Do Paid Chores Pay for Themselves?


My son now travels three days a week, and my daughter-in-law has knee problems. What to do about such tasks as gardening, lawn mowing, leaf raking, etc.? They could hire a gardener; but their kids, now teenagers, are confronting scarcity: Their allowances no longer cover the things they want to buy—they have become economic people.

To solve both parental and offspring problems, the kids have offered to engage in household production in return for extra pay. The garden now looks better, leaves are raked more quickly and the lawn is mowed on time—and the kids have more spending money. I have no doubt that paying the kids is cheaper than hiring a gardener—cheaper than the market solution. Of course, my son could order the kids to do the tasks, but paying them is a nice way to give them spending money. I wonder, though: Does their pay of, say $10, represent a $10 increase in income? Or does my son cut back on the things he used to pay for and now makes the kids pay for themselves? If so, do teenagers understand this kind of fiscal substitution?


If so, do the teenagers spend the extra money on drugs? If so, then do the teenagers actually find what you write entertaining or remotely connected with anything on Freakonomics?


I wonder... Maybe not the fiscal substitution as much as acknowledging the desire to become the decision-maker for the spending. Specifically, even if it is the same $10.00, do the increases in autonomy for the spending as well as the esteem from earning and spending (love capitalism!), outweigh the real or even perceived substitution? Enjoyed your questions and perspectives!


Surely the kids are not going to go out and buy their own toothpaste with the increased pocket money. Kids are pretty smart. They won't spend money on items their parents normally buy.


Yeah, but things like clothes or junk food are things that parents sometimes give up buying when kids are given enough spending money.

Miley Cyrax

"Or does my son cut back on the things he used to pay for and now makes the kids pay for themselves?"

I would speculate and say yes, but wouldn't asking your son be quicker and more accurate than asking us?

"If so, do teenagers understand this kind of fiscal substitution?"

Probably not conceptually, but they aren't so dumb that they wouldn't notice that daddy used to pay for movie tickets but not anymore.

"My son now travels three days a week, and my daughter-in-law has knee problems. "

At least it seems like your son gets to enjoy himself four days a week...


The post is about his son and daughter-in-law's kids, not his kids.

Reading comprehension, it's fundamental!

Miley Cyrax

Last time I checked, his son is the father of his son and his daughter-in-law's kids by definition. And re-reading my comment it's quite evident I got the facts straight the first time, especially with the last sentence. Jumping the gun on snark, it's fundamental! Oh wait...


One unexamined distinction with chores for money vs. an actual job (for the kids) is the time commitment. Assuming they are old enough to flip burgers or mow lawns in the summer, the real-world employment alternative usually requires commitment to a work schedule which may be many more hours than they are obligated for to rake a few leaves for a few extra bucks. In this way, the kids may prefer the occasional chores to a real summer job.

Meanwhile, I doubt the parent is removing any meaningful benefits, unless the father was already paying for a luxury like gas money or car insurance on behalf of the kids and removes those perks when the chores are added.


They could also use the experience to start a lawn mowing business, which might be the best alternative! Someone needs to teach these kids about opportunity costs, stat!

Gonzalo Ureta

When I where younger. Sometimes I got a job to increse my income. At the same time my father short my allowance because He supposed that i didn't need more money at that time in response for my greater income.

Surely teenagers understand the "fiscal" substitution that fathers sometimes do.

Joshua Northey

If you simply give your children money there is a huge risk of spoiling their work ethic. Always make them do something for money. Even children as young as 5 or 6 can handle some chores, and by the time they are teenagers, they can be doing most of your housework, this in turn raises the whole family's income.

If you do this for them they will value money and work. They will probably make better decisions in high school and college, and not be cursed by the "disease of ease".

If have known way too many middle class/upper-middle class kids in their teens who won't work for $15-$20/hour because there parents give them $50/week+ pay for other expenses. These kids end up going to college and screwing around with a C average and a communications degree, and then are truly horrified when they graduate and find out what the world is really like.

Everything seems so unfair when you are raised to believe that a half-assed effort and no expertise is worth $30/hour.

Help your kids, teach them the value of work.



I actually disagree with this. An allowance shouldn't be contingent on doing chores. Children should be expected to do chores whether or not you pay for them because they're part of the family and that's just something you do. There's also the fact that attaching monetary rewards to the behavior can undermine intrinsic motivation. Do you want your kid to decide that the five bucks he gets for washing the dishes isn't worth the time and effort it takes so he won't do it anymore?

Michael Halberg

Absolutely. Such a rip off for kids. I am sure that if they held out on the chores they would still get the spending money and the parent is getting crazy cheap labor and don't have to do their previous chores. Additionally, the parent tends to artificially keep the price of labor low. If you say $10/hr and she rakes/mows/cleans for 2 hours per day they are not going to shell out $140 at the end of the week for spending money.

Impossibly Stupid

It's not just about buy *things*, but about buying *time*. And, really, isn't that the classic payoff of getting an allowance? Yes, a parent might eventually buy their child a cell phone, or some other must-have item, but if the child wants it NOW, then everyone benefits in the end by bumping up the value of chores. Even if the child understood they could just wait for their birthday to get the very same item they're lusting after, it probably wouldn't change a thing. And if that means the parent can then make the "substitution" of some cheaper gift on the kid's birthday (yay, socks!), the kid still comes out ahead.


Well, if one of the kids knows "the secret" (that I knew growing up), they will have a lot more money than their siblings....

When I was a young man, when I made money doing some menial task for a member of the church or neighbor, I almost always gave it all to my dad. Why? Well, I'd heard stories of how he and his brothers, raised in poverty in southeast Tennessee in the Depression (or just after) had "supported their family." That just resonated with me. So I just gave my money to my dad (who never once asked for it).

But my younger brother, that was a different matter. When he made money, it was all for him. Not because he was greedy, but just because he didn't "get" what I had "gotten."

Long story short, when I would go to my dad (as a teen or even my twenties) and need some money, out came his wallet and I got whatever I needed. I had built up "credit," you might say.

But when my brother would ask for money, my dad would almost invariably ask, "Where's that money you made the other day?" He'd push back, making it harder for my brother to get money. Or if he did give him money, he might give him a $5, while I would have gotten a $20.

So, those kids, if they're smart, will do these things "for free." Otherwise, they'll get ONLY what is being paid for the chore at hand. Do it for nothing, and what you'd have gotten only $10 to do...will come back to you in $20's.



Probably depends on the family. My parents' attempts to create some sort of rational allowance setup fell apart almost immediately (we were just too disorganized as a family) so I was asking for spending cash (and usually getting it) whenever I wanted it all through high school, and my parents paid for most things that whole time. Any cash earned through chores or jobs was additional income, without question. Fortunately, my siblings and I all managed to learn a pretty good work ethic and solid spending habits, so I guess it worked somehow.

My husband's family was much more organized, and by the end of high school he had an allowance (and got jobs over the summer) and used that money to pay for quite a lot, including lunches (his mom billed him for the groceries used in a bag lunch). I was surprised when we got married that he has such a clear list of which of his things were his and which belonged to his family, but it worked for them. Now he has an amazing work ethic, but his spending habits are actually a little worse than mine, mostly because he rarely did much shopping himself.

If your son is like my mother-in-law, then your grandchildren probably know perfectly well what they are and aren't expected to pay for and whether chores are worth it. If your son is more like my parents...not so much.



My family solved the problem by just assigning me the chore in the first place. Substitution problem solved.


Is there a value to the spending freedom that the kids now have? If I'm a teenager and I want to go to the movies on a given day, I may be limited only by the fact that my parents don't want to give me $10 at that specific time.

Darko is planning on solving the gap for fiscal responsibility with kids