Allowance Experiment: Are Three-Year-Olds Too Young?

It all started with a birthday party.

Ok, let’s be honest. It always does. But this birthday party found me walking down the toy aisle at the store, looking for a small gift for a four-year-old.

Normally, I would avoid taking my three-year-old twins so that they weren’t unnecessarily tempted, but we were short on time and I thought they might enjoy picking out a toy for their friend.

Boy, was I wrong. So wrong.

My twin immediately zeroed in on two fantastic-looking dinosaur toys, which was not something the birthday girl would have found interesting or even a little exciting. One was a blue pterodactyl and the other a red Tyrannosaurus Rex. They had buttons to push which caused their mouths to open and an unholy roar to emit from their gaping maws. The twins were spellbound.

Predictably, they wanted me to buy it right. now. Because they wanted it.

Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on

“Aha!” I thought. “This is a teachable moment to let them know they can’t have everything they want and that sometimes the answer is no.” And they were thusly informed.

I expected a tantrum. I expected a massive, double meltdown in the toy aisle that I would have to ride out. But miraculously, that didn’t happen. What I didn’t expect was that they would still be talking about those dinos days later and asking when I would go back and buy them.

We’ve been working on getting our girls to understand the important of following directions, being obedient, and helping around the house in small ways. To me, this opportunity seemed like the perfect opportunity to introduce a chore chart and provide some incentive. So we wrote up a short list of responsibilities (they are only three, after all), that included washing hands, taking dishes to the sink, picking up toys, and their memory verse for Awanas.


When they do their responsibilities that day, we cross them off together. If they get two days in a row, I give them a dollar to place in a glass jar with a lid we dug out of the pantry that wasn’t being used. Each time we add a dollar, we count what we have before putting it away. When they have 11 dollars, we will go to the store and walk them through how to buy these dinosaurs with money they earned.

There are obviously a lot of draw backs and questions we have; but that’s why we’re calling it an experiment. As my husband pointed out, “Isn’t three a bit young?”

However, research shows that kids as young as three years old can benefit from a simple allowance. I also think they need to understand the value of working consistently for what you want and saving money. While they’re years away from understanding financial literacy and personal finance, I want them to understand we don’t just buy everything we want right when we want it. And I think even our three-year olds can understand that to a degree.

Photo by Skitterphoto on

My other concern is whether or not they’ll become easily frustrated by the length of time it takes to save their $11. To them, time is hard to understand and yesterday and tomorrow aren’t clear concepts. If it takes them two weeks to earn enough money, will they even remember these toy dinosaurs they’ve been talking about for the past four days? Or will the lesson be totally lost on them by the time they have enough dollars in their makeshift banks?

Regardless of the outcome, I’m curious to see how our twins handle working for something they want, following through with small responsibilies, and learning about the power of “no” to help them learn delayed gratification.

Your turn: have you ever worked hard for something you wanted and finally achieved your goal? How was it different than if you had bought it right when you wanted it?

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