Do You Need An Adult Allowance?

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When you hear the word budget – how does it make you feel? For some of us, budgeting is a welcome concept we employ with great success in our financial lives. But what about you? Do you feel constrained by the idea of budgeting – like it does not allow you to have any fun? Do you hear the word budget and inwardly cringe, and feel sorry for those who live by their budget? Is budgeting a four letter word in your life? If so, an adult allowance might be the answer for you.

The idea of an allowance is one that most of us have been familiar with since childhood, but not in a necessarily positive way. An allowance is the way that someone else in authority exercised control over us and our spending, by allowing us (hence, allowance) a sum of money per week or month from their coffers that we could use as we wished.

Freedom vs. Control

But as an adult, giving yourself an allowance doesn’t have to be controlling. In fact, it can be very freeing. The concept of giving yourself an allowance is a simple one – when you set up your monthly (or weekly) budget, allocate some to yourself to do with as you wish. This is your allowance. It can be a small amount, or a not-so-small amount, depending on your situation. Budgeting yourself an allowance can be a way of being able to budget effectively and yet feel freedom to make fun and/or impulsive choices with our money as well.

Now vs. Later

We hear pay yourself first but that refers to saving for the future. There has to be a balance in our lives that involves spending for today as well. Not every minute of every day, can we consider just what will happen later. The allowance is the paying yourself first that gives us day to day flexibility instead of future flexibility. The combination of the two (paying yourself first for now and for later) gives you an added level of both security and freedom.

Ease or Eliminate Deprivation

For those who already work within a budget but are feeling a bit controlled by it, placing limits on spending lets you spend without guilt, but also keeps that spending to a reasonable and appropriate level. A common complaint about the concept of budgeting is the feeling of deprivation it gives. The allowance combats that by giving money in hand to spend on whatever you want without guilt – and that flexibility helps to ease or eliminate those feelings of deprivation.

You need to have some level of freedom to do what you want as well as need, or you’ll explode. And an allowance allows you to have that flexibility within the framework of a overall budget. You can make your money work for you by assigning it roles and keeping track of where it goes, yet build in a level of unexpected fun and flexibility for day to day or week to week expenses.

An Allowance Can Work Long Term, Too

But on the flip side, you don’t have to run out and spend just because you can. My husband, for a long time, desired a purchase that just wasn’t in our budget but also was not reasonable to spend a week’s or month’s allowance on – a Playstation 3. So he set up an ING savings account and saved most or all of his allocation every week, and eventually was able to make a big purchase without guilt, that has brought him a lot of enjoyment. Your allowance can work for your own personal long term goals as well as short term wants – it all depends on how you choose to use it.


An allowance gives you the ability to make choices. It is not a license to indulge in anything and everything, and inherent in that is the beauty of the allowance. If the idea of budgeting makes your skin crawl – give the adult allowance a try. Spend unexpectedly only within a preconceived limit, and add a little bit of budgeting within a network of flexibility. You might be surprised at the outcome.

Have you tried an allowance?

(Photo: photophonic)

{ 12 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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12 Responses to “Do You Need An Adult Allowance?”

  1. “But as an adult, giving yourself an allowance doesn’t have to be controlling. In fact, it can be very freeing.”

    This is exactly how I felt. The notion of an adult allowance really seems like it would be restricting, but in reality all you are doing is budgeting a set amount you want to spend.

    I found it to be much more “freeing” than anything. It allows me to spend without feeling guilty!

    • Jim says:

      Allowances also help set expectations for yourself if you have difficulty understanding them. Rather than wondering if you can afford something, you know how much you can spend and it frees up your mind to worry about other things!

  2. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and agree that it’s a fantastic idea. My wife and I have been using allowances for over 3 years, and the little freedom we enjoy from having some play money is awesome.

    I think it actually helps you save money in the long run, because you feel less restricted about having to ask your spouse about each purchase all the time…

    As we talked about during PF hour last night as well, it’s great for secretly buying gifts without the other person knowing!

  3. Dan says:

    My wife and I have been operating on an allowance for several years now. More than a few people have given us an odd look when we’ve talked about it, but it’s really been working well for us.

    My wife splits her allowance between ready cash and saving for a baby grand. So far she’s got about half the amount she needs for the baby grand.

    I’ve had a bit of a spending problem in the past, so working with an allowance has been a great education for me. Previously I’d do a lot of impulse buying. Now I make a serious effort to establish long term plans for my personal spending.

  4. Luke says:

    In our house adult allowance is called “blow money” – and it usually is set aside in an envelope for monthly spending. If there is a new DVD I want, or a scrapbook supply my wife wants, we use some of this “blow money.”

    One benefit of having a system like this between couples is that the rules stipulate we don’t get to question purchases made with our adult allowance. It is our money to spend as we wish.

  5. Amy says:

    My husband and I have been doing this allowance for about 6 months and we love it! We started out very small but we have increased it over time. My only problem (?) is that I have a tendency to save half of it.

  6. I treat my weekly “allowance” as a zero-based budget that resets itself each week. Whatever I don’t spend by the next payday gets put into an envelope. I treat this as a mini emergency fund for small, unexpected expenses, like pizza, girl scout cookies, etc.

  7. Travis @ CMM says:

    I set my wife and I a monthly allowance and it works great. Actually I’m in the negative on mine for the year but it will all work out. If nothing else I’ll just steal from her’s. Just Kidding.

    But seriously it’s a great thing to have, and I highly recommend it.

  8. Same here with the allowance or “blow money.” I believe it is a must for any budget. You work, work, and work, but for what if you cannot spend it on something you WANT versus the NEEDS.

    However, one of the things of budgeting is to actually recognize true NEEDS; food, shelter, transportation, utilities, insurance.

  9. Matt Fyffe says:

    This is a great idea and one I plan to take into practice. I’m too anal about saving money and while it’s built up my savings account, it’s severely limited how I enjoy the present. I always feel poor because I don’t see most of my money, it just goes to savings. Setting up an allowance is a nice way to get the best of both worlds.

  10. LinearChaos says:

    I’ve been toying with this idea for some time now. I have no problem putting together a budget, I just seem to always bust it at the seems.

    Maybe it’s time to lock my extra money away from myself and give myself an allowance. I think it’s gonna have to be a control thing for me.

  11. RUSouledOut2 says:

    I have recently started budgeting because I knew I had to get a grip on my finances. I first heard of the idea of having Fun Money from reading the Smart Cookies book and they recommended having it as a part of your budget. I incorporated this and so far it has been working fabulously! Its like i get the best of both worlds: Having a budget in place that I am adhering to while still having freedom to spend on things that I want!

    If it weren’t for this concept I would fail at budgeting due to the feeling of deprivation (the reason I failed at every other attempt). I recommend this for everyone!

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