"Do I get a quarter for that?"
It is a question I hear often, and it is totally a problem of my own making. Perhaps you've heard it said, "Even an atheist finds God in the trenches." In a similar fashion, I have a firm belief that even the most well meaning and knowledgeable parents discover the power of behavioral theory when raising toddlers. Behaviorism can be boiled down to providing a tangible reward for a specific task. In order for it to remain a powerful motivator, the rewards need to continue coming to maintain their effectiveness. Intermittent reinforcement is the most powerful, meaning if it works at least some of the time (screaming, crying, begging), you're likely to see more of it. Most of the time, it probably shouldn't be our first choice as parents, but there are times when I tend to go there anyway.
This presents an interesting challenge for me as a dad. One of the most common ways to motivate your kids is to reward them for doing something they otherwise have very little interest doing. In our house, I sometimes resort to quarters. We have given the boys chores to do, and up to a point they just did them with a healthy combination of over-reminding and cajoling from us. Unfortunately, over time that does lose its luster, especially when they've become highly skilled at ignoring me or their mother and show much greater interest in doing anything but doing what we've ask.
Enter the quarter. Our boys are assigned to feed the dogs when they get up in the morning. Our four-legged, family friends don't care if it's 4:00 a.m. or 4:30 a.m., if you are the first one up, it is your job to feed them. Failure to do so will result in them annoying everybody who takes breath, even if those older persons are still sleeping.
After 10,000 reminders, I just decided that I was going to pay two quarters for each of the three jobs that were completed daily--two for each bowl and two for being the scooper of dog waste in the backyard. Initially each boy resigned himself to his job (bowls for the twins, and scooper for the big one), but quickly even the quarters lost their motivation until one of the twins figured out if you get up before everybody else and complete all three jobs you got six quarters. That kid is going to make a great entrepreneur some day.
We have three very different types of earners in this house. The saver, the spendthrift, and the communist. The saver, is the child who will always look for additional jobs around the house to earn some extra cash, which he then puts in his bank, and doesn't spend. The spendthrift only tries to earn money when there is something that he wants . . . like right now. He would do anything for about an hour in an attempt to earn that new bike or another set of Legos. (He is the one who will pick up buckets of dog poop, if you post a picture of that elusive Lego set on the window). Finally, we have the communist. He doesn't particularly care about earning anything, figuring he has more than enough toys to keep himself happy for a long time and the extra work probably just isn't worth whatever he would get.
Why do I bring this up? When it comes to financial education for kids, you have to remember one size isn't going to fit all. Kids need to be given choices how to earn, and distribute their wealth. And, as is true for many kids, this will likely go in cycles.
I expect that at some point even the spendthrift is going to save his pennies to earn something. The important thing is to keep giving your kids options to learn and make mistakes. Since saving is so important, I have worked out a deal for the boys where if they choose to put a quarter into the saving side of their bank, I will also match it with another quarter. The savings can only be opened once a year, so there is no instant reward for taking the additional quarter. Even now they have started to pick that option more often particularly as their understanding of value has increased.
My boys still have many lessons to learn about money. Thankfully, they're young so Mrs. B and I still have plenty of time to teach them as we continue to learn and grow ourselves.