Pocket Money – Please Sir, may I have some more?

I don’t know of any parent who has successfully navigated raising children without the issue of pocket money coming up. In some families such interactions between the parents and their offspring have led to rifts of seismic proportions! There are children and parents who both report enduring trauma…

Nowhere in the United Conventions on the Rights of the Child does it state that pocket money is a child’s right! There is no law that compels you to provide your child with pocket money to spend at the tuck-shop. Nor is there any legislation in the world that binds you to the dreaded civvies days at schools. No-one says, on pain of death, thou shalt provide thine children with money for monster slime.

At NFS we are allergic to law suits. I would therefore not be caught dead trying to dictate to you what would be deemed ‘appropriate pocket money’. I DEFINITELY won’t tell you what percentage of your gross earnings you should dole out to your biological minions…

Money and the messages it sends – love, reward, shame or fear in Rands and Cents?

So why is this such an emotive issue? Let us look at YOU for a moment.

How do you feel about your income? Do you like having it? Do you need it? Do you really need ALL of it? All of the time? Really? Even the bits you spend on pizza as a reward to yourself on payday? Apart from providing the necessities of life, what would you be able/unable to do if you did/did not have it? What does financial freedom mean to you? Do you reckon any of these answers could correspond with the experiences and motivations of your child?


Let us delve a little deeper – be THAT fearless parent! Examine for a minute where your own beliefs around money come from. What experiences around money did you have as a child – not only in terms of yourself and the issue of formal-once-a-month-every-month pocket money – we know times have changed.

However, sometimes the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same.

How did you see money portioned out? Who spoke to whom and to what effect? Were they allowed to answer back? What were the T’s & C’s and the privacy settings around cash flow? As a child, how did this make you feel? Did you have any say? Did it cross your mind at all, was it a constant worry or a threat?

Children reflect the emotional messages and experiences they receive in their behavior and attitudes. I want to leave you (and potentially your therapist!) with three questions:

  • Is you approach to money (pocket money for the kids and yourself) based on possibly outmoded responses to your direct or indirect experience of money as you were growing up?
  • What is the potential for mixed messages or double standards, when the emotional, practical, social and educational motivations for giving/withholding money overlap?
  • Do you apply the same standards to yourself as you do to the children when it comes to rewarding or punishing yourself with money?

Money and emotional development – is it about buying stuff or people?

Giving children pocket money can be a vital tool in the Parenting Toolbox to teach life skills – both the hard skills AND the soft skills.

Some of the First Peoples in the USA developed a child development model, called the Circle of Courage. It is based on the metaphor of a medicine wheel – when all of the elements are working well, the child will be encouraged to be a good citizen. When there is disruption in one of the areas, all are affected and the child ends up feeling discouraged.

Can we apply this to finances, where the little ones are concerned? One can use the Circle of Courage as a way to examine and teach our relationship with money. You could use it to work out a proportional allocation of differing amounts for different reasons. This can teach budgeting skills and holistic financial planning and literacy.

The four interconnected elements of the Circle of Courage are as follows:

1.Belonging – learning that we can depend on others

We live in a capitalist economy. We generally have to buy things, instead of relying solely on trade. Western cultures place emphasis on reward and enjoyment in monetary terms. Pocket money can be a divisive factor and can cause heightened anxiety in children. The experience of this is greatly influenced by the intention of the giver. Be aware, as mentioned above, about how you communicate with your children about money.

Ideally, you would want to convey the message that we share what we have, not only because we must, but because we want to celebrate the fact that we love one another. Just like you want a bit of money for things you purely enjoy and do not need, so do your children.

2.Mastery – learning to make sums

Development is a naturally positive phenomenon – all people (just like pot plants) can and will thrive, if placed, watered and fed correctly! How do we place, water and feed our offspring? By giving them nurturing environments, the physical resources and relationships they need and giving them opportunities for growth.

All children, once they start to learn how to add and subtract, can benefit from learning to budget. Financial discussions should start as early as possible. Talk to your children about how you approach your money – the pro’s and con’s, what you dream about, what you need to consider and the goals you have set for yourself – individually and as a family. They won’t know otherwise. They may well think money grows on trees!

3.Independence – learning to make good choices

There are few things in our society and cultural contexts that can make a person feel as helpless as not having choices. One of the biggest threats to our children’s futures is the fact that life has become so demanding and the pressure is on to achieve – and buy – everything RIGHT NOW. The link between cause and effect is often diluted and interrupted by the speed at which we move from one thing to the next and the multiple ways that we focus only one dealing with what requires attention in the moment.

Saving pocket money can be a good place to start to teach the power of delayed gratification. Encouraging older children to pick some short, medium and longer term goals is excellent. You can teach them the value of commitment and interest by structuring a contribution to the value of a certain percentage from your pocket, should they meet interim goals. Teaching them to invest larger amounts can send them on their way to developing financial freedom and instil the principles of wealth creation.

Our bad habits

Many of us seem trapped in a cycle of bad financial habits. We pay the minimum on our credit cards and constantly ‘up’ the maximum. We go into debt to pay debt. We work only to meet deadlines, so we postponing meetings endlessly. We go on ‘make-up’ dates at expensive restaurants with our spouses (and pay for it with our credit cards) to compensate for anniversaries missed. We buy our children gadgets in lieu of time spent together. Sounds familiar?

Having joint saving goals with your kids (e.g. a high-interaction, low-screen-time holiday) can bring a sense of shared responsibility, possibility and positively modelled behaviour. Sometimes, we all have to face the consequences of our behaviours and poor decisions. Not constantly bailing out our children by lending them money against next month’s pocket money can prevent dysfunctional spending habits taking root.

4.Generosity – learning to appreciate others

The philosophy of Ubuntu tells us that I am a person, because you are a person and recognises me as such. Our children rarely have the opportunity to experience this. We talk about the current generation as being selfish but it is we who pressurise them into being achievers and consumers. We who teach them that the focus should always be on ‘me’ and what I can gain/achieve/possess.

Gratitude has become a platitude – a mere formality. Children are taught to ‘say please and thank you’, automatically without any expectation of them to invest in it. Consider introducing a system by which your children pick a charity to support on a regular basis and help them formulate for themselves WHY they choose that particular organisation. Help them investigate what the organisation needs and what impact their financial support will have on the organisation. Perhaps they need more than money. Perhaps the children can volunteer or do a donations-in-kind fundraising drive at school. This will help your children learn that not all people or animals live as well as you or yours. It will make them aware of what it takes to really look after another.

What happens when ‘enough’ is no longer enough?

What if you lose your job or your circumstances change, then what? We all know the dictum ‘don’t start it if you can’t finish it’. This is often used by people who resist wanting to make promises they cannot keep. And yes. One should try to keep all your promises. Not doing so has consequences. But life happens.

My advice is this: make a payment plan, just as you would with any creditor! NOT because you owe your children pocket money! It will teach them that a change in fortune is not the end of the world. It will show them what financial commitment looks like. It will introduce them to the fact that one can negotiate, and what that feels like for the one on the receiving end that needs to make concessions. Most importantly, it keeps you real and honest with you children – something money cannot buy.

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