The Must-Stick-To-It Allowance

YOU shouldn't lecture 17-year-olds. Here's Susan. Very early, actually before 17, we perfected the tight, must-stick-to-it allowance arrangement. This much we would apportion each week - no more. We required her to keep records, to know how much was spent for what. As we went along, we agreed it was only fair to increase this personal fund. Eventually we figured out amounts that would allow her to pay for her wardrobe purchases. Now it was called a clothing allowance. But still when it became insufficient to cover clothing and other needs, we went along. We agreed again to pay for more of her expenses. But on one condition: that we would start a Susan ``owes'' account in which overdrafts would be entered. These (on a continuing basis) would be paid back - we hoped - out of future savings like birthday checks, money from after-school chores, baby-sitting, and the like.

This idea fell apart. Not that she didn't try. There were just many more everyday needs than money. There were rock concert tickets, wall posters, maybe a dog, new earrings, learner's driving permit, frames for a new friend's pictures. And there was this gorgeous Chilean sweater in five colors that she saw for $225.

This is about the time you realize that even subtle advice can be futile. But because of her very organized study schedule and good grades, we figured she could handle a part-time job. That would be one way out of her financial dilemma. By canvassing neighborhood help-wanted signs she found one she liked, one that fitted her schedule.

The payroll form accompanying her first paycheck was what helped her find a new set of values. We found her aghast going over the payroll form deductions. Wow, she told us. That doesn't leave very much, does it? A short dissertation tinged with understanding and advice might have been appropriate. But we refrained. We saw she was beginning to get the idea. And we were right. ``Hey,'' she said to us later, ``How do people get enough to buy stuff like those Chilean sweaters?''

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