How to Put Your Kids to Work Around the House and Teach Them Financial Responsibility

Delegate Household Tasks


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Delegate Household Tasks

Earning Their Keep

While America's economy reopens and life around the country inches toward something resembling normal, social distancing guidelines remain in many places. For many kids that means a far different type of summer than normal — one with fewer playdates and in-person summer camps. But those long summer days ahead may be a good time to teach your children about the importance of contributing around the house, if they don't already. Which chores are appropriate, and how do you best incentivize kids to pitch in? How does the work connect with lessons on financial responsibility? Cheapism asked parenting and personal finance experts to weigh in.

Related: How to Talk to Your Kids About the Financial Realities of the COVID-19 Crisis

Delegate Kitchen Tasks
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Chores to Lighten Your Load

This may seem obvious, or perhaps should go without saying, but ideally the chores you identify for the kids should make your life a little easier. "Consider what alleviates your own to-do list and is age-appropriate for the kids," says Ty Stewart, CEO and president of Simple Life Insure and father to a 3- and 6-year old. "For older kids, that might be helping meal prep for dinner, unloading the dishwasher, or planning a fun sibling game that doubles as babysitting. For younger kids, it can be sorting laundry, taking out the recycling, letting the dog out, and dusting and sweeping."

Toddler under kitchen cabinet

Age-Appropriate Chores

Perhaps the first step in putting kids to work around the house is identifying safe, age-appropriate chores, says Kathleen Owens of Aurora Financial Planning & Investment Management. "Kids progress and learn at different levels, so you need to gauge how easy or hard a chore might be, and use common sense," Owens says. "Little ones should not be handling anything that could cause harm, such as sharp objects, anything hot such a cup of coffee, or a caustic chemical like a bottle of bleach or Tide pods."

toilet paper roll

Chores for Toddlers

Even children as young as 2 can help out in some small way around the house, says Amy Carney, a leadership parenting coach, mother of five teenagers and author of the book "Parent on Purpose." "They can help set the table, placing napkins or silverware on the table," Carney says. "They can help put groceries away, or even help stock toilet paper in the household bathrooms."

laundry with kids

Chores for Kids 6 to 12

As kids get older they can be called on to do more. Those who are 6 to 12 years old might begin helping with laundry tasks such as matching socks, folding towels and washcloths, and helping to put laundry items away, Carney says. 

You Don't Taste Your Food as You Cook
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Caring for Family Pets

Helping to care for a family pet is yet another reasonable chore to assign kids, starting as early as perhaps 6 years old. "They can clean and fill a pet's water bowl, and measure the food and put it in the bowl," Owens says. 

Related: 14 Cheap Pets That Are Easy to Take Care Of

Trash Cans
Wash a Car in the Driveway

Washing the Car

Do you have a child of driving age who uses a family vehicle regularly? They can wash the car too, Owens says, and be responsible for filling it up with gas.



If you have children with a bit of an age gap, consider adding babysitting to the list of household chores for the elder kids, says Jamie Kim, a certified physician assistant. "My older children have been contributing by watching and playing with my toddler," says Kim, founder of My Itchy Child. "My toddler suffers from eczema and is constantly scratching. My 7-year-old daughter is old enough to understand what to do and play with her younger toddler brother to distract him from scratching."

Related: Why I'm Glad My Kids Are 6 Years Apart


Playing to Their Strengths

Still not sure where to start with chores for your child? Claire Barber, a family care and mental specialist and founder of the wellness site Treeological, suggests focusing on your children's strengths to help identify logical chores. "The preteen who is athletic and enjoys sports can offer to help teach or coach younger kids. ... Kids who are tech-savvy can help out a grandparent," Barber says. "Expertise in any area can be shared at a fair and reasonable fee. There's a great incentive to earn money, and even more so by doing what you enjoy."

teenager on phone at home

Contribution Before Consumption

Parents might want to consider establishing a household ground rule — or at least a mentality — that the daily work of contributing to the household comes ahead of play. "Write out and discuss daily expectations of tasks to be accomplished before screen time or play is allowed," Carney says. "It's best to set up a daily rhythm for contribution in the home so kids understand their role and what is expected of them."

sticker chart

Nonmonetary Rewards

Some parents find it a big help to establish a rewards system through which kids can earn points toward a prize. "Make a chart, placing a mark next to the child's name each time a chore is completed and done to perfection," says Varda Meyers Epstein, parenting expert and editor for the car donation site Kars 4 Kids. "Decide how many times the child must do a chore before earning the reward. The prizes are whatever you decide — staying up late on a Saturday night, a chocolate bar, a toy, an outfit."

Discounts for Paying Cash

Cash Allowance

There are varying opinions among parenting experts about the effectiveness of rewarding kids for their work with a cash allowance. Steve Siebold, author of "How Money Works," is among those who advocate for offering kids a financial reward. "You're tying money to value and teaching children to think, 'How can I create value in exchange for money?'" he says. "It teaches kids to look for problems to be solved and to be entrepreneurial. They associate money with solving problems and not with entitlement."

Related: 4 Ways to Teach Your Kids About Frugality

cleaning toilet

Regular vs. Occasional Chores

When it comes to incentivizing children while also teaching financial responsibility, Siebold suggests offering a kind of overtime pay. "You should have a combination of tasks that have to be done daily or weekly — taking out garbage or general yardwork — to provide the basis for a weekly allowance, and extra chores that happen periodically, like cleaning the car or shoveling snow, that kids get paid extra for," Siebold says. "If they want money for a toy, you want them to look around the house and think, 'How can I help? What can I do to solve a problem and earn money for the toy?'"

Mow the Lawn

Researching What to Pay

Again, not all parents will want to pay their kids for being a contributing member of the household, but for those who do want to follow this approach, Siebold suggests putting some thought into the chores and what to pay for each. "Sit down with your kids and set a price on all chores that go beyond the basics like making their bed and cleaning their room," Siebold says. "Keep the amounts small and do your research. For example, if a chore is mowing the lawn, find out what the going rate is in your neighborhood and don't exceed it."

father and son doing dishes

Alternatives to Financial Rewards

Dennis Shirshikov, senior financial analyst for FitSmallBusiness, argues that financial rewards eventually become unmanageable, and that parents should instead work to teach children the value of accomplishment. "Money and privilege suffer from a scaling issue. Today mowing the lawn is $5, but tomorrow to get the same enthusiasm it's $10, and so on. The same effect happens from privilege, especially because repeatedly earning the same privilege has lower value over time," Shirshikov says. "While it takes longer, you should strive to instill a sense of achievement from a job well done, which scales much more and will teach your child the value of hard work."

Organize in Stages

Room for Improvisation

Don't micromanage a child doing a chore. "Parents leave too small a window for improvising with an activity by defining too many rules about how something can be done," Shirshikov says. "This is a good exercise both as a parent and manager in learning to delegate an entire task and leave some things as unknowns. Let the child decide if the pantry is ordered by size, shape, or type of food."

kids cleaning windows

Raising Responsible, Mature Children

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal in parenting is raising self-sufficient adults — and doing housework and chores is a life skill, says Dr. Kelly Curtin, a pediatrician with Parenting Pod. "Your child may have already been doing housework, but now is the time to make sure that they're developing a work ethic. Helping around the house promotes gratitude and decreases entitlement."