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Two of my kids are participating in Somerville’s Open Air Circus this summer, a local circus produced by and for kids. My teenage stepson is taking a leadership intensive and teaching classes in everything from unicycling to juggling, while the five-year-old in my life has become an instant expert at balance beams, tumbling and running around like a maniac in “circus pants”.

This is all practically free for me (we paid a $20 membership fee at the beginning of the summer, for six weeks of classes). It’s gloriously disorganized and fun, and the kids are learning a lot. Not only about how to perform in a circus, but how to be in a class or teach one. We love it.

The Open Air Circus is the progeny of a grown-up circus called the ExtraTerrestrial Circus Experiment. They would love it if everyone came to their benefit show this weekend. Here’s their information about it:

ExtraTerrestrial Circus Experiment is putting on a benefit performance on July 10th at The Armory in Somerville. Advanced tickets are on sale now at http://www.openaircircus.org/benefit.asp at $8/child (5-18 years old), $15/adult, and $40/family (admits 2 adults and 2 children). Tickets at the door will be $12/child and $20/adult. Please let all your friends know about this opportunity to enjoy a spectacular performance while helping support the OPENAIR Circus.

Please consider coming in a green fashion (public transportation, walking, biking, skating, etc.). We have some directions on the above page of how to get there but are glad to help you figure out a your particular path if you email us with your starting location. If you do come by car, please remember to park in the lot behind the Armory to try to avoid street parking congestion.

Rio's allowance jars

Rio's allowance jars

This post at the Simple Dollar got me thinking about kid’s allowance money. It got me thinking too much for a blog comment over there, so you get to read all about it.

Kid’s allowances are one of my most regular cash expenses, along with groceries and gas for my car. All the frugal living tactics I know of would tell me to cut them out, just like I’ve canceled all my magazine subscriptions and club memberships. They’re a recurring weekly expense that is not strictly necessary, and they’re not helping me pay down my debts. That’s not a line item I want to see in my budget.

But I keep giving the kids an allowance. Why?

I want my children to share in the wealth of the household. Everyone who lives here gets a bed, clothes to wear, food to eat, time and space to do work they love and to pursue a social life, and the loving support of their family members. Everyone also gets a little pocket money, that comes from the income brought in by the adults in the house. I don’t consider this stuff everyone has a right to, it’s just the contract we’ve made within our family about how we run our household.

There aren’t any restrictions on getting the allowance. It is theirs whether or not they do chores, behave themselves, or spend it wisely. Just like the expectation that they will help clean up after meals and treat everyone in the house with kindness is there whether they’ve had a bad day or the other sibling really started it or they just don’t want to. It’s part of being in this family.

I understand that many people also use allowance money to teach kids about how money works, and if mine learn something from getting theirs, so much the better.

Here is how we do it: everyone over the age of 4 gets a weekly allowance equal to one dollar per year of their age. If you are a child, that allowance is divided into four categories: Savings, Spending, When I’m A Grown Up (this is known as Investing to adults) and Giving. Trent from Simple Dollar calls this approach The Money Savvy Pig Philosophy. I first read about it in a magazine where I think it was simply called “a good idea”.

We started giving an allowance to my older daughter when she started asking me to buy things for her that I did not want to buy – in particular a replacement for a pair of sparkly sequined shoes that had been given to her as a gift, and which she wore till the sequins rubbed off and the soles gave out.

When Rio began getting her allowance, she saved carefully for those sequined shoes, and after about two months was able to buy them. She was thrilled to buy them with her own money, but hasn’t saved up for a big purchase since. She has nearly worn out the new pair by now, and has plenty of money saved up to replace them if she wants to.

I got four glass milk jars from a local dairy and labeled them Spending, Saving, When I’m a Grown Up and Giving. Rio helped by decorating the labels with watercolors. Then I began giving her four dollars a week with the caveat that she needed to put one dollar in each jar. Now that she gets $5 a week she can choose where to put the extra dollar. Mostly she uses it to buy bubblegum.

Like Trent plans to do with his son, I started out giving Rio her allowance in Sacajawea dollars, but stopped when she got upset by that and said she wanted to get paid in “real dollars”. I may start again because someone gave her a Sacajawea dollar for her birthday and now she’s fascinated by them.

My teenage stepson also gets $15 a week, one dollar per year of age. This feels like a lot to me, but is also about what he spends on bus fare and a few trips to the cafe around the corner to get some quiet time away from his sisters. Unlike with the little ones, I don’t restrict how he spends or saves his allowance. I do model what I hope is good behavior with money, and talk openly with him about frugality. The other day we built a bicycle together out of spare parts so he’d have a summer ride, rather than buying him a new bike. I think he learns a lot that way.

Is he too old to just be handed money? I don’t think so. Right now he has perfect grades, a weekly volunteer gig and a heavy load of summer reading for his fall classes. I don’t want him to sacrifice any of those things to a summer job because he feels a want of pocket money, so I give it to him. I worked a lot in high school, and I don’t think it taught me anything useful about managing my own money or helped me build any career skills for my future. My time would have been better spent doing more volunteer work and creative skill-building, so that’s what I want my kids to focus on.

Serena, the toddler, got in on the allowance action when she saw me giving money to the other kids. She wanted to be part of that ritual so badly she actually learned to say the word “Money”, or something like it with fewer consonants and more insistent hand gestures.

For Serena, I created a single allowance jar, also using an old milk bottle. I give her a few coins from my wallet each week. We put the coins in her jar together, and a few times a week when she wants to play with it, we take her jar out and she gets to dump all the coins on the floor and carefully pick them up again and put them back in the jar. She gets real value out of the money I give her – as a toy! And she doesn’t feel left out of the allowance system.

I’m sure our system isn’t perfect, but we haven’t run headlong into any big problems with it so far. Except the recurring expense issue, and I can happily afford $20 a week for my kids’ allowances. Because I’ve learned to live frugally myself in so many other areas.

What do you do with kids and money? Do your kids get an allowance? How much? Under what conditions? Let me know in the comments.

Martin took Ian (his 15-yr-old son) to the Shepard Fairey exhibit at the ICA last month. They spent the evening at the museum (which is free every Thursday), and then came home and surfed the web for awhile getting more information about Shepard Fairey.

Then Ian sat down at his computer and made this:

Liberty has no posse

Liberty has no posse

I love it when homeschooling works like this. A simple field trip, which was as much parent-child bonding as it was a “lesson”, followed by a child-led research mission, followed by an entirely spontaneous creative project that helped seal in the learning and express his own take on it. I bet he learned more that evening than in a month of classroom history lessons on the same topics.

Ian is not homeschooled most of the time. He attends a charter school in Denver, where his mom lives. But we can’t help wrapping him right into our homeschooling life when he’s here.

Ian is here for spring break. I am reveling in his intellectual energy. He flew in overnight, from Colorado, and had to sleep on the couch when he arrived because we had weekend houseguests staying in his room.

When I came downstairs in the morning, both his little sisters were climbing all over him. He looked sleepy and rumpled, but happy. As soon as he saw me, he said, “Hi! It’s good to see you! Look what I’m reading.”

What he’s reading is a 500 page biography of Trotsky. Which he wanted to talk about at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Oh! to be 15 again.

Seriously, I would never be 15 again for all the wisdom and hot sex in the world. OK, maybe for all of it, but certainly not for any amount of it I had access to when I was 15.

But I love it that he is 15, and that’s he’s sharing so much of his discovery of the wide world and all the cool stuff in it with me. When we’re hanging around the house, he just talks at me all day. About his Shadowrun game, about the economy, about Trotsky, about Chinese history, about the Mormon kids at his school. Half of what he says is either flat-out factually wrong or adorable in its naivete. But he’s talking to me!!!

My little girls talk, talk, talk at me all day long and by dinnertime I’m praying they had an off-switch. But I’m painfully aware of the monosyllabic fugue teenagers can drift into, and every day that goes by with the words still flowing between me and my teenager feels like an epic win.

Flickr Photos

Holding hands

Emerson graduation smiles

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More Photos

A little bird told me…

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