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Teaching Tzedakah (Charity) to Children

One Family's Formula for Allowance

A few years ago, we were told about a system of children's allowances that helped them learn the value of money. We decided to try it, even though, at the time, the numbers sounded much too large for a child's allowance. The system was to give the child an allowance of one dollar for every year of the child's age. Of that amount, 60% went into a long-term savings account to be used in the future, e.g. college; 30% was allotted to "fast cash" (which is the equivalent of most children's allowances); and 10% went to charity, or tzedakah. This system has worked well for learning the value of money. Our child has derived satisfaction from watching a college fund growing, having money to buy those "kids items" that seem so necessary at this age, and giving weekly to the tzedakah box in his religious school class.

But something a little different happened this year. In the past, the 10% tzedakah money, accrued from the summer vacation, automatically was delivered to the first religious school class of the year. Not too much thought went into this; just a larger amount of tzedakah went into the box. But this year, our child let us know that he would like to choose where the tzedakah money from the summer would be used. He asked our opinion, and we spent some time in discussing various agencies and their functions. We talked about a homeless shelter, a shelter for women and children, and the United Way. We also had picked up a food bank bag at Rosh Hashanah services to fill and return.

Our child decided to spend the tzedakah money on the food for one of the bags. At the grocery store, our child picked up a cart and proceeded to select items, keeping in mind how much money there was and how to create the most nutritious combinations. (Of course, two packages of blue Jello were counted among the staples). At the checkout, this 10-year-old child pulled out 15 one-dollar bills and presented them to the checker. She looked in astonishment at us, as she asked, "Your parents make you buy your own groceries?" The quiet reply was, "No, it's for the food bank."

All the way home, the conversation was about how many meals might come from the purchases just made and evolved to how many people could be fed for the price spent on a toy. There is no question in our minds that using this system for giving children their allowances teaches the value of money. More importantly, it has taught our child to be a member of the community, to be kind and generous towards others, and to understand that tzedakah comes from the heart.