Make Your Kids Pay for These 7 Things: They’ll Thank You Later

Liam Bedingfield, 4,left, and his sister, Lofta Bedingfield, 7, help their mom, Lisa Bedingfield, not pictured, check out at Safeway in Largo, Fla . Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder
Liam Bedingfield, 4, left, and his sister, Lofta Bedingfield, 7, help their mom, Lisa Bedingfield, not pictured, check out at Safeway in Largo, Fla . Tina Russell / The Penny Hoarder

The great allowance debate aside, we all want our kids to grow up to be financially smart and self-reliant. That means giving them the opportunity to practice handling and managing money. We all know it is better for them to make mistakes with $5, $20 or even $200 than to make major $50,000 mistakes as adults.

Whether your kids get a no-strings-attached, weekly allowance, are paid for chores or are given the opportunity to pick up small jobs at home and in your neighborhood, here are seven expenses they should be paying for themselves.

1. Checkout Line Gimmes

The checkout line is much less stressful when kids have their own money. You don’t have to feel like the mean parent who says no all day, but you also don’t have to indulge your child’s every last desire.

“Mom, can I have this 53rd pack of Pokemon cards or a bag of potato chips?”

“Sure! If you have enough money.”

2. Lost Lunchboxes, Backpacks, Etc.

Looking back, I’m surprised my mother didn’t tie all of my brother and my belongings to us each morning when we left for school. We were notorious for the sweater left in the gym locker room, a lunch box freezer pack accidentally thrown in the garbage or a mitten forgotten on the bus.

Sometimes we were able to recover our possessions, but others were lost for good. One way to get your kids to respect the cost of their stuff is to require them to replace it themselves.

If a lost item is too expensive, feel free to advance them the money if necessary — but expect them to pay you back through their allowance or side projects. And be sure to let them know that repaying debts comes before that new Lego video game.

3. Library Book Fines

Borrowing from the library is often a child’s first experience with loans and financial consequences. Teach them that if they are old enough to have their own library card, they are old enough to keep track of when their books are due.

A 15-cent late charge is better than a $25 late charge that can hurt their credit score as an adult. If they struggle with the concept, help them mark the due dates on the family calendar or let them put sticky notes with due dates on the book covers.

4. Toys and Video Games

Aside from holidays and birthdays, we can’t try to shell out for each and every thing our child sets their eyes on. Toys and video games are the perfect introduction to saving for most kids and a larger expense they can fund themselves.

Putting money in the bank for college or retirement is mystifying to an average 8-year-old, but stuffing $2 to $5 a week in their piggy bank for a robot dog may make perfect sense to them. Just be sure to maintain your veto rights over inappropriate or unsafe games.

5. Holiday and Birthday Gifts

If you’ve gone to a child’s birthday party lately, you have likely seen how out-of-control gift giving has become. Weddings are even worse. It is the suburban arms race.

Help your kids understand that a great gift is one that is thoughtful — and within the bounds of what they can afford. Let them plan out gifts for their siblings’ birthdays or for the holidays. Then, either help them set goals to save for those purchases or encourage them to make something by hand instead.

6. Cell Phone Plans

If your older kids have cell phones, make sure these regular expenses aren’t hidden from them. Bill from FamZoo makes sure his kids’ allowance is high enough to cover their part of the bill, as long as they budget for it, but there are other options too.

Let your child have a basic no-data-plan phone for emergencies — but if they want to surf the web and share photos on Instagram, they have to find a way to pay for themselves. This enforces the message that you may be willing to cover the “need” of reaching your kids at any time but that the other functions of a phone are still “wants”.

7. Entertainment and Outings

Family dinners and movie nights are outings that parents still pay for — that’s the joy of being a kid!

But the kids can pay themselves if they want to go bowling with their friends, take the optional school trip to Six Flags or meet for ice cream. This gives them the opportunity to weigh their options and learn that they can afford anything — but not everything.

Childhood is about freedom and fun, but it is also about learning. Make sure you’re giving your child a chance to learn how to budget and make smart spending decisions!

Chelsea Brennan is an investment professional, mother, and founder of the family finance site, Mama Fish Saves. Her passion is helping parents feel empowered about money so they can reach their goals and raise financially smart kids!