When? Determine when you think your kids can handle it. I know from experience with my own three-year-old that she is too young (for an allowance, though certainly not too young to discuss and handle money). Five or six seemed to be the consensus amongst experts. Try this poll to see what 5000+ parents think, http://life.familyeducation.com/allowance/parenting/43766.html?detoured=1
Teaching Tool: Let your kids know that allowance is a tool for them to learn how to manage money, but don’t get upset when they manage it poorly. Use it as a teaching tool, not a disciplinary one.
Allowance/Chores: Strongly consider not tying allowance to chores. Though I’ve seen some reasoning to the contrary, all the sources (below) for this post suggest that chores and allowance should be separate. “In my experience, and according to many psychologists and counselors, an allowance should not be tied to personal achievement [grades]…or doing chores around the house…Give an allowance to teach your children the basics of good money management.” -Paul Lermitte from Making Allowances.
Watch yourself: If you’re concerned about how they will treat their money (and you should be), pay particular attention to your own money habits and try to be consistent with what you tell your kids and what you do.
Responsibility: Help them build personal responsibility; let them make mistakes.
Calculating the allowance is a little more difficult and a more personal decision. One prevailing thought (seen on Pearson Education’s Family Education site among others) is to give your child a weekly dollar amount that is half their age ($3/week for a six-year-old). Parent response on this particular site was vehemently against that idea because of the paltry allowance it would create. David Owen in First National Bank of Dad makes a very strong case for a substantial allowance AND providing a substantial interest rate to the children to teach the power of saving and compounding. The experts generally agreed that it’s most sensible to determine what the child will be responsible for (a list that will likely grow as your child grows) and provide them with enough for that. Whenever you start, whether it be four, five or six, keep it simple. Janet Bodnar in Dollars & Sense for Kids (aka “Dr. Tightwad”) suggests making them responsible for one thing (sweets on supermarket trips, trinkets on trips to Target, etc.) Also, give them money in denominations that allow for doling it up and saving, sharing (donating) or spending it (five ones instead of a five-dollar bill).
For more in depth information, the following books were my sources for this post:
Janet Bodnar’s Dollars & Sense for Kids
Joline Godfrey’s Raising Financially Fit Kids
Paul Lermitte’s Making Allowances
David Owen’s The First National Bank of Dad
Pearson Education Family Education Site (featuring National PTA material)