Saturday, August 30, 2008

A-L-L-O-W-A-N-C-E

Monday was allowance-day when I was growing up. We five kids were required to spell the word “allowance” to our father as a request for our weekly “pocket money” (as it is so-called in NZ). I have since decided this ritual was born in Dad’s hope that:

  • begging for money would be less aggravating by somehow “cute-ing” up the request; and /or
  • it would be educational (I can’t tell you how many times my ability to spell “allowance” in 1.06 seconds has come in handy).

Now, before you get all lime-like in colour because YOUR dad didn’t come up with such an adorable little learning exercise, consider our incremental pay-advancement scheme:

Developmental Stage

Allowance Amount

You can talk, and notice your siblings are getting money

You get 25c per week

You are accountable before God for your choices (age: 8)

You get 50c per week

You are no longer described as a “child” but are a “young man” oryoung woman” (age: 12)

You get $1.00 (one whole dollar!) per week

You attend high school and become a teenage-rights activist (age: 13ish)

$20 a month

You negotiate a fair trade agreement that secures your right to pay all of your own fees and out-of-house expenses (age: 15ish)

$170 per month

As a result of this, our perception of money was somewhat warped. Our childhood views of finance are best summed by my youngest sister, Mariah, who said:

Once when I was something like 7, my sister Erika found $10 at the supermarket, under a bread tray shelf. That was a lot of money to us wee kids, who earned 25c a week allowance. I remember saving up to buy a jawbreaker gobstopper that cost $1 which I then made last as long as I had saved up for it.

I remember that gobstopper. It was the size of a tennis ball, and lived on a small, white paper bag on a child-sized desk in the girls’ room for about 4 weeks.

I also recall a branch activity at the chapel where my brother’s friend, Blaze, gave Mariah some of his spare change (I think it was 30c). Mariah was giddy. Erika learned of the gift, and the two became quite distressed about the inability to split the 20 and 10 cent coins between them. Flash-forward to my dad – striding towards Blaze, coins in hand, to apologetically return the change saying something to the effect of, “I’m sorry, we simply can’t accept this – it’s more than what the girls are given in allowance for an entire week”. Blaze closed his hand around the coins, dumbfounded. Dad was satisfied. The girls were crushed. Blaze and his friends were entertained…for years to come.

The $170 per month was one of the wisest decisions my parents made. We held a family council meeting where we listed all the costs that come up at high school, e.g. a bus pass for one term ($50.00), school trip costs, school fees, clothing, netball subs, etc. It meant that we had to base our co-curricular commitments on our personal budget and think about transport responsibly. Here dawned my love for op-shopping, and therefore more money left to belong to 3 sports teams at once, many clubs, and afford train-trips to Wellington upon occasion. I also started waitressing at this age, which funded the early emergence of my movie habit.

I’m not sure how allowance / pocket money and increments will work in our family in years to come, but of one thing I am certain; I will learn from Dad’s wisest decision – that is, if you’re gonna give a kid money, why not make them do something for it? An irish jig, perhaps?

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