Starting an allowance when your child is still young builds the foundation of a strong work ethic and financial responsibility. Despite the benefits, you don't want it to break your bank either. Your little one doesn't need as much money now as she will when she has to pay for gas, movies and prom, but you still need to determine what's a reasonable amount for your situation.
General Allowance Vs. Chore-Specific Pay
Experts disagree about whether the allowance rate should be based on doing chores. Those who say that children should receive an allowance based on the number of chores they do state that this helps children associate hard work with pay and teaches the idea of "You shouldn't get something for free." On the other side of the fence are those who believe that everyone needs to participate in the workings of the family for the sake of helping, but that an allowance is still important because it teaches financial responsibility. Both sides agree that additional chores warrant additional money, though. You can decide for yourself whether you want to provide a general allowance or a chore-specific one.
One of the most important lessons your preschooler learns from her allowance is how to manage her money. Though your own finances may not be as balanced as you'd like, you probably want to teach your child that some money is for spending, some for saving and some for giving away to charity. If this is what you want to do, choose an allowance that reasonably allows her to do this. For example, if you're only giving her a dollar, it's hard for her to split the money up and still have some to spend. If there's something specific she wants to spend her money on -- candy or Pokemon cards, for example -- use the cost to gauge that portion of the allowance, then add more to account for savings and charity.
Though your preschooler is probably too young to be comparing bank statements with the other kids on the playground, you can still ask around to get a feel for what other parents offer children. KidsHealth.org suggests between 50 cents and a dollar per year of age on a weekly basis. Get a per-chore rate by dividing the weekly base you want to pay by the number of chores to get a per-chore rate. When starting out, you don't want to overwhelm your child with chores. Stick with just two or three that your child can perform well. A 2-year-old should be able to clean up toys and help set the table, while a 4-year-old might be able to get the mail and help with yard work, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. As she gets older and more used to the chores, you can increase the amount.
If your preschooler just has to have the latest and greatest doll, let her do extra chores to earn money above her regular allowance. Determine a fair rate for this bonus pay. Obviously, helping dad clean the garage for two hours takes a lot more effort than feeding the dog. Base the amount that you pay for extra chores on the cost of a regular chore compared with the amount of effort the child should put in for the new chore. If the child usually gets a 50 cents for cleaning up her toys, she might get a similar amount for helping sort and fold the laundry, but a dollar for an hour's worth of gardening.