How Making Kids Do Chores Makes Them Rich, Possibly


One of the things I like to do is take out the latest personal finance books from the library. Each visit, I head straight to the new books non-fiction section and check out the Dewey classification  number used for personal finance books: 332. I can’t tell if it’s sad or impressive that I know this number by heart.

The latest book to hit my bedside table is Smart Is the New Rich: If You Can’t Afford It, Put It Downby Christine Romans, who is the host of CNN’s “Your $$$$$.”

She has a chapter devoted to Family Money and in it, she says:

Here’s something simple [to teach your kids] that will pay dividends when your little darling gets old enough to have a credit card or a school loan:  Take out the trash. Children who have chores growing up are more likely to be better with money down road. The kind of kid who takes the trash out twice a week, or changes the water in the fish tank, or has the special job of folding the towels and making sure they are delivered to the bathroom – that kid grows up to be more diligent about money.

The theory is: Early and consistent expectations about the contributions a child must make in the home translate into responsibility with money later on.

Hmm, I thought, I wonder if this is one of those situations where it’s a case of correlation versus cause. That it’s not so much the act of doing chores that makes kids financially responsible but more that the type of parents who will insist children do chores are more likely to teach them the value of a dollar.

Romans cites the Charles Schwab 2010 Families & Money Survey as the basis for this advice. The survey reports that children who regularly did more chores growing up are reported by their parents as more financially responsible as young adults.

But take a closer look at the responses behind this:

Source: Charles Schwab 2010 Families & Money Survey

Yes, parents of young adults who did chores as kids are more likely to say their children are very financially responsible, but see how 39% of parents whose kids did zero chores still say that their kids are very financially responsible?  That’s still a healthy amount of money wise kids. And when it comes to “somewhat responsible” young adults, there’s basically no difference in whether they did chores or not. I’d say the jury is still out when you look at these numbers.

So, my first thought was: don’t show this data to the kids.

My next thought was: but surely, beyond the fact that parents should not be their kids’ slaves, there must be some other benefits to chores? After a bit of digging, I came across a fascinating report over at Parenthood describing research by Dr Marty Rossman, emeritus professor of family education at the University of Minnesota (she retired in 2004).

Dr Rossman found that involving children in household tasks can teach them “a sense of responsibility, competence, self-reliance and self-worth that stays with them all their lives.”

You have to agree that these are all qualities that would undoubtedly help in making financially responsible decisions so I’m going to take a leap here and say that doing chores could – possibly – make your kids rich later in life.

But here’s the kicker. You have to start when they are three or four years old.

According to the Parenthood report:

“The key is to start early,” she adds. “If you don’t, it backfires. The study showed that when a parent started their children in tasks at ages 9 to 10, or worse, 15 to 16, the children thought that the parent was asking them to do something they didn’t want to do. They didn’t get the concept of ‘we’re all in this together.’ They were far too self-centered.”

How sad and scary is that? To have kids who are so self-centered that they can’t see that they need to be part of the family team?

If you’re the parent of a preschooler reading this, lucky you. You should immediately (if you haven’t already) have your kids cleaning up their toys, “helping” you with sweeping and taking their plates from the dinner table to the dishwasher.

For parents of kids age 5 – 12, I wouldn’t give up immediately. I think you have your work cut out for you to turn things around but I think you can do it. And it’s going to be as hard for you as it is for the kids because you’re going to have to be consistent in enforcing that your children do their chores and you don’t end up doing them instead. Because every parent knows that it takes less time to do something ourselves than to argue, persuade and hold our ground in order to get a recalcitrant child to do a chore! Perhaps my favorite piece of advice from Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children needs to be taped up in your household:

Stop treating your children like disabled royalty!

For parents of teenagers who are not doing any chores around the house, I’m afraid you are out of my league. Maybe the motivation you need to tackle this can be found in this video. Would you really want to see your twenty year old behaving so pathetically on national TV? Or in his/her college dorm room?

Our boys currently are responsible for unloading the dishwasher every morning, laying the table for dinner, making their beds and taking out the trash. What chores do you give your children?

(Image by Neeta Lind)

2 Responses to How Making Kids Do Chores Makes Them Rich, Possibly

  1. […] as the way towards independence – for both the boys and us! Given my new discovery that it’s important to get kids involved in chores early – ideally when they are three or four – I am now an even bigger supporter of Z’s […]

  2. sandrine says:

    i’ve read parts of your blog with interest as i am focusing this year on learning how to engage us all to have a love affairs with money and get my children to have a certain sense of wisdom and responsibility towards it. it will take some time, unlike others maybe, we don’t have to the $$ gene!
    your article about chores seems to me logical. Only one thing though, if my children do their chores, i still have to be the one telling them to do them even if it is part of their daily routine. i don’t pay them for it. I don’ t get paid to cook, wash, do the garden, etc… life is not just ” i do so i
    ‘ll get paid” ” if i don’t get pay, i won’t do”. i think the incentive is beyond the money, the best and more you do the more rewards will come to you ( in various forms). smart kids are the product of a smarter education, at home and school, and unfortunately school is failing and parents are busy to make their own money. but surely simple steps like chores, responsibility and income/expense balance sheet, are the beginning of breeding savvy children. but i also believe that kids taught by kids will learn faster. any blog made by kids ( with parental guidance and content approval) with video on how them make $$ and what to do to get richer from a child’s point of view will motivate them more than a parent. from a parent is it still an obligation not a personal duty.

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