Scrawled in big, pink letters across three envelopes are the words "spend," "save" and "give." It's how second-grader Chloe McLaughlin organizes her $8 allowance.
It may sound grown-up for someone who still writes in crayon. But given the state of the economy and runaway levels of personal debt, her parents figured it's never too soon to teach a little fiscal responsibility.
"We see a lot of people having trouble financially these days, and that made us think about instilling discipline in them early," said Kevin McLaughlin, a 33-year-old resident of Pine Beach, N.J., who also has two younger children.
Once a casual weekly payment, allowance for many families has evolved into a more structured lesson in money management. Children today might be expected to map out budgets or track spending in exchange for weekly payments as they get older.
For now, the McLaughlins are keeping it simple by letting 8-year-old Chloe decide how she wants to use her allowance. Her decision surprised them; $4 goes to savings, $3 to charity. Just $1 goes toward spending.
"Of course, it's only been a few weeks, so that could change," said McLaughlin, who works in marketing.
HOW DO I START?
Give young children clear jars, envelopes or piggy banks so they can see their allowance accumulate. This makes the concept of saving tangible.
To provide some guidance, have them divide money into categories, as the McLaughlins did with Chloe. Depending on how sophisticated you want to be, set up two or three jars with labels such as "saving," "spending" or even "video games" if you want to focus on short-term purchases.
"Some parents are very willy nilly about it, but allowance needs to be structured," said Jennifer Hartman, a certified financial planner and principal with Greenleaf Financial Group in Los Angeles. "Don’t just give it to them because the kids are whining about it."