How We Do Allowance: The 4-Year Old Version


Money: we all need it, we all want it. But when is the right time to introduce kids to money? I think the answer to that question varies from family to family and kid to kid but, generally speaking, early is best. From a very young age kids can understand wants and needs, and money is the mechanism by which we acquire our wants and needs.

A few months ago it became quite clear to us that David was ready to start learning about money and the responsibility that comes with it. For Christmas this year, David had created a wish list of all the toys and games and books and doo-dads that he wanted. Well, Christmas came and went, but the wish list kept growing. Every day–nay, every minute of every day–he was begging us to add more items to his “wish list”. The want, want, wants were getting out of control. We knew that it was time for an intervention, and the Allowance Jars were born.

Since he is only 4 years old, we wanted David’s allowance to be pretty simple. We had three main goals with his allowance: to start teaching him the value of money, to encourage him to save some of his “income”, and to be generous with his “assets”. As a result, we decided to set up three jars, one for each goal: spend, save, and serve.

To make the jars, I just cut slits in the tops of three mason jars. Then I printed off the labels spend, save, and serve, and I glued one label to the front of each jar. Each week we give David three quarters, one quarter for each jar, as his allowance. He puts the money into the jars himself so that he is learning the responsibility of tracking where his money goes.


He is allowed to use the money in the spend jar whenever he chooses (usually a gumball from a vending machine or a trinket from the dollar store). This money never lasts long, but that’s fine! He’s learning what he can buy with his money and, as an added bonus, it’s cut down a lot on the gimme’s when we’re in a store (I just remind him that he can use his own money to buy that bright blue lollipop in the checkout line). I’ve also taken David on a couple of special outings with me specifically so he can go shopping with his money–he feels so grown up when he places his goody up on the check stand and pays for it all by himself!


With the save jar, he is working toward a spending goal. We came up with a goal together of something more expensive that he really wanted (a Zurg action figure). We researched the cost of his goal purchase then printed off a picture of the toy to put on the jar as a visual reminder of what he is saving up for. He still has a long way to go, but I’m sure with grandparents visiting soon he’ll reach his goal in no time at all 😉


The serve jar is my favorite. Right now we have him bring the contents of that jar with us to church each week so he can put his money in the offering basket. As we’re packing up his coin to bring to church he always exclaims, “That’s the money I get to give to Jesus! That’s God’s money!”. As David gets older we’ll probably work with him to come up with more ways to use his “serve” money to be generous and help others, but for now he’s grasping a simple and wonderful truth.

So, there you have it! Easy-peasy allowance that even a 4-year old (and their parents) can handle.


Real-World Strategies For Saving Real Families Real Money

saving-moneyWhen we followed our dreams–and Jon’s job–to Silicon Valley 7 months ago we knew we would be in for some changes. Some of the changes were welcome, like the consistent sunny-and-70-degree days. Some of the changes, however, would be challenging, like the crowds and the traffic. There is one challenge to living in Silicon Valley, however, that trumps everything else: it is so freaking expensive here.

According to several research indexes, Silicon Valley has become the #1 most expensive place to live in America. And I believe it. We feel the pinch every time we have to pay rent (which is nearly 3 times more expensive than our mortgage in Seattle), or preschool tuition (which costs more than my undergrad tuition in 2001), or the ridiculous water bill (a reflection on the area’s years-long drought).

And don’t even get me started on trying to actually own a piece of this overpriced land. The housing market here is so competitive that potential buyers literally stalk houses waiting for them to go on the market so they can pounce with their million-dollar cash offers before the dozens of other million-dollar cash offers roll in. Or, if they’re really savvy, they’ll buy the house before it’s even for sale (I have several friends who have canvassed potential neighborhoods with flyers touting their merits as human beings and potential homeowners, imploring the current homeowners to sell them their house off-market if they ever decide to move. True story). At any rate, the cost of living here is just plain stupid.

In order to help meet our budget, I’ve come up with some creative ways to save our family money. I’ve always prided myself in being a thrifty spender, and have always enjoyed the thrill of finding a good deal. Now more than ever before, I’m finding creative ways to save and spend wisely. I will now share with you, dear friend, some of my best real-world money-saving strategies:

Take your kids shopping with you
This is a simple strategy that will save you money every time you use it–plus, the more kids you have, the more potential you have to save money! First, put your kids in the shopping cart. Then, try to do your shopping. With all your kids in the cart, there will be no room  for anything but bread and milk, so you’ll be sure to save money on the grocery bill. If you can’t convince your children to sit in the cart, just set them loose in the store. It will only take about two minutes before your children have caused enough havoc to make you want to run out of the store screaming so, again, you’ll save money on the groceries you didn’t have the patience to shop for. Kids: best shopping buddies EVER!

Clip coupons
Sure, you can clip coupons and actually use them in a store. However, if you coupon correctly (yes, “coupon” is a verb) then you’ll be spending 10-20 hours a week compiling your coupons, scouting out the best deals, and shopping around town for your savings. But with two little boys keeping me busy at all hours now I find that by the time I have actually clipped and organized all my coupons, there is no time left to actually go shopping. And when you don’t have time to go shopping, you don’t spend money. Problem. Solved.

Go on a family vacation
Now this may seem counter-intuitive, because vacations cost money. Just hear me out, though. Here’s how it works: plan a nice little vacation for your family. Go through the stress of organizing the trip, packing ten million extra kid items, calming crying babies and rambunctious children on an airplane or a long car ride. Try to enjoy yourself when you reach your destination, but find that you can’t actually relax because even when you’re on vacation you’re still a parent. Get through all this, and you will realize that vacations just aren’t worth it. You’ll probably never go on another vacation again (or, at least, until your darling children move out of the nest). Think of it as an upfront investment for long-term pay-outs.

Skip the car wash
Who needs to pay someone else to wash the car when your kids’ favorite game is already getting wet and playing with bubbles? I say just strip down the kids, send them out with a bucket and some sponges, and call them in when both the car AND the kids are clean. Two birds, one stone.

Eliminate gym fees
Save yourself some time and money by creating your own workout routines away from the gym. After all, you probably already have some of the best workout equipment at home: your kids.  Children can be used as stretching partners, weights, or even foot holds. If you need some fit-spiration, just watch this power mama.

Let your children dress themselves
Most children I know tend to fall into one of two dressing categories: 1)They only like to wear one thing, and they will wear it every day until it withers away into a mere memory, or 2)They are tiny nudists who prefer to wear nothing at all. Either way, you’ll only need to buy your kids 1 or 2 outfits max.

So, there you have it. Real-world strategies for saving real families real money. Happy saving!

My Favorite Four-Letter Word

Free–that is my favorite four-letter word. And a close runner-up: deal.

I have always loved a good deal and, now that I have kids, I love deals more than ever before. Turns out kids are really expensive. They have basic needs (food, clothes, diapers, doctor visits), they have wants (toys, outings to the zoo, ice cream sundaes), and they have collateral costs (needing a bigger car because your Volkswagen Jetta can’t fit the double jogging stroller in the trunk). And all of those costs require $$$.

In our family, we’ve decided that it’s Jon’s job to make the money and it’s my job to save it. I’m always looking for ways to cut costs or save a few bucks. Here are a few of my favorite ways to save money in our day to day lives. It’s nothing earth-shattering, just little things we do to steward our resources well.

  • Not Spending Money
    This is kind of obvious, but it does take some forethought. For instance, I have learned that I spend at least $100 every time I set foot inside Costco, regardless of if I’m there for 1 item of a month’s worth of stock-up groceries. I now try to limit my trips to Costco to once a month. If I absolutely must go for a must-buy item another time in the month, I don’t bring a cart–that way I can only buy what I can carry in my own 2 hands (or in the stroller) which, at Costco, is usually just 1 item. This idea also works in other scenarios–I had to unsubscribe from receiving daily emails for Groupon and Living Social because there were just too many deals I “had” to have. Basically, just find the areas that are your money traps (that coffee shop down the street, the shoe store in the mall) and avoid having them be a part of your daily routine.
  • Coupons
    I used to be a pretty avid couponer. I had multiple subscriptions to newspapers so I could clip coupons from the Sunday inserts. I would spend hours each week perusing the internet for printable coupons. I had a stockpile of food, cleaning supplies, and personal care items that could get us through a nuclear holocaust (that is, if all you needed during the nuclear holocaust was frozen pizza, Windex, and toothpaste. Oh, the toothpaste. I think if every toothpaste manufacturer in the company shut their doors today, couponers could supply the world with toothpaste from their free toothpaste stockpiles for the next decade).That was back when I was a full-time stay-at-home mom to one peaceful baby who was content to spend countless hours scouring drug stores and grocery stores for deals. Now I have 2 kids that take an hour to get out the door, one of whom is a two year old with a -2 second attention span and ZERO tolerance for sitting still in a grocery cart. Needless to say, my couponing days have changed.I don’t have my newspaper subscriptions any more because I just wasn’t using the coupons before they expired. What I do now is I get coupons that I know I want from friends and family who do have newspaper subscriptions. And, instead of going to several stores each week for my deals, I just use the coupons at my regular grocery store on items I’m already buying.I also watch Facebook and online sites for coupons for my favorite items that I can print and use the next time I need that item.Couponing can save you a lot of money, whether you commit to it full-time or do as I do and just use them as you’re able. If you want to learn more about couponing or money-saving in general, there are tons of blogs and online tutorials that can help you. Some of my favorite local blogs are Thrifty Northwest MomThis Beautiful Frugal LifeCoupon Connections, and Hip2Save and The Coupon Project.
  • Choosing My Stores and How I Shop Them
    Some stores cost more than others. Sure, with coupons you can get the prices down on many items. But you can’t buy EVERYTHING you need with a coupon and sometimes you just don’t want to deal with them. I have found that some stores have consistently lower prices, and that’s where I shop. For me, that’s WinCo. They have great prices on produce, which we buy a lot of and you can rarely get with a coupon anyway. They don’t have a very large organic selection, but a great overall selection including exotic tropical fruits and the largest array of chili peppers I’ve ever seen. They also have a HUGE bulk section. You can buy anything in bulk there: spices, pasta, cereals, soup mixes, snacks, candy, pantry items…you name it! Buying in bulk allows me to buy the amount I need at a lower price. Another thing I like about Winco: they don’t accept credit cards. I’m a lot more conscientious of my spending when I have to pay cash!Somewhat related to this is the fact that I try to buy fresh and local when possible. I love going to u-pick farms in the summer and filling my trunk with fresh fruits and veggies for pennies. My mom also has a fairly prolific garden and apple orchard that she lets me harvest from whenever I go over for a visit for, you guessed it, FREE! Even if I get more fresh produce than we can eat right away, I know that I can always freeze, can, or give away wthe extras.
  • Preparing Our Own Meals
    Jon used to go out for lunch every day. At $10-$15 a pop, we were spending close to $300 a month on his lunches! Now I make all of his lunches–they’re not as exciting, but they are healthier and the cost a whole lot less. We also don’t go out to eat as a family very often. We eat out a few times a month, but other than that I prepare all of our meals at home, including Jacob’s baby food. It’s a simple thing, but when it costs $30 for our family to get a meal at McDonalds, it adds up quickly!
  • Cheaper Date Nights
    When we only had 1 kid, we used to do babysitting swaps with some of our friends on a pretty regular basis. We’d watch their kid, then the next week they’d watch ours. Or, even better, if you have family living nearby call them in for a little back-up. Grandmas and Grandpas and Aunties (and Uncles) usually seem to enjoy getting a little one-on-one time with the little tikes.
    There are lots of ways to save money on dates themselves: Go somewhere free (long walks on the beach, anyone?), try to hit up happy hour at your favorite five-star “$$$$” restaurant, go to a $2 movie theater or a drive-in movie (yes, they do still exist!), go to a free museum on First Thursday, and utilize daily deal sites to find unique experiences. And, if all else fails, you can always snuggle up on the couch with a bottle of wine after the kidd-o’s have nodded off.
  • Free and Cheap Activities
    I love taking advantage of community resources, most of which are free or available for a small fee. Some of my favorites: story time at local libraries and bookstores, parks (we even have one near our house that has a free petting zoo and water park in the summer), beaches, hiking, biking on bike trails, and indoor play areas at malls and coffee shops.
    Memberships to local activities can also be a good deal. For instance, an annual membership to the zoo or children’s museum pays for itself in less than 3 visits. Plus, if you have a membership somewhere it’s easy to go for a short time (which is the only time I seem to have with a toddler in tow) and not feel bad that you’re wasting your money by not spending all day there.

    A zoo membership is affordable fun year-round

    A zoo membership is affordable fun year-round

    You can also get pretty good discounts on activities if you have a membership somewhere else. For instance, if you have a Bank of America Visa card you can get in to hundreds of museums for free during the first full weekend of each month. If you have an REI membership, you get a discount on lift tickets at local ski areas (each state has their own partner ski area). It’s always worth looking into the benefits you get with services you’re already using.

It does take time and a bit of research to save money but, in my experience, it really is worth the effort. What are some of your favorite ways to save money day to day?