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Should Parents Pay if Their Kids Get Good Grades?

By Matt Breed

Is this $5 for getting good grades?Did your parents decide to add a little extra incentive to your school work by bringing money into the fold?
More and more, I hear of parents (sometimes even relatives other than parents) that are willing to financially “reward” students for positive results in the classroom. Is this a smart move, or could it be sending the wrong message, both financially and academically?

Many parents who are willing to pay their children for good grades will argue that it is a child’s job to go to school and learn. Therefore, they should be compensated for positive results just as they are at their jobs. If you ask me, this would be the weakest argument for those on the “pro” side of this practice. Logically speaking, it does make sense, but one could counter that not all jobs are rewarded with money. Parents do not clean the house for money. People at unpaid internships get nothing but experience and networking opportunities. Some “jobs” serve not as money-making opportunities, but as character and experience builders. For example, personal growth is one of the main benefits of learning in a classroom with fellow students, which should be payment enough for children.

Another “pro” argument is that the promise of money for grades increases the students’ drive for success and good marks soon follow. Salespeople often get bonuses for high sales numbers, so why not apply this same philosophy to your student in hopes that the potential for income increases effort? One argument against this line of thinking is that kids do not understand the importance of earning money and often don’t really need their own money. If the money does not matter to them, the grades won’t matter. Thus, the promise of getting paid as a reward for good grades is not really a reward. The same argument can be applied to a child that you pay to do tasks around the house. If it comes to a choice of earning $5 to mow the lawn or continuing to play Halo, the kid may not care about the money; he would rather continue his game. To be effective, you must first teach your children how to handle money.

This practice can also get the parents into a bad mindset of thinking money is all that matters to the kid. If a student is struggling, will these parents do everything in their power to have a conversation with teachers or assist with the child’s homework? Would the parents take away driving privileges and time away from friends? Or would they simply threaten to stop paying the kid money? Is the threat of lost money truly enough to entice the student to buckle down and do what is necessary to turn things around in school?

Interestingly, schools themselves have started to pay students for earning good grades. Here’s a story from a N.Y. Times article that tests this out:

New York City students could earn as much as $500 a year for doing well on standardized tests and showing up for class in a new program to begin this fall, city officials announced yesterday. And the Harvard economist who created the program is joining the inner circle of Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, according to an official briefed on the hiring.

After the proposed payment plan for students, over 200 schools experimented with it in New York City. With apparently moderate success, other cities have adopted some of the same ideas. And don’t think these plans only apply to the students. Standardized tests can also teachers and school officials monetary rewards. Perhaps in the future, it will not even be up to the parents whether or not to pay students.

The debate over rewarding kids with money for good grades is an argument that could go back and forth for years with no “right” answer on either side. My personal feelings are that paying your children for good grades could potentially work if it’s in combination with other incentives and education by the parents. The child needs to know why he is being paid for good grades and why a good education is so important. To make the financial incentive worthwhile, you also need to teach your children the important of savings and how to manage their money. Whether you believe it’s counterproductive to pay students or it’s a great way to get them to study hard, paying kids for good grades is a hot-button issue that has valid issues both for and against.

Where do you weigh in on the issue?

(photo credit: The Ritters)

Matt Breed
You are looking at Matthew Breed. He is a 30 year old sports nerd who lives in North Florida with his fiancee, Sarah. Originally in school for a Business degree that did not work out due to capricious youth and irresponsibility, he is currently "getting past" his Peter Pan syndrome and attends classes for a degree in Information Technology while working full time. His care for personal finance stems from a modest upbringing with fiscally responsible parents who highly value education and frown upon frivolity.

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Comments

  • http://wohlnerfinancial.blogspot.com/ Roger Wohlner

    As the father of three great kids who are all high-achievers I could not have fathomed paying them for getting good grades. Doing their best in school was simply expected. Just like anything else, children need to be given paremeters, expectations, and boundries. In our case all three kids have done well for themselves and more importantly are good people with a strong sense of a need to give back to society. Our oldest graduated from college this year and is off to a great start in her first job. We have another one in school and our youngest has been accepted at his top choice college for next year. At some point parents need to motivate their kids, I think paying them for getting good grades is a poor route to go.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

      Good point Roger. I myself was not paid, and do not think it would have made much of a difference in my grades in the end.

      Glad to hear that all of yours are doing well! If you don’t mind my asking, were there certain motivational tools you used to ascertain good grades, or was it just the potential for future success?

      • http://wohlnerfinancial.blogspot.com/ Roger Wohlner

        Matt we were fortunate that my wife was able to be home full-time when the kids were young. She did a great job of working with them early on and we both continually reinforced the importance of education to the kids.

  • http://www.ramonaiftode.com Ramona

    I’ve never understood this idea of paying your kid to do well at school. I was a good student and never got money from this. My folks told me about the importance of education to have access to better jobs and become a better person. I then decided it’s important FOR ME to not squander my education. I won’t pay my kids to do anything, I’d like to instill in them the ideas of being better people and achieving more, not pay them for an A.

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

      Ramona,

      While I agree with you, I think the problem is that many parents have trouble expressing just how important and valuable it is to do well in school, and that is what leads to compensation.

      But I could be wrong!

  • Alex

    I’ll premise my comment with the fact that i was paid for my grades throughout middle/high school. That being said, I was money motivated, and my parents were able to identify this early on and reward based on “a job well done.” In my humble opinion, the bigger question has to do more with motivation than it does compensation. As parents, (I do have one of my own now), I feel we are responsible for giving our kids the best chance to succeed. Identifying how they are motivated, (and adapting to their motivational needs over the course of time), and using that knowledge as a means of positive encouragement and reinforcement is a great strategy for helping our kids succeed. If it’s money, then pay them for their grades. If it’s the new Pokemon book, then buy them the Pokemon book.

    Finally, I don’t think motivating kids through compensation is the only strategy for success, and I’d love to learn more about how others motivate their kids. Comically enough, mine is motivated by any number of things outside of money. One in particular is the verbal affirmation he receives after achieving his goals.

    Cheers,
    Alex

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

    Alex,

    That said, do you pay your child now? Obviously, you are not opposed to the idea, as it has worked for you. If you would pay him/her (if you believe it would serve as motivation), how do/will you decide just how much to pay?

  • http://www.savings.com/blog/blog.html Stella

    I always got good grades in school. My parents never paid me–I was very self-motivated. I do remember, however, the local McDonald’s having a promotion where report card A’s could be “redeemed” for free food. My high school report cards are covered with McDonald’s stamps that my Mom cashed in for fries…

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

      Nice!

      How come I can’t remember such a thing? How old are you Stella?

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    As a teacher, I can tell you that the kids who work the hardest aren’t always the ones with the best grades. I would hate to teach those kids that their hard work is not good enough and that they haven’t earned the prize, particularly if they’re already ashamed of or frustrated by their grades. We have the “American dream” mindset that if you work hard, you get the desired results, but that’s simply not always true.

    • Matt Breed

      So you fall in the “against” category if I read this correctly.

      If this is true, how would you help the harder-working but underachieving student?

      • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

        Not totally against — I think there are some kids it would work really well for. And sure, there are lots of things we need to do that we don’t get paid for, but most of them are not mind-numbing and done day in and day out. We get paid for those ;)

        For kids who work hard, I reward progress. If a student is, say, four steps below where they’re “supposed to” be, and they move up to three steps below, they’ve made progress and that is significant. Too many people point out that they’re still behind. Well, sure, but they’re not going to go from way behind to all caught up in one leap… And frankly, they might never be caught up at all, but if they’re working and learning and making progress, that’s sufficient for me. (I also do what I can to make it enjoyable as often as possible. Learning doesn’t have to be boring.)

        • Matt Breed

          I’m so glad to hear a teacher with such a real-world outlook on the way kids learn, and more importantly, has realistic expectations of them.

  • http://stretchyourdollarwaukesha.wordpress.com/ Skirnir Hamilton

    If I did pay my son for good grades, which we don’t, I would want to watch for how he treats it. I don’t want to accidently teach him to not have motivation of his own. As a person who has been doing the dieting/weight loss thing for awhile (lost 40 pounds so far), I want him/her to have their own motivation, even as a child. I don’t want to accidently teach him/her that we do things based on what we can get out of it. When my son was in first grade, they had this system where they started the week with three popcicle sticks and they lost one when they misbehaved. If they still had one left by the end of the week they got a treat, usually candy. I feel like this teaches good behavior based on rewards, not on behaving, or doing well at school because of our own motivation, or because it is what is expected. Or, in the case of good behavior at school, it is the rules that will be enforced in some way.

    • Matt Breed

      So, if it were an effective motivational tool and your son does not abuse it, you are not opposed to paying him?

      P.S. Congrats on the weight loss! That is quite a lot.

  • http://polyphase.ca/kc KC

    My sister recently opened her home to a 15 yr old foster daughter. It was the beginning of the school year and my sister was able to review the previous yr report card. It showed a spotty attendance record in certain classes, meaning that she was skipping classes. It also showed that she failed a couple of courses simply due to not doing the homework. My sister and I put our heads together and put together an incentive plan that rewarded her effort as opposed to the results. Teachers know that if the kids actually show up to class and do the homework they will pass. So this plan is based on her attending every class (my sister calls weekly to check), and that she brings home and does her homework daily. With her first report card (in 3 weeks) and ‘passing’ marks (not a particular grade) she gets a weekend in a ‘cool’ city. With each week that she does her homework and goes to every class, $25 goes into a pot for a shopping spree in that city. We will not dictate at all what she spends it on. If a class is skipped or homework doesn’t come home to be checked at any point then she simply doesn’t earn the $ for that week. It’s not punitive. Nothing gets taken away. She simply gets to try again the next week. She’s the one who decides how much money she wants for her shopping trip. 
    Ironically her grades have improved, her attitude towards school has improved (significantly) and she is generally a nicer person to be around. Additionally, she has been to _every_ class. (Compared to the last year of her picking and choosing which classes she would attend and which she would skip.)
    She’s getting really excited about her trip. It’s in 3 weeks. 

    We read a lot about this before offering it to her and the studies that I came across suggested that rewarding the ‘effort’ and ‘progress’ as opposed to the ‘results’ generally yielded _better_ ‘results’. Kids can control the ‘effort’ but not always the ‘results’. It made sense. Myself, as an adult more ‘in control of my life’ than a kid, can still only control the same thing. 
    I am opposed to paying for a particular grade but effort… that (I feel) is worth a reward. 

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

    It probably does depend on the child, but in this case, I’m sure that just knowing someone cares enough to check up on her and monitor her progress makes quite a difference.

    I like that it is not just a monetary “bonus” that is available to her, but that it is for something very specific, giving her something to look forward to when classes are complete.

  • Natalie

    well, i am 22 just finishing up college. i have always had good grades, not because i am a geek and not because my parents payed me to get good grades. My father instilled certain values in me as a child that stuck. when i get good grades i feel good about myself. He always made me feel like being smart and getting good grades made you a better, more well rounded person and that worked for me. I don’t know about the problem teens, i guess it depends. but in a way paying someone to get good grades sort of spoils them i guess
    i like the way this lady put it in her article…”By offering a cash reward, will it inspire the kids to go for the gold when they might otherwise slack off? Well, maybe, but that’s beside the point. The fact is, not everything should be fee-driven and academic success is one of them.” and i tend to agree.

    here’s the article in case anyone is interested. nice topic, definitely a hard question to answer
    http://www.gobankingrates.com/savings-account/should-parents-pay-kids-for-good-grades/

  • CUTELUVROX

    My parents have always told me that if I get good grades and am a nice hard working person I will get a reward. so when I bring home straight A’s they give me 20 dollars. When in fifth grade I had problems with spelling they would give me 10 dollars every time I got a perfect score and then I tried harder and harder to get that perfect score every week. soon my test was on the wall for perfect scores. Because i’m smart originally getting good grades comes pretty easy but with the promise of 20 dollars every time my grades are better my grades become a decent focal point in my life if my grades not where I want it to be I do extra credit if there are no extra credit opportunity’s I work three times harder. I’m also a favorite to my teachers because i’m smart and take my time on assignments. In language arts I type all of my assignments.

    • Matt Breed

      So, when you have children, will you employ the same philosophy…Or will it depend on how they are doing in school in the first place?

    • hot pants

      pretty much everyone in my class types their assignments, its faster, my parents dont pay my sisters and i and we are all pretty smart, we do really good on tests and grades. I work hard myself, also in extra curriculars, because im in highschool and i want to get scholarships.

  • allie fly

    well as a teenager well i do think that kids should get paid, because well when they think that they dont have any thing to work for well it will give them somethink to work for its like a job too……????

  • CS

    I think if we raise our kids with the mentality that they need a monetary reward all the time, they might begin to have a “what’s in it for me” type of attitude. While it’s good for them to be rewarded and understand that hard work can pay off, it’s also a good idea to teach kids that there are jobs in this world that you have to do that do not offer any monetary rewards, but the reward is in the joy of doing – being a parent, a SAHM, doing an internship, doing voluntary or charity work. My kids don’t get paid for grades, but they bring home good grades anyway, because they want to do well and they understand that learning is good for them. They don’t get paid for cleaning their rooms or picking up their own toys, but they do get paid for doing extra jobs around the house – helping mom and dad do their work (help mom with filing, help dad with organizing tools, etc). Both my kids know the value of working hard to earn money as well as doing a good job whether you get paid or not. After all, I don’t get paid to do the laundry or wash the dishes, but those jobs need to get done and done well.

  • Kanderson

    thanks for the info. I am doing an essay on this topic!!

    • carter

      ME too

      • kyle

        same

  • Rissabean99

    i totally agree. Kids should never get paid for getting good grades. Just getting the grades should be rewarding enough.

  • hot pants

    what i hate is kids who get paid for grades when they have had good grades for their whole lives at school, it’s ridiculous because the kid is already doing great

  • hotb

    hot pant

  • hotb

    shut uop

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