over the past year or two and adjusted according to our estimate. Then we gave her an installment every 3 months or so. She did pretty well actually and did learn to balance the “must have” with “wants” and made a few regrettable choices. All good!

    After a couple years we gave her the whole amount at once and she managed it.

    She learned how to shop for the best bargains and is proud, even now, when she finds just what she is looking for, sometimes at 5%-10% of the retail cost.

    Everyone wins, especially Dad who doesn’t have to cajole, convince, lecture, anymore :-D

    Great post!

  36. Todd says:

    I have to admit that I’m a little horrified by this scenario. It’s only underwear, but I hope no one would do the same thing with food. “Here’s your $30 for the week–if you spend it all on junk food and eat it up this weekend, you are going to go hungry from Monday until Friday.” That’s not teaching a lesson for anyone of any age: It’s rubbing their nose in a mistake.

    Even for an unemployed adult child, I agreed to help them out with the basics and let them know that they had to go without “extras” until they were working again, which they are, thankfully. I would certainly buy some basic underwear for a 12-year-old child who made a bad decision and let her know that she should think it through more carefully next year.

  37. Doug says:

    There’s a lot to the story that we don’t know, but I would say “it’s a lesson for both of you” is correct.

    For Mom: You need to more fully teach the child what your expectations mean, as well as highlight the potential pitfalls of “doing the minimum.” Maybe this was the first time the child learned about budgeting, maybe not. But it shows that somewhere the teachable moment was missed. Better underwear than something important.

    For the child: Believe it or not, your parents do know what’s best for you. You are approaching a time when your decisions will shape the life you lead, and there are some times that you have to live with the consequences of your decisions. Better that you misjudged the amount of skivvies you need instead of misjudging something important. And don’t complain about doing laundry twice a week. My mom would’ve made me do the laundry in the sink if I whined to her.

    The solution? Mom, find some extra chores for your daughter to do around the house for a little extra money, with the stipulation that she go buy some underwear.

  38. jim says:

    Isn’t 12 about the age that kids start to think that *everything* is unfair?

    Personally I wouldn’t back track on this. It would give the kid the impression that your rules bend and next time she can just buy what she wants and mom will end up paying more.
    Let the girl learn the lesson you set out to teach her. She can either do extra laundry or use allowance to buy more underwear. She won’t die of unhygenie underwear either way.

  39. Wren says:

    At this point it does no good to blame mother or daughter for the error. Better to figure out how to resolve it. I’d ask the daughter how SHE intends to remedy the situation. The kid may come up with some clever ideas if it’s made clear that she won’t be bailed out simply because she whines. (And has she never heard of hand-washing?)

    My parents did not give allowances. Like Claudia’s family, we were expected to do our part around the house as a benefit of living there. Or, as my mother frequently said, “We don’t have maid service or a gardener, it’s EVERYONE’s job.”
    They provided basics; all else was earned. For example, my parents provided basic plain underwear, basic shoes, basic jeans and blouses/shirts. Any thing fancy, extra or designer or such luxuries as games, music, movies, we paid the difference between the basic and the one we wanted. If we broke, tore or destroyed something from our own negligence (not honest accidents, but carelessness) we paid to replace them.

    Would I have liked the famcy things my friends got without lifting a finger? Sure, but my dad lived within his modest means and expected anyone living under his roof to do the same. If he were still alive, I’d thank him for it.

  40. Katie says:

    I think allowances do sometimes get a bad rap. We were always expected to do chores regardless of allowance. But we also got a bit of money each week – by middle school, we were expected to pay for school lunches (if we chose to buy it instead of packing a sack lunch) and bus fare with it, as well as any outings with friends and the like. Those are things parents tend to pay for for their young children anyway; the allowance just meant we were responsible for budgeting for it ourselves. Of course, in truly constrained financial situations, there might not be any money for these small luxuries. But for families with any extra money, some of it tends to be spent on the kids for non-necessities and I’m not sure whether it comes in the allowance format is really a deciding factor as to whether the children will be spoiled or not.

  41. Johanna says:

    “At this point it does no good to blame mother or daughter for the error.”

    What? Of course it does. If the mother is at fault (if she gave her daughter bad advice about how much underwear to buy), she needs to own up to her mistake and make it right. Putting the burden on the daughter to come up with “clever ideas” to remedy the mother’s mistake really *would* be unfair.

    In fact, even if the daughter did clearly make a mistake, I agree with Todd that it’s not right for the mother to rub her nose in it. The mother is the grown-up in this relationship.

    “And has she never heard of hand-washing?”

    Well, if she (the daughter) hasn’t, guess whose job it is to teach her. Children are not born with this knowledge. It does no good to mock them or punish them for not knowing stuff they’ve never been taught.

    You know, this is not the first thread in which I’ve been fairly appalled by the level of contempt some people (including some parents) have for children. I’m glad none of you were my parents.

  42. Hope D says:

    I’m impressed this twelve year old does laundry. I agree with Trent. I would buy this kid the underthings. I think both the mom and daughter learned. The daughter learned how many underthings she really needed. The mother learned how much supervision she really needs to give on budgeting.

  43. Steve in W MA says:

    I disagree with Trent’s advice here, mainly because of the issue that these two household’s (Trent’s and Melinda;s) have different values around the money spent on the child’s clothing. Melinda IS actually providing for the child’s basic needs here–she disbursed the $250 to her daughter for the explicit purpose of buying her necessary clothes, AND gave her daughter rules about what needed to be bought (I would have suggested giving guidelines and reasons for them, but Melinda just gave rules….but then backed off enforcing them).

    Melind’a intent was that her daughter should learn to deal with the clothing expense and should learn the consequences of her actions. As to doing laundry loads 2x per week, she could avoid that and simply hand wash her underwear and socks and hang dry them every night. They will be dry not by the next day but by the next morning after. When that’s too much of a hassle for her and she is willing/puts high enough value on it, she can do what adults would do and apply some of her available funds to this problem by spending some on additional socks and underwear. This seems more in line with Melinda’s family budget philosophy.

    In sum, if it’s really a burden on Melinda’s daughter, she will pony up some money to get more socks. If it isn’t and she can live with it, fine. Either way she makes a decision and learns that sometimes choices can have consequences. Either way, she is not being deprived. It’s not a human rights violation to have only 3 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of underwear, not the last time I checked at least.

  44. Steve in W MA says:

    By saying that it’s “unfair” for Melinda to put the purchase of additional underwear back onto her daughter, the daughter is attempting to whine her way out of a problem (which really isn’t a problem in the first place, just an inconveniene to her. She will learn more and grow more if Melinda just says, “It’s not unfair. You had $250 for clothings and I suggested x pairs of underwear for this reason and you made the decision to do otherwise, which was our prerogative. fine. If you really don’t want to have to wash your things this often, then you have to come up with the money to get them. If it’s important enough to you it’s ok to use some of your own money. ”

    Keep in mind this is going to be a maximum purchase of maybe $20-$30.

  45. Steve in W MA says:

    Melinda is trying to not just provide the basic material needs, but the basic behavioral needs by giving her daughter control of her clothes budget. I think that’s a more lasting and valuable lesson than just the clothes themselves.

  46. Michele says:

    I have to comment on this- my sons never got an allowance. Needs were provided for and reasonable requests were accommodated. They were taught to help around the house and yard according to their age. I remember making a game of bringing clean clothes up the stairs to each bedroom when they were 3 or 4! We didn’t ever ‘pay’ for what needed to be done. No one paid me to do laundry, clean toilets, or rake leaves! They both are very responsible young men who assume that they must take care of business in the house and yard as much or more than their girlfriend/wife does. They both have very good budgeting skills and are savers. I don’t know if it’s a ‘guy thing’ with them, but neither my husband or I ever got an allowance and we turned out OK- as did our sons and our nieces and nephews. I still don’t believe in ‘allowance’. Or ‘play dates’. I must be old-fashioned.

  47. Aubrey says:

    I don’t think Mom failed at teaching budgeting and prioritizing just because Daughter didn’t prioritize as well as she could have. Maybe Daughter thought laundry twice a week wouldn’t be the inconvenience it turned out to be, or maybe she thought she already ha

  48. Aubrey says:

    (Sorry, the cat decided to help type)

    Maybe Daughter thought laundry twice a week wouldn’t be the inconvenience it turned out to be, or maybe she thought she already enough, or joined a sport and is using more than one pair of socks a day.

    Anyway, now that Daughter has learned the opportunity cost of not having enough underthings, I think Mom ought to provide some, but not as a bail out. Give her some underthings instead of something else “extra” Mom would normally pay for. Make Daughter think, “I could have had an ipod, but instead I just got a zune and some socks!” (I know it’s not the best example, but it’s the funniest I could come up with.)

  49. Barb says:

    Trent, you seem to be missing the point. Mom DID provide the basics. She gave daughter $250 to buy clothing for school. The questions arent about what mom provided but how daughter used the provisions. Daughter will not die with only three pair of undies, and frankly, three pairs of undies are not necessarily unsanitary. Even one pair of undies is sanitary of it is washed every day. I mean what is the “sanitary amount?

  50. Charlotte says:

    I agree with Melinda here. There is nothing wrong in having her child use her allowance to buy another pack of underwear. That’s how the teen will learn the true lesson of budgeting. It’s not like underwear are expensive. If Melinda backs down now then she loses credibility and her daughter misses out on an important lesson.

  51. goldsmith says:

    I very much agree with Melinda and Charlotte – obviously, the girl does have money in terms of getting an allowance, and her mother would indeed loose all credibility if she gave in now. The deal was clearly explained to the daughter, and a 12 year old is easily old enough to understand it.

  52. Andrew says:

    I agree with Trent here. We provide all the basic needs for our boys (11 and 14 yrs old), and any extra want they have, whether it’s a pack of pokemon cards, video games, or fancy t-shirts, they have to earn the money for. Now, we do give them an opportunity for them to earn money inside the house with special “money” chores, a list of which are posted on the fridge with either lump sum prices or an hourly rate ($5). Also, the 14-yr old seems to have an entrepreneurial bent, earning money doing odd jobs and gardening for the neighbors.

  53. Matt says:

    Just a response to Post #2:

    I still, to this day, remember a field trip I went on when I was in elementary school. We went downtown to a museum and our group, which included my mom, stopped in a bakery. My mom gave me some amount of money to spend, and I spent it on a bunch of delicious looking things. Ended up, I didn’t like any of them.

    My mom didn’t tell me to man up and tough luck, I already spent my “food allowance.” She showed compassion, and “bought back” my pastries so I could get a hamburger at McDonalds instead.

    Did I turn into a spoiled brat because I didn’t learn the value of the dollar? Nope. Instead, I look back on this and other events in my life, and realize how awesome my parents were in teaching me what a dollar could buy, and not to jump into things blindly.

    I agree with Trent in this instance.

  54. I think an allowance should be used for a child to buy things that he wants, not needs.

    I think that needs should be paid for by parents, and that the child should understand that if he wants something, then he needs to work (or get money) to pay for it.
    Of course, not all wants, but it should be used for wants and not needs

  55. Gretchen says:

    Only I would focus on the technicalities of washing underpants twice a week.

    Is the daughter doing all the laundry or just her one?That’s a really small load, even if it involves clothes (pants I wear multiple times before washing.)

    I didn’t get an allowance (my mom would sit in the car and send me into the store and I’d keep the change, which I mostly saved) but I agree with some others that chores are just part of being in a family.

  56. Gretchen says:

    I also agree that the number of underpants the mom required was just too low.

  57. getagrip says:

    Are we serious? The child is doing a single extra load of laundry a week for crying out loud and whining about it. Really hard, drop in a load, throw in some detergent, drop the lid, spin a knob, and hit a button. Oh, and then you have to come back and, OMG, take it out when it’s all wet and icky and put it in the dryer, add a dryer sheet, close a lid, and holy cow, spin a knob and hit another button! Then, and this is the tricky part, you have to come back again (really, three trips interupting their texting in one night, how dare we) when it’s done you have to *gasp* fold it or hang it so it doesn’t wrinkle! The terror of dank clothing, the complex series of operational steps, the unimaginable strain of it all on the young impressionable mind, it’s just too much to ask a 12 year old to do.

    Do what I did for my teen who had plenty of clothes but didn’t want to wear them because they weren’t cool enough. Let them do the extra laundry until the holidays, then for once they may actually appreciate underwear as a gift.

  58. Johanna says:

    “I agree with some others that chores are just part of being in a family.”

    Isn’t this exactly why so many people recommend that an allowance should not be tied to chores? The child does chores because she’s part of the family. And she gets an allowance because she’s part of the family. Just like she gets food and clothing and shelter because she’s part of the family

    People with contempt for children like to balk that children shouldn’t receive “something for nothing” because that’s not how the world works. But the way the world works is that if you have a child, you are obligated to give her something (namely food, clothing, and shelter) regardless of what chores she does or doesn’t do. If she doesn’t do her chores, you don’t withhold her food – you enforce the chore requirement in other ways.

    An allowance not tied to chores makes no less sense than food not tied to chores.

  59. Callie says:

    Exactly what I thought #5! There should be no getting out of this without consequences.

  60. Roberta says:

    Parents should be willing to provide underwear for their children. What child in her right mind is going to want to spend money on underwear instead than a t-shirt? This expects too much of any child, even an older one.

  61. Diana says:

    This is an opportunity for the mother to teach her daughter how to budget for clothing. She could have a conversation with her daughter about the inadequacies of her purchase and help her see now that buying more underwear has become more valuable than the cool shirt.

    She could also teach her how it would be equally as valuable to save or spend some of her regular income to make up the underwear deficit.

    In the child’s future this will be common place and she won’t have someone to bail her out. It could be used as an opportunity to teach her how to overcome a mistake.

    Then when a future shopping opportunity arises, the mother could sit down with her daughter and help her determine how much money is for underwear and how much for other clothes. I’d suggest two shopping trips – one for underwear and socks and another for clothes.

    That would teach the child about money management.

    I’ve worked with adolescents for 24 years. They need opportunities to try things alone. When they make mistakes adults need to step in and help them as they find their way out and teach them as they go along. Every moment is teachable and it doesn’t have to be a lecture: Hmmmm, you’re right it is a pain to have just three pairs of underwear. What were you thinking? What do you think you would do differently? Yes, I could give you the money for more underwear, but someday I won’t be doing that for you. How much would more underwear cost? How could you get that money? …..

    Imagine that the Great Underwear Mistake might become the difference between an out of control spender thinking someone or something like a credit card will be there to cover or someone who sees money for what it is: a vehicle to get the things I need and want.

  62. Julie B says:

    I disagree Trent. This mom did meet the child’s basic needs. She gave her $250 to purchase clothes. This was not the child’s allowance but a clothing budget.

    Perhaps she should have required her to buy more undergarments but she was giving minimums. I would not recommend giving in completely. I would recommend either sticking with the original agreement or giving her the option to trade the shirt for more underwear with the option to buy it back over time with her allowance (without access to it in the process). The child, then, must consider her choices and weigh the consequences of each choice but she also has the opportunity to have a “do-over” without mom bailing her out.

  63. reulte says:

    I tend to disagree with Trent on this. She ‘needed’ the shirt and now she ‘wants’ more undergarments (which, by the way, are not for any hygenic purpose but were originally to keep clothes and bedding clean — so I can’t even see this as much of a need to start) . . . it’s a want and she pays for her own undergarments and apologizes to mom for all the whining. Simply because its not a toy doesn’t make it a need.

    I really like EJW’s (#5) idea as a good compromise.

    Bill – A swimsuit for an 8 year old is NOT a woman’s swimsuit.

    I’m not impressed that the daughter does her laundry twice a week. My 8-year old boy does much of the household laundry (except measure the soap) and he sometimes needs help reaching to the bottom of the washer. A 12-year old whining that she has to do laundry twice a week only made me roll my eyes.

  64. Jonathan says:

    We live in a world in which far too many people are unwilling to accept the consequences for their actions. Melinda has the perfect opportunity to teach her daughter that every decision has a consequence. Teaching her to accept the consequences of her actions is every bit as valuable as teaching her about budgeting. I believe that if Melinda chooses to buy the extra garments for her daughter she will be doing her a disservice by showing her that negative consequences of a bad decision can be avoided by simply whining to Mom.

  65. Sandra says:

    Recently, my 5yo DD bought and ate snacks at school rather than the lunch I packed for her. Since this is a prepaid account, I don’t think she realized that she spent the equivalent of her weekly allowance on those snacks.

  66. Katie says:

    Another point to consider – if she has to wash her underwear twice a week, they’re not going to last very long. The underwear situation is going to become critical in a month or two no matter what. Though which way that bears is up to the mom, I think.

  67. Roberta says:

    Wanting to teach consequences is one thing, and a hugely important thing at that, but underwear as a want and not a need? This I cannot accept.

    When people decide to become parents, they really should provide the basics of life for their children: food, shelter, medical care, education and school supplies, and clothing. Underwear is possibly the most basic and fundamental element of clothing that one can name. What next? Will she have to pay the insurance co-pay on her next doctor visit out of her allowance? Where does it end?

  68. Lynn says:

    #5 EJW @ 2:28 pm October 13th, 2010

    Pay for the underwear, take the expensive garments and have her buy them back from you with her allowance. Give her a re-do.

    I like this idea. You won’t get this in real life, but it’s a fair compromise.

  69. Johanna says:

    There may be an even bigger financial lesson to be learned here.

    Melinda set a minimum number of pieces of underwear for her daughter to buy, putting the burden on her daughter to figure out that the minimum was inadequate and that she should buy more. (At least, that’s my reading of Melinda’s letter – if that’s not what happened, my analogy might not apply.) Banks and lenders do much the same thing. They’ll set a minimum payment and a maximum balance for a credit card, without telling you that it’s a bad idea to max out your credit card and pay just the minimum. They will (or they used to) approve you for a mortgage that’s far to big for you to reasonably afford, putting the burden on you to decide you can’t afford it. A lot of adults have gotten in big money trouble this way.

    On the one hand, it’s easy to say that those adults *should* have figured out that they needed to pay more than the minimums on their credit cards. On the other hand, how many people really figure that out 100% on their own, without any help from any other source (parents, teachers, books, magazines, personal finance bloggers…)?

    On the one hand, sure, this is a “teachable moment” with the lesson that you can’t always trust that a “minimum” someone sets will be adequate, or that a “maximum” won’t be too much. On the other hand, even though it’s true that we can’t trust banks in this regard, children of all ages should be able to trust their parents. If a parent gives her child advice, or even something that sounds like advice (like “you need at least X pairs of underwear”), it should, in my opinion, not be deliberately bad advice.

  70. Becky says:

    I have a 15 year old who I do this to. I basically give her the money and stress the fact that she is to buy underwear, bras, and socks FIRST! Those are the most important items. Then she is free to choose how she spends the remaining money. I was there to offer her support the first couple times we went shopping. Now I trust her to do it on her own.
    Now we are bickering about shampoo. She wants an expensive brand. I told her she is free to use mine (an inexpensive brand) or she needs to buy her own. She is learning that life is all about choices and right now she is buying her own grooming items.

  71. Karina says:

    After reading some of these comments, I wonder if people REMEMBER being a kid…

    I think both are at fault here, but one fault is greater. 12 year old kids do not have the same brain development that an adult does-the part of their brains that make impulse decision is raging, and that’s exactly what this girl did. Was it a mistake? Sure.

    Mom, on the other hand, perhaps gave a little too much freedom with this ‘spend it on whatever you want’ mentality-she set a goal for her child, thinking that she would purchase prudently. Obviously she didn’t.

    What this girl is going to remember more than anything is that her mother prized $10 over her daughter’s stress. The act of laundry isn’t difficult, it’s the TIME (and the waste of water, if she’s doing loads twice a week just for underwear, since she presumably isn’t wearing enough clothes to create a full load!!). Presumably this girl has school and a plethora of after school activities, be it cheer or choir or debate club or sports.

    My lesson learned would be-don’t count on mom. She cares more about her miserly $7 for a pack of 3 undies at Walmart then she does about her daughters needs and wants. And that’s a shame for all involved.

  72. Lynn says:

    “My lesson learned would be-don’t count on mom. She cares more about her miserly $7 for a pack of 3 undies at Walmart then she does about her daughters needs and wants. And that’s a shame for all involved.”

    It’s *obvious* the mother is trying to do the right thing. Now she doesn’t care about her daughter because she’s trying (succeeding or not) to teach her some life lessons? That’s ridiculous.

  73. Roberta says:

    Lynn: I don’t think it’s right to refer to Karina’s comments as “ridiculous.” She has her point of view, as do we all. There are different ways of going about doing the right thing, and that’s precisely what this discussion is about. She brings up a good point about time being a worthwhile currency too, and about the stresses of school and activities, and also brings up the idea of how the daughter will feel long-term after this, and the effects of her relationship with her mother. You may not agree with Karina’s points, but they are legitimate ones, and certainly not ridiculous.

  74. Holly says:

    This is why we don’t do an allowance…just look at the different perspectives in the comments about what the allowance should cover.

    My children are good students and behave admirably, so I allow them the extra $ for treats and experiences (within reason). For anything that seems too extravagant/expensive, we split the cost by having them part w/some of their saved birthday/holiday gift money.

    I do not expect them to pay for class trips or special events (even the expensive high school ones) because I feel that that is an important part of their school experience. I would not want them to be left out simply because they didn’t have $150 to pay half.

  75. Susan says:

    The daughter has 3 or 4 pairs of underwear and access to a washing machine. The worst that could happen is she continues to do laundry twice a week. I would say that her *needs* have been covered by her parents. In this case, additional underwear is a *want,* and as such, I think it would be totally appropriate for her to spend some of her allowance on more underwear. Allowance is money that is yours to spend as you wish when you’re unsatisfied with the basics that have been provided.

    I think in reality, the daughter does not *want* underwear so much as she wants to avoid doing additional laundry. If that is the case, the daughter should put her thinking cap on, because she has plenty of options here. She could choose to buy more underwear with her allowance. She could choose to ask for additional underwear for Christmas or some other gift-giving occasion. She could choose to hand wash. There must be additional laundry being done at some point in that household, and perhaps the daughter could negotiate to have her underthings added to a load of somebody else’s clothes. If left to think about the problem instead of being bailed out, the daughter could probably come up with additional solutions on her own. And she will come away from the experience having learned valuable lessons on budgeting, problem solving, and how many underthings she should buy in the future.

  76. Jen says:

    All good perspectives. One thing I have learned with my kids is “BE SPECIFIC”. We go through wardrobes together and donate the too small items and recycle the worn out items. We make a list of what they need and then go shopping. We provide basic brand/model. If the kid wants more, they pay the difference. For example, I buy basic jeans. If they want mall jeans, they pay the difference and pay a transportation fee to the mall :)

    Allowance is spent on entertainment and social extras. We fund the school field trips, extracurricular and sports teams fees but they pay for dances, basketball games, movies etc. We provide ingredients for sack lunch. They pay for hot lunch. We buy deodorant and Suave shampoo. They pay for make-up, axe, salon shampoo, etc.

  77. Gimena says:

    After reading several of these comments, I am so glad that most of you are not my parents.

    Too much was expected of a 12 year old. It has been medically proven that children of this age have trouble connecting their decisions to consequenses. Especially when they are as far removed as, because you only bought 4 pairs of undies, and that is too small of a load for the washing machine, mom will make you hand wash undies twice a week, but because the climate if humid, they take a day to dry, so I will have to plan a day or two in advance if I want clean undies.

    The lesson that mom needs to learn is that you can’t just give money and some vauge requirements. She needs to spend the time helping her child plan in advance how to spend the money.

    The lesson the child needs to learn is that PARENTS know more, are compassionate, and will take care of you (meaning basic needs material and emotional needs). In addition, she should learn how to put together a WRITTEN budget for all big lumps of money.

  78. Melissa says:

    I agree with Lurker Carl. Mom should take or buy back the shirt (like a return) and take her daughter to buy the underwear with the money it cost for the shirt. Then the daughter should have the chance to buy back the shirt with her allowance if she wants – or mom can actually return the shirt at the store if it is still an option and the refund money can go to some undies.

  79. cathy says:

    We are fortunate to live in a quiet part of town and our boys (five of them) have all had to deliver papers from the age of 12. No allowances from us – they worked for their money and, by the age of 16 (gasp) are expected to buy ALL their own clothes. We have never had a problem with them wanting money – they know that at least half of their earnings go into savings/giving and the rest they save up for clothing, etc.

  80. Kay says:

    Quick tip from fast food management: Give her a way to earn her underwear.

    Employee: “Can I leave half an hour early today?”
    Me: “Sure, if you clean the bathrooms before you go.”

    As a manager I always have a list of things that need to be done quickly available. If I see someone standing around, or if someone wants a favour from me, I can quickly give them something to do.

    Maybe next year the mother could have her child do an inventory of her closet before she leaves the house. If the kid comes up with her own shopping list, it won’t feel like it’s a batch of arbitrary rules that her mom imposed. It’ll be a big benefit when the child moves out to go to college. College life means money is plentiful during the summer months and scarce during the school year. It’ll be easier for the child to buy winter boots in July if it’s something she’s done before while living at home.

  81. Michael says:

    “they should consider more undergarments. Not only will they last longer”

    I’m not sure that’s true. It’s not like underwear get stronger by getting a week off instead of 3 days. Each pair has a certain number of wears before it gets worn out.

    A specific pair may still be usable longer if it is worn less, and having more pairs may lead to it being worn less, but the average number of days per pair of underwear should probably remain the same regardless of how many pairs you have.

  82. Daniel says:

    Looking at all of these wonderful ideas on how to save money AND help the children budget their allowance so that they buy the necessary items and they can get those little items that they ‘want’ that are not extremely important. I was struck by an idea: why not use the same mechanism to teach the children(or anybody) time-management skills? Time is more valuable than money. Use the same amount of energy and importance as shopping for school supplies as necessary tasks -clean their room, homework, wash the dishes,sleep, etc- as the “socks, and underwear” for shopping as you can in this little time management “game” you can play with your children. It is just a thought. I think this will be easily adaptable to any situation.

  83. Evita says:

    Walmart sells packs of 6 Hanes bikinis for about $7. What is the big deal? is the daughter’s allowance so paltry that she cannot afford it? one week’s allowance should put an end to the matter!

  84. Patty says:

    what if she came home with ‘enough’ undies but the dog stole one and ripped it…who buys a replacement then? (or one got snagged in the dryer or …? What about getting cheap ones that fell apart or shunk? What if a pair gets lost at swim practice or a slumber party?

  85. Patty says:

    when she gets more items (whether by her own accord or her mothers) will she be obligated not not whine about doing “laundry every week…ugh, life is soooo hard.” ? Seems like there may be lots of teaching moments possible here. Perhaps volunteering at a shelter or soup kitchen could put things into perspective…
    There is a lot to this story thats not covered. I think a 12 year old is allowed to get a cool new shirt for back to school to go with the esentials but balance is key in all things (time managment, money management, resource managment, whining managment…)

  86. Jessica says:

    Issues I see with the mom’s behavior:
    1. I think that’s too much freedom for a 12 year old to have.
    2. Why wouldn’t the minimum for socks and underwear be 7 pairs- one for each day of the week?

    Issues with the daughter’s behavior:
    1. Did it not occur to her that she wouldn’t want to do laundry every 3 days, so she should have known to buy at least 7 pairs of underwear?
    2. Doing laundry isn’t that hard. You put it in, turn it on then go do something else for 20 minutes.

    Once I turned 12 and started babysitting to earn $ (I got paid $1 per hour. And I’m only 31 years old)… I had to buy all of my own: maxipads, deodorant, shampoo/conditioner, underwear, socks, bras, shoes and clothes. If I wanted books, or anything else that was my problem too. I grew up in a working poor household.

    And let me say, I sure did learn the value of that $1 per hour I earned babysitting. At 16 I began waitressing. At 17 I worked in a grocery store. While in college, I had a work-study job and worked 2 jobs during the summer and worked during all my breaks. Ditto during my masters degree.

    Now at the age of 31, my husband and I are ready to pay off our house (4br, 2.5 ba, 2 car garage) this month, six years after buying it. We have no other debt. We have two young kids. And we earn average salaries and live in an average cost of living area. We have two paid for cars, one 12 years old and one 4 years old.

    The mom has the right idea but I think she went about it in slightly the wrong way. The daughter should either take back a shirt or pants and apply the money to more socks and undies, or use her own money, or as for them as a gift. And learn her lesson for next time.

  87. Deb says:

    I was raised much as Claudia (#7) was. I never got an allowance, but I was given money as I needed it. I learned money management skills by helping my mother balance her checkbook and count her waitressing tips. I learned to save or spend by saving my birthday money from my aunts & uncles. When I was seven I realized that I was spending a lot of money on candy every week, and look how much I would have if I saved some of it instead. I learned that I couldn’t do every summer activity because we couldn’t afford to do more than one or two, so I had to choose.

    I will say that a 12 year old is MORE than capable of understanding the consequences of decisions that they make. Not all of them do, and many do need guidance to understand where they made a mistake and how they could have done something differently to have a better outcome; but don’t say they cannot understand.

    I do think that the mother should stand her ground in this case. She specified that any clothing above the $250 would come out of her daughter’s allowance. In effect, if the shirt was $10 and she spends $10 on underwear, then the cost of the shirt just came out of her allowance. If the daughter can hold out until Christmas, it is perfectly reasonable to me that she get socks and underwear for Christmas instead of something else that she put on her wish-list.

  88. R. May says:

    Eh – well if she’s doing laundry twice a week, she probably has 3/4 pairs of underwear. I think Trent is right, a minimum should probably be at least 7 pair, which means the mother set a too low minimum amount. And like someone else posted – the 12 yr old heard mom say -“at least…” and assumed that was ok. The mother is paying out more for laundry costs than then the daughter is “learning” from this lesson. Yes, kids need to learn but they also aren’t adults. They understand consequences, but this girl is probably thinking “Why did mom say i only needed 4 pair of undies?”. One of the best examples a parent can set for their kids is being able to say – “Hey, I was wrong (too) – this is partially (or all as the occasion sees fit)my fault”. Perhaps splitting the difference would be better a viable solution – mom pays half for what she needs, daughter pays other half.

  89. Chris Gagner @ SmartPF says:

    If her daughter had made the right choice and bought enough undergarments, she would have had to use her allowance money to buy that shirt that she wanted.

    Now because she bought the shirt with her mom’s money, she’ll need to use her money to buy the undergarments. That’s just the way life works kiddo.

  90. LeahGG says:

    At 12 I would have known that you need 7 each of underwear and socks, and I think that I pretty much believed that those things could only be bought in bulk at Costco at that point, so I would have left $20 aside for those things at Costco…

    I think that the girl really should be paying for her own in this case, since the money was provided, but she spent it on wants -so now she’ll need to spend her own cash on needs. If the mother wants to “bail her out”, then she can allow her daughter to toss her socks and undies in someone else’s load once a week so that she won’t be wasting a whole load on it.

    For future parents trying a similar experiment, I’d recommend sitting down and making a list with your kids, reminding them that they should probably have enough of everything to only need to do laundry once a week.

  91. This is a very interesting port and resonated with me.

    Allowance was a bit of a mis-nommer in my house. I’ve been working since I was 8 years old on and off. I start delivering the Penny Saver in my neighbourhood, graduated to delivering the Toronto Sun and moved on to working a proper part time job at 15 (legal age to begin work in a grocery store in my city). Money was put into my very own savings account and used for try wants. My mom provided the necessities for my sister and I but major wants had to come from our own money.

    it was a great lesson in saving watching the quarters and dollars add up in an account and experiencing the turmoil over watching that account get knocked down because we wanted something that mom wouldn’t pay for. What did happen in my family was that things we wanted and could wait for became Christmas and Birthday gifts – if we remembered and still wanted the item. It was also a lesson in putting true value on items and not wanting them because they looked cool or other kids had one so we wanted it.

    Money was tight. As a child I didn’t know why. As a teenager I learned why. Once I got my paper route, I started paying for things like school trips and clothes and what not because I understood we didn’t have a lot of money and my mom couldn’t afford to pay for all the opportunities that came my way. by paying for them myself I understood the sacrifice, the struggle, the decisions that needed to be made and how you really don’t need to eat at McDonald’s on Friday night with your friends so you could put that $10 towards the trip to New York City in three months.

    While purchasing necessities for your kids is important as a parent, explaining why sometime things you want have to wait is equally important. The lesson from above will not be lost if the child keeps having to do two loads of laundry until the next gift-giving day arrives. A talk about making decisions should be had, not to show why the child is wrong but to explain that each decision should be made with some thinking involved. The parent can discuss decisions being made by the child as they go by simply asking the child to think about how this might impact them in the future and having them articulate those thoughts. Steering them down a path that opens their mind and broadens their thinking scope will help in future decisions. This is a wonderful lesson for both parent and child. Simply because in future decisions it would be prudent for the parent to say “I know that you really really like this shirt, but lets think together about how spending the money on this shirt will affect you next week. Can you see any way this may negatively affect your life next week or even the week after? would this cause you to have to do two loads of laundry each week or could you do one?” Or something that. Directive questions are a good way to help them think a little further than I really want it because I want it.

    My mom used to do this with me – and sometimes she’d suggest I remember the item, and write it on a list when we get home so I can ask for it for Christmas or my birthday from a relative, and make the better choice now by doing that. it also helped that she would sit down and help me plan out what I would be buying with the $250 and what it would mean to laundry day(s) or how it would affect something else I was doing. Sometimes she let me “fail” and get the thing I really wanted but maybe wasn’t a good use of the money, knowing it would inconvenience me in some way and I’d understand that sometimes you have to see the consequence of a decision that wasn’t the better option. She never said I told you so, and never set me up to fail, but let me make a decision and live with it. Sometimes she’d help me correct the mistake either by seeing it, or waiting until I came to her with a compounded problem, but she was always there to put the band-aid on when the failing/falling happened.

  92. Reader says:

    Kinda off topic, but maybe worth thinking about with regard to the providing needs but not wants mentality:

    One of the sticking points for many is this girl specifically bypassed providing for her needs in order to satisfy a want, and now uses the fact that she has a *need* to justify why her mother should pay for the expense above the original budget. How this works at 12 is irrelevant to my point which is I know plenty of adults that do this with far more serious results. They blow their money on pizza and clothes and then turn to their parents for rent because the money is gone. Then the parents feel stuck because shelter is a *need*, and it winds up being an endless cycle.

    I am not saying this 12 year old is going to turn into a deadbeat if mom buys her underwear. But doing the mental exercise of expanding the situation can help clarify one’s own thinking on the subject and at what ages and dollar amounts one draws the line.

  93. Janis says:

    An interesting teaching experience, even if it did not go as planned.

    Reminds me of when my youngest sister was about the same age as the daughter here (and I was already living on my own). My sister wanted a fancy salon cut and perm which my mother could not afford. When my mother joked that they would be living on beans and rice – and precious little of that – until her next paycheck, my sister wheedled her until they struck a deal: sis would get the trip to the salon and would eat what they could afford without complaint. After a few days of limited fare, my sis knocked on the door of a friendly neighbor to ask for food since she was “starving.” Mom was mortified. My sister’s response: “Hey, I was a kid. What did she expect?”

  94. Honey says:

    Seems like a more appropriate “punishment” would be that the child doesn’t get to budget their own clothing purchases anymore!

  95. joane says:

    The fact that Trent’s oldest is a boy is telling. With pre-teen girls, buying plain, basic stuff to meet the needs does not cut it! I have pretty much the same system as Melinda with my daughter, but I did give her pretty strong guidance early on. My daughter did complain about socks, underwear and bras being in the allowance, but it taught her that the ones at Target are quite fine. I still buy shoes (2 pair/year), jackets, running shoes, sports equipment. This system puts her in control of what she wears.
    I try not to give advances on allowance, but it sounds like this is one case where Melinda should, or have her do extra chores to earn the money.

  96. Todd says:

    Mabye it was just Melinda writing that she and her daughter were “having a money war of sorts” that started me off with a skewed impression. As Johanna, Karina, and others pointed out, it’s that tone of “war” and “teach her a lesson” in some of the posts that’s troubling. The only thing I’ve ever learned from “being taught a lesson” is resentment. I think most children (and most parents) are generally people who try to do the right thing. I don’t see a need for this to be adversarial. The tone is much more important than the actual solution. I’d like to think this will become a fun family story–“remember the time you bought six months’ worth of clothes and only three pairs of underwear?” rather than “I thought I taught you a lesson, child!!”

  97. Lois C says:

    Wow! I may be getting old but money is money. Youngsters should be taught to conserve their allowances from the word go. By 9 years old, they should already be prepared to spend at least part of their allowances on special things they want. True, parents should furnish a certain percent of the necessities. The fancy stuff should be saved for. They will appreciate it more if they have to work for it. Do without a movie or video game. Spend the money on that special shirt, etc. My girls are grown and appreciate the frugal ways they learned as teens. We did not buy them a car at 16. They saved for it and paid the taxes, tires, gas and insurance. Don’t spoil them too much. You and they will appreciate it later.

  98. jannietom says:

    buying back an item of “want” clothing is the best way to handle this. a 12 year old does have enough smarts to know the difference between needs and wants. if mom gives in and buys the underwear because daughter is whining, that is what daughter will remember, whine and i will get what i want. i had 2 boys, one is extremely responsible (the youngest), the other is well into his 20’s and still depends on his dad to support him because his dad never made him financially responsible. he works full time but spends his money on his wants and then doesn’t have enough for his needs so he goes to dad for a
    “loan” that never gets paid back. dad bails him out everytime.

  99. Laura says:

    What I would find more important would be to encourage good hygiene, by making it as easy as possible for the daughter to have clean underwear available, i.e., by working out a solution to get her more pairs. I can see the temptation, especially for a pre-teen, to just wear a pair a couple days in a row just to avoid laundry. That’s probably not a situation you want to invite.

    Mom could try spreading out the amount of money, such as $60 every season, instead of $250 at the beginning of the year. It could be easier for the daughter to handle a smaller amount but it could still help her learn the money skills. It will also give her more opportunities to practice budgeting, instead of one big “make it or break it” shopping spree that ends in a war and scares the daughter off of budgeting.

    I never did my own laundry until I was in college; my mom did the laundry in my house. Yet, when I was on my own, I *somehow* managed to catch on pretty quick. Kids will have the rest of their lives to do laundry, and that will work itself out, but they’ll never get this time as a kid back. Instead of fighting over laundry until Christmas, mom could work out a solution quickly, and let the daughter put her energy back towards other more meaningful activities like school, extracurriculars, or getting enough sleep. I see that people are concerned that daughter will turn into a brat if mom “gives in,” or that daughter will not learn to be responsible, but I think that this is not the end of the world. There are many other ways to teach responsibility.

  100. J.O. says:

    I think the takeaway from these eight-odd comments is just that there are many perfectly adequate ways to handle the situation. As in so many other parenting issues, there is no one “right way”. The parents’ job is to compassionately help their children learn, to think through their chosen system, and re-jig it when necessary.

  101. Elysian says:

    #20 KED – My thoughts exactly. Trent, when your kids are in middle and high school, will field trips still be paid for? Spanish club trip to Mexico? Band trip to Florida? These things are really expensive “field trips”.

    I never got an allowance, and when I turned 16 and got my first job, I had to pay for all my clothes, most of my food (including things from the grocery store that went into the pantry/fridge), and everything that we’re calling “necessary”. It’s hard to determine what is necessary and I think that the disagreement is inherent in these comments. Is one pair of underpants all that is necessary? Two? Four? 20? Where do we draw the line? It’s all dependent upon a lot of things. We don’t know her family.

    Also, people are saying the kid will spend $20 on a package of underwear. Gosh, where are you shopping? Basic undies are like $7 at target.

  102. Nate says:

    Just force the child to give up one of the extra shirts in exchange for the undergarment purchases or give the option to have allowance withheld to keep that extra shirt. Give helping hand, but don’t bail out.

  103. Steve in W MA says:

    A lot of deciding whether this a reasonable expectation on Mom’s part depends on the overall financial situation and becavior by the parents as well. If Mom is getting Starbucks every day or eating out just because she doesn’t want to bother making her own coffe, but telling daughter that the $250 for clothing is a firm limit, I see problems. But if it’s a household where money is needed for specific things and it’s all budgeted out, I think being stricter on this issue could be appropriate. I also think that just having a sitdown and going over the issues involved is important. I really liked Diana #52 approach to the issue, which could be paired with either a “use your allowance” mentality or a “you made a mistake and we talked about it and I’ll help you out with the underwear this time” mentality.

  104. As a father of 4 teens with a 5th approaching that age soon, we’ve gone through the clothing allowance scenario described in the post several times. We let the child propose the budget, we review it looking for omissions of needs or excessive wants and revising accordingly, and then let them manage the spending decisions within the budget (with lots of conversations along the way). Anything outside or over the agreed budget has to come from their modest general allowance or earned income or bday money.

    Having them struggle with balancing between wants/needs and dealing with the consequences of any overspending has proven to be an extremely valuable experience every time.

    Of course the details of the arrangement (rules, size of budget, etc.) should be tailored to your own family’s specific situation and values. But, the general exercise seems like an excellent warm-up for the real world.

  105. J.O. says:

    Of course I meant eighty-odd, not eight-odd :)

  106. Jan says:

    Trent- my experience as a high school mentor was that children who had to work for experience (field trips, sports, band concerts) rarely did them. Money became more important than experiences.

    I did this with my daughter around that age-but always before the “season” started. We put things on lay away (old fashion- but coming back). We then could take it out and go through the purchases in a calmer manner before she actually needed them. That is when we talked about wants and needs.

    That being said- buying underwear is a $15 expense. IF the deal was brokered- stick to it. Find a way for her to make the money. Teach her how to do a hand wash (bras should not be done in the washer anyway). If you cave, it will haunt you. Since $250 is a pretty good budget to begin with- she could continue to think money grows in those ATM machines (not uncommon for my middle school 12 year olds to think).

    BUT, do your part as well. Don’t splurge. Keep your own spending within limits. Talk about money- where it comes from and where it goes.This is a HUGE teachable moment- don’t waste it!

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