Husband vs. Wife: How Much Allowance?


Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage—except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 7 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

This round, she says: the kids should get a lump sum allowance. He says: let's start saving for bail, our children will be robbing banks after they overspend what they've got.

Mrs. Fuchs: You’re not going to believe this.

Mr. Fuchs: What?

Mrs. Fuchs: Well, we’re about a month behind in giving the kids their allowance. Again. Allowance is supposed to teach them how to budget their money, but I bet it only works if I actually give it to them. I want them to go into adulthood knowing how to plan and budget like they know how to breathe. Maybe we should jettison allowance and do what my parent did. Just give them a lump sum.

Mr. Fuchs: A lump sum? They haven’t even realized we haven’t given them allowance. Let’s at least wait until they start hounding us for what we’re in arrears to them for before we start handing over lump sums.

Mrs. Fuchs: Let me finish. I got a lump sum every six months and I had to buy everything, including clothes, myself. If I ran out – that was my problem. Let me tell you, I leaned to budget.

Mr. Fuchs: Sweetie, we’ll have the world’s first five year-old bank robber.

Mrs. Fuchs: OK, OK—good point. I got ahead of myself. I actually had to start babysitting because instead of socks, I bought Shaun Cassidy records. So maybe the kids have to be there developmentally. But at 12, our oldest might be. She has some sense of the passage of time and can make decisions that weigh the short term against the long-term.

Mr. Fuchs:
Better than me.

Mrs. Fuchs: She got it from my side of the family.

Mr. Fuchs: Is there a good attribute she didn’t get from your side?

Mrs. Fuchs: Hmm. Anyhow, this is a good way to teach budgeting to a 12 year-old, a lifelong lesson.

Mr. Fuchs: Wait a minute. I haven’t stayed married this long by voicing my disagreement…and I’m not going to start here.

Instead, I’ll turn it over to William Wright, the president of Guidance Financial Consultants in Wichita, Kan., and the chairman of the Financial Planning Association of Kansas. He says that concepts like this are “rosy and look idealized and wonderful on paper,” but tend not to work with the vast majority of children.

Mrs. Fuchs:
Why not? Because of the sock thing?

Mr. Fuchs: Well, he says (not me, I’m only quoting someone, Hon’), it’s not just that some of the kids will blow their money on “stereo equipment and piercing,” but he says that in any family he’s ever worked with, the only way to transfer financial ideals down is “through parental oversight.”

Mrs. Fuchs: I wasn’t going to let her loose—

Mr. Fuchs: Good, because Wright offered a scaled down and enhanced version of your plan. Maybe we can go with that and report back to readers on how it worked.

Mrs. Fuchs: What’s his plan?

Mr. Fuchs: He says that six months is way too bulky a time period. Goals will get lost in time. Instead, we should give a month’s worth of expense money. But on a weekly basis, we should sit down with our daughter, in order to monitor her expenses. This involves everything right down to getting receipts from her and watching her do the arithmetic to see how much money she has left that month. She spends. But we watch over it. “To get what you expect,” Wright says, “you must inspect.”

Mrs. Fuchs: Catchy. And seems to make sense.

Mr. Fuchs:
Like Wright says, it's freedom, mixed with a lot of handholding. “Just look at the way you taught them to cross the street,” he says.

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