Why I bought my 10-year-old a wallet

Sandra gives her eldest daughter more freedom to decide what to do with her own money.

Photo: vdk/iStockphoto

Bronwyn started walking home by herself a few weeks ago.

Now, it’s just a couple days a week, and our after-school caregiver is already at home with Bronwyn’s younger sister, Isobel, when she arrives. But those 800 metres worth of tween steps amount to a big leap in the mind of her mama, who still remembers her as the baby who couldn’t bear to be anywhere but her dad’s or my arms. (Do housework while the baby naps? Forget about it! Slings and carriers wouldn’t suffice; Bronwyn would only sleep while being held in actual human arms.)

It was my eldest who suggested the change in routine. She had joined the school’s grade five girls’ soccer team, and would be having practice after school twice a week. Rather than having Alex, our caregiver, hang around the playground or kill time with Isobel until Bronwyn was finished, our eldest reasoned it would be easier for everyone if she walked home — by herself — after practice.

But… But… What if she got into trouble?

I gave my head a shake. Bronwyn had been taking the dog for short walks around the neighbourhood, and running errands, like getting a loaf of bread from the corner store, since last summer, and had shown herself to be responsible and safe. Unlike many of her classmates, Bronwyn didn’t have a phone, but she did have common sense. She’d proven it. So we said yes.

Before her maiden voyage, Matt gave her $20 — the most money she’s ever had in her possession — for emergencies.

Fast forward four weeks. The $20 is still unspent. Everyone is safe and happy. Bronwyn is still carrying the emergency cash in a rolled-up sock in the bottom of her backpack as we drive her and her BFF to the full-day babysitters’ course she asked to take in preparation for (what she views as) the big-money-making years ahead. (Bronwyn is the eldest kid on the block, with three babies born within the past three years. Ka-ching!)

“I’m going to get a wallet card to show that I passed!” Bronwyn announced. “I wish I had a wallet.”

Subtle. Like her mom…

Well, she earned it, I thought. A 10-year-old with $20 burning a hole in her pocket (or her rolled-up sock) — and she hadn’t done one single irresponsible thing with it. At the same time, she hadn’t had to cover any of her incidentals with it, either. Should Scientist in the School fees come out of an allotted amount of cash? Should she pay for the carton of chocolate soy milk she likes to have between dance classes on Saturday mornings out of a set amount of money she receives every month, rather than having me slip her a toonie at drop-off?

Certified Financial Planners Karin Mizgala and Sheila Walkington, a.k.a. Money Coaches Canada, think so. In their book Unstuck, they advocate for giving kids an allowance to succeed or fail with as they will. Money mistakes, when they’re made early and with small amounts of money, help to teach kids to be financially responsible adults. Same goes for being expected to cover certain expenses with that allowance, be they bus fare, or the occasional after-school snack.

So when Bronwyn asked if she could buy a muffin from the coffee shop nearby on her way home from today’s soccer tournament, Matt and I said yes.

After all, she still has most of that $20. And having it sit in her wallet isn’t going to teach her a thing.