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Should We Pay Kids for Grades?

Family finance educator Erica Sandberg says no. Here's why.
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An intrinsic part of excellent parenting is teaching children about money. By the age of about six, kids should be well aware that cash doesn't magically appear in our pockets, but is a direct result of work. For this reason, I'm a strong advocate of instituting an allowance system that incorporates at least some income earning opportunities.

After all, when they've got money of their own to spend, they soon learn how far it can go before it runs out and the value of saving. If they can and do more for extra, all the better.

However, is it a good idea for one of those money making options to be high test scores or straight A's? My answer is no.

Expected Versus Auxiliary

OK, Mom and Dad, think about what you consider to be expected behavior for your child. Chances are its to be a kind, engaged member of the family. Perhaps you insist they keep their rooms free of clutter or help prepare meals. Whatever these attitudes and tasks are, you're not paying for them–they're just normal, everyday aspects of a kid's life.

Auxiliary behaviors, on the other hand, are all the rest. Supplementary chores, essentially, that the kids can choose to do but are not required. These may be anything from re-potting house plants, to taking down and cleaning the blinds, to redesigning your website. Would you offer a compensation for them? Sure, if you like and they're willing to make the effort.

Where Education Fits

So now decide where education fits into this picture. If doing their best in school is something you consider mandatory, then it goes into the expected category.

Of course, you may be wondering about the incentive angle. By offering a cash reward, will it inspire the kids to go for the gold when they might otherwise slack off? Well, maybe, but that's beside the point. The fact is, not everything should be fee-driven and academic success is one of them.

Most parents would like their children to simply love learning and to try hard because it gives them pleasure and a sense of pride. Education for education's sake is exactly what should be fostered and encouraged. Paying for it cheapens the experience.

The Surprise Bonus Option

This doesn't mean you shouldn't reward your kids if they bring up sluggish marks by making a supreme effort. Go ahead and slip them a few bucks or give a nice present–but make it a surprise, supplementary bonus to your praise, not the goal they're working toward.

See more financial tips at Go Banking Rates:

Erica Sandberg is the author of Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families, a columnist/reporter for CreditCards.com, and writer for the San Francisco Chronicles SFGate.

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