Q&A: Large Family Economy: Work Hours

Today's question is about work hours, from my friend Liz:

Can you tell me a little bit more about how you do work hours?  We are just starting to implement something similar, and I am wondering what your kids earn for their hours?  For example, 1 hour = candy bar or small toy, 10 hours = bowling trip, etc.  Our oldest is 10 and she is way motivated to fill up her tickets with working time to earn things, but our 8 and 6 year old not so much, but I haven't put our prize box together yet so I'm hoping that will come along.  Any experience or advice?

We've done work hours for many years.  It used to be a more elaborate system, but right now it's simple and easy (that pattern has happened in a lot of areas of my life and I like it!).  Basically, we have each child's name on a white board on our kitchen and next to that is written how many work hours they currently have.  When they do something beyond the ordinary -- babysit, stack wood, extra yard work, cleaning out the pantry, etc. -- they earn work hours for the time they put in.  When they trade in the work hours, we subtract it from their total.  It works well for us because it's simple, easy to keep track of, and easy to understand.

A few more details:

Earning Work Hours.  

This happens pretty organically.  Sometimes the kids ask for work hour jobs because they want to earn enough for something or because they are bored.  Other times, I see a job that needs to be done and ask if anyone wants a work hour job.  The basic rule is that work hour jobs are extra work, not things that are normally done during our weekly house clean-up or that are assigned as part of their daily chores.  Thus, since Lillian's zone is to babysit for date night, she doesn't get work hours for that.  However, if she babysits for us at other times, she does.  Michael has a late start to school one day so he watches the kids for me while I run and doesn't get any work hours (just my gratitude and a pass on needing to do five minutes in the kitchen on other days).  When he's in charge during our weekly lunch date with one of the other kids, however, he does earn work hours.  If we are weeding the yard as assigned on a Saturday, it's not a work hour job, but if a child wants to work on trimming the rose bushes on a weekday, it's a work hour job.

Clearing sticks and branches from our wooded property is sometimes a work hour job, but other times, like during spring break or on a Monday holiday, I require a certain amount of time from each child  before they can earn work hours.
Allison tackled organizing the pantry to earn money for Hawaii

Mowing the lawn is part of our regular rotation of assigned jobs and is not eligible for work hours.
Cleaning out the cabinets in the kitchen is a work hour job
Sorting the games and puzzles is also a work hour job

Keeping Track

We have two white boards in the hallway just off the kitchen (this way, they are easily accessible, but not quite so ugly).  One lists the kids current zone assignments and dinner nights at the top, then has our grocery list at the bottom.  The kids and I just write in the items we are missing as we run out, then I take a photo of the list with my phone just before we go to the store.

The other white board is across the hall from this one and includes a calendar and place for notes. We have used the calendar area in the past to list our rotating menu, but right now, it's blank.  The notes area is where we keep track of work hours.

Trading Them In. 

At one time, we had a box of items the kids could earn with their work hours, things like Junie B. Jones books and little toys, but honestly, it got to be a pain to keep stocked, we kept forgetting to have the "work hours store," and at some point, the kids didn't really care for the items in it, so we don't use it.  Now, work hours are worth a certain amount of money depending on age. If they turn them in for approved items or experiences, they are worth more than if they are turned in for cash, and most of the time, we don't allow them to be turned into cash.  Mostly this is because it is way too easy to blow $4 on a bunch of candy when they ride their bikes to the grocery store and we'd rather have them save their work hours for when they want important things.  The trade-in value of work hours for experiences or items we order for them from Amazon is roughly $2 an hour for the youngest kids, $3 for kids ages 9-12, and $4 or 5 for the teenagers.  It's a dollar less if they want to trade it for cash.

Here are a few of the things the kids have used work hours for recently:

* Allison traded in some for $2 so she could buy junk at the dollar store.

* Sarah traded in 8 hours to order various craft supplies for a crafting party she's planning with some of her sisters.
One of Sarah's oven-baked clay projects.  She earns work hours to pay for the clay.
* Joey wanted to go to a fly fishing film festival last week, so he traded in 3 work hours to pay for the cost of the ticket.  He regularly uses work hours to pay for fly tying supplies.

* Sarah bought a glue gun and glue sticks with work hours so she could do fun projects.
One of Sarah's glue stick projects
* Allison earned 130 hours over the summer and fall, paying for half of her plane ticket to Hawaii with them.  I was so proud of her diligent effort and she learned a lot about setting goals, making sacrifices, and accomplishing something.  Other kids have done the same in the past to pay for other trips with us.

Allison filled up the trailer all by herself

She LOVED that Hawaii trip.
And that's about all there is to work hours at our house.  Pretty simple and straightforward, and much easier than trying to deal with money or tickets or some other elaborate incentive system.  The kids know that if they want something extra, they can do something extra to earn the work hours for it.  It teaches them good life lessons, helps us get some needed projects tackled, and helps the kids feel good about their contributions to the family.


Tiffany Wacaser said…
I really like this system. I wish I was better and more consistent about doing stuff like this with my kids.
Jenny Evans said…
Thanks for sharing your system! I'm terrible about our allowance chores (basically the same as 'work hour' chores), especially because they really don't have time to do them during the weekdays in the school year!

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