Frankly, kids are terrible with money – let one do a week’s shopping and you’ll lose your house in the process. And yet, cold, hard pocket money has long been used to bribe little people into cruel and unjust tasks, like wearing socks and not plugging appliances into the toilet.
But as society modernizes, so too do the capitalist values we impose on our young seem to adjust. Research from Sky Mobile showed that 84 per cent of families with children aged 12 to 16 offer alternatives to spending money – bribes in the form of extra screen time, later bedtimes, friends or the ever-reliable candy as an incentive to do simple chores rather than straight-forward dosh.
Conversely, parents say today that the money is This is usually a convenient way to buy virtual currency in video games: Fortnite’s V-Bucks, Minecraft’s Minecoins, or Roblox’s Robux.
Part of the decline in pocket money is believed to be due to the inability to pay for digital or online goods with physical money. You can’t insert coins into an iPad or give the Amazon driver a tenner and wait for your change.
But there sure is some saying for the tangibility of physical money, giving something that won’t come back. One parent I know says that when their sons want to buy something online, their money boxes have to be searched, saying, “I want them to physically hand over the money before I use my card, rather than deducting it from a future payment.” , so they feel like they’re actually spending.”
But maybe putting coins in their hands every week isn’t exactly conducive to being better with money. In the Sky Mobile survey, 56 per cent of parents said not using the £x a week model meant children were less likely to spend all their money at once. Several parents I’ve interviewed about this have used words like “inconsistent” or “ad hoc” and said they allocate money on a case-by-case basis, depending on what it’s intended for.
Money must be profoundly confusing for young children these days. For my five-year-old daughter, it’s essentially a toy – 90 per cent of the transactions she’s witnessed have been made with a card or phone, with physical cash only accepted at county fairs, 2p fountains in seafront arcades or at the power supply the trips to petrol stations were issued.
Not that this is necessarily new – when I was young my parents plucked money out of a machine in the wall. (I had an idea for a con where I would take her – and that was a damn good plan – lots of money pleaseso we would be rich.)
For overthinking parents, pocket money is easy to knot. Paying a child not to throw their panties around the house feels like providing the wrong incentives. Being helpful shouldn’t be something you do for money, right? When a roll of toilet paper runs out, you don’t put on a new one for a sweet monetary reward, you do it to be a helpful member of a clean-ass household.
And what if the jobs are not needed that week? The research mentioned above found that 12-16 year olds complete four tasks per week, such as setting the table, doing the dishes and loading or unloading the dishwasher. In an admittedly impractically hectic week where every dinner is eaten at someone else’s house, everything that’s happening financially doesn’t seem right. It’s terribly complicated. Also, many newer solutions (like the GoHenry prepaid debit card designed specifically for kids) require the admin to upload funds and simply remember to do so.
Also, there’s something medieval about completing a quest and being rewarded with a shiny coin as if you were a fool game of Thrones. Also, for a pound, 45 minutes of cleaning up is a crappy hourly rate. Think about it and it may feel… exploitative? Can you march against the increased cost of living with a clear conscience and then pay your offspring such meager sums? (Yes.)
But any fee offered just for passing is somehow both too much and not enough. Ask any parent what their child brings to their life and you’ll get a hearty speech, but translate it into a sum and it’s a little less pretty: “Two pounds.” Leave me alone.”
Then there’s the financial literacy argument: money needs to be made to be appreciated, and gradually saving for something special teaches you the value of being sensible.
A friend’s children get 20p a week for each year of their age (ie £1.40 for a seven-year-old) which automatically goes into a Monzo pot, along with occasional bonuses for their helpfulness. “You can’t see it, so it’s easier to save up,” she says, and they’ve done an impressive job, with one amassing enough to buy an Oculus headset.
But when everything is extortionate, it’s hard to stress the importance of every penny. For a child earning a pound a week, watching Scrooge McDuck swim in his tub of gold coins or lighting a cigar for a £100 Premiership footballer must be like watching a parent throw a domino ordered for a sum that would take six months to indicate.
Adult life involves endless, grueling money stress, plus guilt for making too much or shame for making too little. Ask an adult what they earn and they will respond as if you would spit in their mouth. Certainly for every argument that early financial education helps, there’s one thing about delaying it. The playground can be quite unforgiving – an objective difference in spending money in families with different financial situations can draw a clear line. Could a more free running system avoid such noticeable discrepancies. Or is it just messy?
In short, we should probably make a revolution and start over with a barter system. But until that happens, entrepreneurial kids will find ways to make money: I recently paid my nephew £1 to drink a jar of salad dressing. He loved it, I loved it, but the real winner? Capitalism.