Teach Your Children to Work for Everything They Want

How do you navigate your children’s wants and needs? Do you have an allowance for your children, or a credit card you fund for them? If you provide the money for them to learn to manage, it can be a bottomless pit. Sometimes it can never be enough. America’s marketing machine is working on all of us to become hyper consumers. M.Russell Ballard said in the 2005 October General Conference:

“Have a simple family economy where children have specific chores or household duties and receive praise or other rewards commensurate to how well they do. Teach them the importance of avoiding debt and of earning, saving, and wisely spending money. Help them learn responsibility for their own temporal and spiritual self-reliance.”


Recently I read an article comparing American debt to Chinese debt. When you look at the structure of households of both countries, there are similar amounts of assets related to each country’s citizens’ income.

“ The level of debt to average income, however, is not.  The average US household debt is 136% of household income, compared to 17% for the Chinese.


Roughly 12% of the Chinese in the study owned a car with only 0.7% of the population (6% of the automobile purchasers) borrowing money to purchase a car.  In the United States, anywhere from 73% to 91% of new car purchases involve financing.”1

That is a shocking statistic.

The “Buy now, pay later” approach has been very successful for American businesses for the last 60 years but it has created a culture of easy credit and no saving for its citizens. We as citizens and as a country are headed over a cliff. Craig and I wanted our children to be owners, not debtors. We didn’t want them to have any debt from college, and to have their houses paid off in 7 years instead of 30. We wanted them to learn as Dave Ramsey says, “Live like no one else and later you can live like no one else.” We wanted our children to have an incredible work ethic and learn self-sufficiency.

Author and Speaker James Jones was a great help for us in figuring out how to manage this new world of teenagers in the intense marketing, “look-at-what-my-friends-have” landscape. He coined the phrase, “teenage retirement” and pointed out that we have a new world where adolescents don’t work and aren’t as responsible as they have been in generations past. With America’s better standard of living, we baby boomers have essentially changed parenting. We want to have our children have easier lives than we did. We have created monster schedules for these teenagers where sports, school and church activities leave little time for them to work at a job. James Jones promoted starting a “token economy” in your family where if teenagers wanted something, they would have to earn it. Initially when we started in 1997 with a 12 and a 9-year-old , and we told them they had to buy their own clothes and pay for their own entertainment, they both started to cry. Ok, so are timing was terrible! Especially for the 9 year old! I came back from Education Week at BYU on fire, but our brilliant plan overwhelmed and shocked our kids. First of all, 12 is a good age to start doing the token economy, any age earlier  can be paralyzing. Younger children still need to be doing jobs around the house because they live in the house and need to contribute to our family’s well-being without being paid.  What we have learned since then is that we need to be just like a master gardener who nurtures his seeds under a warm lamp, inside, with plenty of water and good soil.

A few weeks before spring planting starts, he begins to harden the baby seedlings by taking them out during the day and then back to the safety of the greenhouse before the temperature drops at night. “Hardening” is the essential word here. They can’t just stay inside in the hothouse or they will never bloom or grow strong. The gardener knows he can’t take them from the gentle conditions of his indoor atrium out into the cool spring weather– they’ll be overcome and die quickly, with the weeks of delicate nurturing lost.


This careful managing of learning to work for others, figuring out your own money and taking responsibility is so tricky. After that arctic blast that made our first two children weep, we got better at hardening the new baby seedlings. We helped them feel excited and confident about becoming successful adults. We adapted James Jones’ token economy to fit our own needs. We simplified and developed our own Age Bench Marks to map through all of  our teenagers’ working life in order for them to be confident in the working world.



2.JUNE  24, 2010 Forbes—”Big Difference Between Chinese and American Households: Debt”

Next post: More on the Token Economy and  what our Age Bench Marks are.

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