Science of Parenting: Kids and Money

AMES, Iowa – Giving an allowance, paying for chores, offering money as a reward for good grades: are these successful parenting strategies? How to help children develop a healthy relationship with money is up for discussion in this month’s Science of Parenting podcast from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

pre-teen and momTimothy Griesdorn and Clinton Gudmunson, assistant professors in human development and family studies at Iowa State, offer their expertise on the matter along with program host Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and extension specialist at Iowa State, and “parent-on-the-street” Mike Murray. The 30-minute podcast is available for free download from the Science of Parenting website or can be subscribed to in iTunes.

“Kids are learning from all of your behaviors, both good and bad. You are, indeed, role models, and your children do watch you, even though they may not listen to you actively,” Griesdorn said.

Money in the Family

Helping children develop a healthy relationship with money “is not really a money issue. It’s more of a family, teaching and communication issue,” Gudmunson said. “You don’t want to turn money use into the way you express love in the family. Don’t punish based on money; don’t say, “now that you’ve been good, I’ll give you money, that’s the way I’m going to reward you.’ It’s just a poor substitute for love.”

Griesdorn said, “The key is not to use money as the substitute for spending time with your children. You still need to have that one-on-one relationship with your child.”

“You don’t have to consciously try to teach your children everything about money,” Gudmunson continued. “Go ahead and let them learn from their own mistakes. Let them buy that thing that you know is going to disappoint them. Better to have them learn it early in life when the stakes are low, rather than later in life, when there’s no one there to bail them out.”

On Allowances

Giving children an allowance offers an opportunity to teach. The amount given is not as important as what it means. Parents can explain why the amount is appropriate and why it’s different from a friend’s allowance. It’s a way to teach about larger life issues, Gudmunson said. “Children really understand fairness, they really understand differences when you put it in those terms.”

By giving an allowance, “you’re giving your children some of their own resources,” Griesdorn said. The key is to clearly identify what the allowance is for – whether for entertainment, clothing, personal products or other uses. This helps children learn to manage money.

Paying for Chores

Griesdorn suggests that if parents give their children an allowance, that they do not link it to chores. Not paying for chores helps kids learn “they are part of this family and they need to do things to help the family,” Griesdorn said. “You may be opening Pandora’s box if you link chores and money. You lose the ‘we’re all part of this family and we need to help each other out.’”

Money for Grades

Paying for good grades can lead to unintended consequences, Griesdorn said. “Children will tend to take the easy classes so they can get the easy A, and the joy of learning tends to seep away. You have to watch out for using money as an intrinsic motivator, because it really isn’t.”

Science of Parenting Resources for Parents

The Science of Parenting podcasts offer research-based parenting advice from experts across the country. The monthly podcasts are available for free download from the Science of Parenting website,, or can be subscribed to in iTunes. Each month a new, 30-minute Science of Parenting program will be available, as well as previous podcasts and other research-based parenting information.

Through the Science of Parenting blog,, ISU Extension and Outreach specialists share and discuss research-based information and resources to help parents rear their children. Parents can join in the conversation and share thoughts and experiences, as well as how they handle parenting responsibilities.