Why I Paid My Son to Learn

  • By Amanda Steinberg, Founder of DailyWorth
  • April 10, 2015

financial incentives for kids

Last week, my son returned from visiting a school he may attend next fall and said, “Mom, they all know multiplication and I don’t.”  

I replied, “You can learn multiplication in a snap. Why don’t I teach you?”

His response: “No, that’s okay, I just want to play Minecraft.”

I'm not concerned with video games. As a young girl, I played many hours of Nintendo a day. Now as CEO of DailyWorth, I attribute much of my entrepreneurial prowess to skills I acquired maneuvering technology, facing death (“game over”) only to start again. But if there's one thing I hate about modern video games, it’s that they sell “upgrades” within games.

They charge actual money to advance. I find this grotesque and vehemently deny my son's requests for purchased advancement. It’s a ridiculous thing to spend money on. I stand by that.

But this night, when my son asked for a $30 upgrade pack, an idea hit. What if I was able to use this perfect storm (money! video games! multiplication!) to show my son how quickly he can learn?

I worried that what I was about to do was wrong. But I was intrigued by the opportunity to gamify my son's learning. So I offered my son a deal. I told him I'd pay $5 for every set of multiplication tables he learned, capping it at the $30 he needed to purchase his upgrade pack. With gusto, he slammed his computer shut, stood up, and yelled, “LET’S GO!”

As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children the skills they’ll need in life and work. We must lay a strong foundation, and that means one that is financially sound.

There’s a lot of debate over structured allowance versus paying your child for chores. And while there are certain tasks I have paid my 8-year-old son to do (raking leaves, washing my car), I would never pay him to do something that’s expected of him (cleaning his room, homework). But there’s plenty of gray area.

When we started, he didn't know anything about multiplication. He got 2 × 1 wrong. But we persevered. Dinner went uncooked. Groceries lingered on the counter. We were on a mission.

We spent the next two hours memorizing each times table, backward and forward. Finally, I quizzed him on any pair between 1 and 6, randomized. He had mastered a few multiplication tables in a matter of hours because I dangled that 8-bit carrot in front of him.  

We were both happy, but for different reasons. I was happy because I wanted him to experience how rapidly he could command a new skill; he was happy because he won on many fronts (even defeating mom’s disgust with in-game purchase upgrades).

I later told him that we won't be repeating this experiment. Learning is a game on its own and the rewards far exceed monetary earnings. But I don't regret it — he learned the value of money and how certain actions multiply. It was a game worth playing.

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Tagged in: Amanda Steinberg, Family