I owe my son £8.53 pence. I know this because he has it written down on a tally sheet – entries marked in red biro for every time I have helped myself to his pocket money stash – and he waves it, indignantly, in front of my face every day.
No matter that I've already spent thousands of pounds on him (the average cost of raising a child to the age of 21 has just crashed through the £200,000 barrier for the first time). Such details are piffle to a seven-year-old boy seeking repayment on his loan.
I will pay him back. Of course I will. But his rising sense of indignation over the whole matter is so alarming I'm starting to fear he'll demand a pound of flesh if I don't cough up soon. Problem is, I never have any money handy. And, even though he keeps changing the hiding place, I know he has this stash hidden somewhere upstairs. He hasn't outwitted me yet. Last time I found it wrapped in layers of foil, then Clingfilm, stuffed in a sock and sitting in the cockpit of his Animal Hospital rescue plane.
Results of a recent survey have shown that the amount of pocket money children receive has fallen to a seven-year low. The average child now gets £5.89 a week – the lowest level since 2003 – according to high street bank Halifax.
So it's hardly surprising Monty guards his money with his life. But the whole issue of pocket money is a tricky one and something I'm not entirely convinced we've got right yet. In our household at least.
When the children were old enough to start asking for things in a shop (about five minutes after popping out of the womb) I started to give them a small amount of money each week to spend. This, I reckoned, gave them a sense of responsibility and independence that I felt was an important part of growing up. Problem was, conversations like the following would ensue every Saturday morning in the toy shop.
Child, clutching £1 coin, reaches for an Optimus Prime Transformer figure. 'Mum, can I buy this?'
'Not this week darling. You'd have to save for the next 90 weeks to afford that. But look, why don't you buy this bottle of bubbles instead?'
What would inevitably happen is that the pocket money would then be spent on sweets – an instantaneous, affordable reward. Saving for a toy they wanted, from the amount they were given, was too much of a challenge for a child of five to contemplate.
So we upped the ante and suggested more pocket money could be in the offing if they Did Jobs. This worked. For a while. Forgetting the constant, and slightly uncomfortable thought that they should be contributing to the household and doing jobs anyway (Who pays Mummy for emptying the dishwasher?), this became an impossible feat to manage. And once you're handing out £3 a week there's no going back.
Of course, grandparents give birthday money – a rare injection of proper 'paper' cash into the piggy – and I've noticed it's getting heavier from other sources too. (Back of the sofa coins that have fallen from pockets, and loose change I leave lying around in the car).
And now that they're older I give them a month's allowance – four weeks pocket money all in one go. This serves the purpose of looking like a satisfying amount they can actually do something with. And if it's spent all at once then they have to learn to wait three weeks until the next handover.
The fact I'm practically walking around in rags (and can never afford to buy myself anything) to afford to keep my children in the pocket money they've become accustomed to doesn't really register on their radar. Monty is still stalking me like a bailiff with a clipboard and threatens to start flogging my jewellery at the car boot if I don't pay him back soon.
Problem is, we've just run out of milk and my purse is empty.
Now I wonder where he's hidden his dosh this time?
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