Should You Dock Your Kid’s Allowance As A Punishment?


I love seeing how other families set up allowances for their kids so am always on the lookout for parents sharing their experiences. Bob Helbig at the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, caught my attention recently with the approach he’s taking with his two daughters.

They have a chores-based allowance so they get paid for doing specific chores around the house. What’s interesting is that Bob not only has a contract with each daughter, he is also using the allowance to fine them for infractions such as forgetting a lunch box at school (50 cents docked from the allowance each time it’s forgotten) or failing to turn the light off in a bedroom when it’s not in use (25 cents fine each time this occurs).

Regular readers will know that I’m in the “no chores” allowance camp, but I like how Bob adds a contract for his daughters. They clearly understand what their end of the bargain is.

The fines, though, worry me. Z and I got ourselves into a difficult place a few months ago when we accidentally started docking the boys’ allowance for bad behavior. Unlike Bob’s fines, ours were arbitrary, depending on how angry we were feeling at the time. We realized that we were giving consequences that had no bearing on the actual behavior so we agreed to stop using the allowance as a punishment tool. It was important to us to keep it as a way for the boys to acquire good money habits.

There are several reasons why docking your kids allowance as a punishment can backfire:

  • According to Carlos Vargas in a blog post on, one of the major downsides of withholding an allowance as punishment is that you’re effectively teaching your child that they can buy their way out of trouble. You’re setting a price on acting up.
  • It’s important to take the emotion out of the allowance. Amy Nathan, author of  The Kids Allowance Book, makes a great point in this article that “Money should be separate from discipline. If you cut off allowance for bad behavior, your child may think that she’s being paid for good behavior, not the message you want to send! … Rewarding your child with money when he’s pleased you and taking it away, when he’s angered you, lays the foundation for making financial decisions based on emotion.”
  • Dr Robert Brooks has heard from parents who dock their child’s allowance as a punishment that the children have often become angrier. “You can keep your money!” was one reported retort.

One option that Z and I continue to keep open is the idea that if either of our boys are careless with their belongings, then they will need to pay for a replacement. So, for example, if they lose a sweatshirt at school, then they need to buy a new one. (Interestingly, M has become much more conscientious about his belongings since we announced this rule.)

We had to put this into practice recently when both boys accidentally damaged library books. I made T, who is 10,  take the book to the librarian and apologize and offer to pay. He hated doing this as he was scared that he would be in trouble. The librarian was surprised. She said most people don’t do this. She took a look at the book and said that it was OK, they would be able to fix it.

For M, it was different. We were about to go away so I used rubber bands to hold the book together (it was a thick book of comic strips and he’d dropped it awkwardly and the spine had pulled away with the weight of all the pages), wrote a note explaining that we’d be happy to pay for repair or replacement and dropped it off at the library. Unfortunately, it was a brand new book and needed to be replaced so M was out $30.00. He took it with good grace.

For people in the chores-based allowance camp, you actually need to dock your child’s allowance if the chores are not done. It’s another reason why this doesn’t appeal to me as you have to keep track of what was and wasn’t done. Plus, how much do you pay if just one chore wasn’t done on one day? Have you assigned specific values for each chore per day? Or is it a zero tolerance policy where one chore missed means the whole allowance is docked?

As always, our approach to allowances is a work in progress. It’s working well for both parents and kids right now. How about you? Do you fine your children for bad behavior?


One Response to Should You Dock Your Kid’s Allowance As A Punishment?

  1. I like the idea of kids dealing with the monetary consequences of treating an item poorly or being careless with it. A great example is cell phones: many tweens and teens lose and/or break them without appreciating the cost of their actions. We like to give our older kids the option of either paying for monthly insurance or being on the hook for the full replacement cost. It’s also a good way to sneak in a quick mini-lesson about the concept of insurance.

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