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I really wish there had been a camera rolling in our house the day my husband declared that our 9-year-old was going to pay us rent. I hope my face didn’t betray what I was feeling inside – fury at the ridiculousness of the idea. I mean, come on…this is our child who needs unconditional love, acceptance, security, and safety. He does NOT need to worry about whether or not he’s going to have a roof over his head or get put out on the street. SERIOUSLY.
But, as I was learning then – and have continued to learn since – is that my husband is often wise in ways I cannot see in the moment. Sometimes, it’s the way he presents an idea, or the fact that his idea is a reaction to bad behavior or something else that has happened. I did voice my concerns (in private), but he was insistent. So I chose to go along with what I thought was an awful idea that would completely flop within a short time.
That was over three years ago. Now both of our boys are “paying rent.” Not only have I come to love and appreciate our “system,” I tell others about it because I feel it works.
First of all, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. RENT. Google defines it this way: “a tenant’s regular payment to a landlord for the use of property or land.”
Wikipedia goes a bit further: “Renting, also known as hiring or letting, is an agreement where a payment is made for the use of a good, service or property owned by another over a fixed period of time. To maintain such an agreement, a rental agreement (or lease) is signed to establish the roles and expectations of both the tenant and landlord. There are many different types of leases. The type and terms of a lease are decided by the landlord and agreed upon by the renting tenant.”
Some of the terms that stand out to me in these definitions are regular, use, agreement, roles, expectations, agreed…
As a homeschooling family, we try to weave learning into every aspect of what we do – all day, every day, 365 days a year. Teaching our children math, language arts, science, history, and Bible are incredibly important to us. But just as important to us is teaching our children character, excellence, work ethic, common sense, kindness, honesty, and responsibility (which will probably be more useful to their future than long division ever will). So our rent “system” is a big part of that.
Basically, we are teaching the boys responsibility for themselves. They live here, eat here, sleep here. We pay for their clothes, food, education, and everything else they need. They are learning (slowly) how to contribute to their own welfare.
I’ve never liked the idea of paying kids money for chores, because that’s not how life works. Yes, they will have jobs when they get older, but the everyday stuff (meals, dishes, laundry, picking up their rooms) are things they will still have to do as adults simply to be successful in life. Contributing to a household is part of life. I have also felt that simply giving kids an allowance (spending money) that they have not earned is a bit of disservice. Again, that’s just not how the real world works.
When I began looking for a stock photo to create social media graphics for this post, I used the key phrase “child money” in Canva. This was one of the first images that came up, and I love it so much. While the word “rent” may seem harsh – or even feudal – this system is a loving collaboration we have with our kids as they contribute to the family and we commit to training them to be successful adults.
How it works:
I believe our system has been so successful because 1) no money actually changes hands and 2) it combines a chore chart and allowance system all into one. Each month I print a one page document that is a grid of black and white dimes in groups of 10s. This goes in a visible place (like on the refridgerator or near the white board we keep their school assignments on). When they do chores, we “pay” them in dimes by coloring in a set amount of dimes on the sheet. This represents rent money they have paid to us.
Examples of regular rent payments:
- 10¢ – taking out the trash, sweeping a room, picking up one kind of thing in a room (such as all the pencils, all their laundry, all their blocks, etc), wiping down the table, taking a laundry hamper downstairs, making lunch, switching laundry loads
- 20¢ – unloading the dishwasher
- 30¢ – loading the dishwasher, sorting laundry
- 50¢ – folding a load of clothes
Higher paying jobs would be things like mowing the lawn, helping with yard projects, making dinner, etc.
At various points over the last few years, we have also used dimes as incentives for academics. Before LB was reading, Ezra would earn a dime for every book he read to LB. More recently, we are trying to encourage the boys to read longer and harder books. LB is now able to read books on the level of Nate the Great, Cam Jansen, Magic Tree House, and Boxcar Children. Ezra has advanced reading skills, so he’s been reading longer books like the Redwall series or other historical fiction books that I have assigned. Just this week, I instituted a “penny-a-page-rounded-to-the-nearest-10” system for harder books (at or just above their reading level). For example, the first Redwall book has 331 pages, so he earned $3.30 for reading that book.
Each boy is required to “pay” us (color in on their chart) a dollar for each year of their life, and rent goes up at the beginning of their birthday month (which they share, so it’s easy to remember).
At one point we were having their rent due on the first (working ahead by a month), but that got off track when we started Little Brother on paying rent (which didn’t start until he was 6). Now, their rent is due by the end of the month. Of course, one obvious question is, “What happens if they don’t pay their rent on time?”
Well, full disclosure, LB did not usually get everything paid each month the first year. We’ve been a little bit stricter this calendar year, and he’s been doing much better about it. There’s only been one or two times Ezra has been “late” on his rent. When that happened, we rolled what he was missing into the next month. He had no trouble catching up.
At no point are the boys really worried about not being able to live at our house. Rather, this is an agreement between us and them that a certain amount of contributing to the household is expected.
If they pay their rent early, I print a new sheet for the rest of the month called “BONUS.” It’s the same system, but whatever they earn as bonus they either get to spend on something of their choice or I transfer to their savings accounts.
This also teaches them that their work has value and can earn rewards. If they want something, they have the opportunity to do extra chores to get it. For example, LB set a goal for himself at the beginning of the summer that he wanted to earn two specific LEGO sets. They each cost (a little over) $30, so we have printed bonus sheets that have LEGO heads instead of dimes to color in. Once he has his rent paid for the month, he switches to the LEGO sheets to work on earning them. LB really struggles with motivation in chores, so it’s been slow going. But he’s halfway to earning the first one, which is progress. (I already bought both LEGO sets which are hiding in my closet!)
Again, no money is actually changing hands. Our boys are “paying” their rent in the currency of work, not money.
But how do you get your kids to actually do chores?
This is the hard part, isn’t it! My kids didn’t wake up one morning and decide to contribute to the household with happy hearts. We started training them on these things when we started homeschooling – all the way back in 2019. Since then, there’s been a shift in our family rhythms as we have learned how to work together as a family. It’s a combination of so many things:
- our boys getting older and growing in maturity
- reducing screen time
- reading aloud high quality books where this kind of behavior is modeled
- opening our home regularly for a ministry of hospitality (something that takes the whole family working together to accomplish)
- expecting it – making chores and contributing to the household non-negotiable and just as big a part of their education as the academics
- working alongside them
- a lot of patience and persistence
All I can encourage you is this:
Whether you homeschool or not, start TODAY in getting your kids involved in running the household. Teach them to contribute (whether it be with a chore chart, allowance system, or rent). Yes, they will argue and balk and complain. Somedays it will be like pulling teeth just to get them to pick up the dirty sock they’ve walked past 20 times already. That’s okay. A few years down the road (hopefully), they will be an integral part of the inner workings of keeping your household running smoothly.