Paying for Grades: What to Consider Before Promising Your Kids Cash for A’s

Here are helpful tips if you're thinking about rewarding good grades with greenbacks

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

As the school year begins, family conversations may turn to how friends spent their summer break, the back-to-school fashions that are hot this year and — oh yes, grades. While talk about vacations and blue jeans won’t generally cause conflict between family members, grades can be a tough topic — especially if a child’s performance in school doesn’t meet his or her parents’ expectations.

When it comes to grades, I also hear a great deal of debate among parents about how to motivate their kids to do well in school. What surprises me is that for some, the carrot isn’t as much orange as it is green. When a friend of mine recently admitted to paying her son for good performance when he was struggling in school, her choice was met with mixed reactions from our other friends, ranging from disbelief to praise.

(MORE: Postponing Retirement: Will You Have to Work Forever?)

How to best inspire children to learn and maintain good grades (understanding that the two are not always mutually exclusive) has long been a challenge for parents, even as educational grading systems and methods of teaching change. Research indicates that extrinsic rewards don’t necessarily motivate a child to perform better in school. According to a recent article in the Journal of Educational Psychology, paying kids for grades can work, but only for a small portion of students and then only for a limited time. Unfortunately, the method is most effective for those who are already motivated to achieve. 

Despite the research, it seems that some parents — and even some schools — still pay for grades or have considered it. If you’re thinking about rewarding your child’s high marks with cash this school year, ask yourself these questions first:

What am I trying to achieve? Offering cash rewards for grades is often a temporary solution — and a last resort. When my friend started paying her child, he was struggling academically and dreading every day at school. She was at her wits’ end, and money worked. But consider the long-term implications. Once your child has proven he or she can earn good grades, will you keep paying? If you choose to maintain this system, it can get fairly expensive, especially if your child also earns allowance or rewards for other good behaviors. But if you stop, will your child go back to his or her old underachieving ways?

Am I looking for A’s or for a change in attitude? Another issue to consider is whether you’re really trying to change your child’s behavior rather than just requiring him or her to meet the end goal (a good grade) in any way possible. In most instances, you’re likely better off helping your children improve habits that will help them get the most from their education — like good attendance, productive study routines and focusing skills — rather than offering a reward simply based on a letter grade. Doing so can also help your child create sustainable habits that will benefit him or her over time, while an A on a biology exam may soon be forgotten.

(MORE: Stay-at-Home Parents: Six Money Secrets for Families Shifting to One Income)

What about my other kids? Children are different, with diverse abilities and reactions to praise and criticism. Rewarding all of your children with money for good grades may seem fair, but could be inappropriate for the style in which each of your children learn. While a $20 bill might be the surest way to see an A paper for one child, a simple “I’m proud of you” will have the same effect on another. Using the same reward for each child can also cause conflict and hurt feelings if one child earns more satisfactory grades than the others and therefore has more cash to spend on outings with friends or trips to the mall.

What message am I sending about education? Consider how your approach communicates your views on the role of education in your child’s life. I’ve heard parents say that school is their children’s “job,” and that paying them based on their performance will prepare them for the realities of the working world. Others believe that kids shouldn’t be paid to do what they’re already supposed to be doing — attending school and learning. In this way, it could be detrimental to teach your children to anticipate payment or recognition for doing what is expected.

(MORE: Kids and Money: Is It O.K. to Play Financial Favorites?)

What values am I conveying about money? Financial values also differ from family to family. Once you start paying for something — whether it’s chores, grades or other positive behaviors — you’ve sent a strong message about the kind of value associated with that action. It may also be difficult for children to recognize the long-term impact of good performance in school when they’re only anticipating their next “paycheck.” Also recognize that motivating your child with the promise of a shopping trip or day at the amusement park in exchange for good grades may have the same effect since these items are still associated with a price tag. While your children are impressionable, it’s important to instill positive financial habits and values, so think about whether you feel that grades are really a form of work you want to compensate.

If your child does well in school, providing praise and recognition is wonderful. But setting expectations for a cash reward before he or she brings home an A may not necessarily work to motivate your child — and it may or may not help instill the values you intended.

MORE: Women Can’t Have It All, but They Can at Least Simplify Their Finances

De Baca is vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.

16 comments
SerfCate
SerfCate

I pay my elementary and junior high school nieces and nephews $10 for each A and $100 if they get straight A's.  I don't do this altruistically.    I do it because my deadbeat neer-do-well siblings are awful role models for achievement and the ability to 'work'.  Good grades puts kids in the honors track; and when in the honors track, they meet honors students, who are competitive and want good grades.  I need to keep my family away from teh burnout parents they have who will send them straight to the welfare line if it were up to them.  

 My plan seems to be working, I just doled out $100 to my 12 year old nephew for his straight A's and $60 to my 14 yo niece for her honor roll report card.  I hope my plan works throughout high school, I'd like to see them attend college, because they'd be in the first in their family linage to go. I was the first in mine and I hope they're the same.  

In the end, they'll be able to support their parents in old age, because I'm sure as heck not going to. 

dgdoesstuff
dgdoesstuff

Jane goes to a building at 8 in the morning. She sits in one room for 45 minutes, then another room for 45 minutes, then another for 45 minutes, then has lunch, then rotates through another 4 rooms until 4:00, doing tasks for other people that she would generally not prefer to do if she had another option. The tasks aren't atrocious  but like most people, Jane would rather be skiing, playing with her dog, working on her hobbies, whatever.

Who is Jane?

1.  Jane is a therapist at a hospital. 

2. Jane is a scientist.

3.  Jane is a janitor.

4.  Jane is a student.

1.  Of *course* Jane should get paid!!! 

2.  Of *course* Jane should get paid!!!

3.  Of *course* Jane should get paid!!!

4.  SHAME ON YOU FOR PAYING JANE!!!! 

WTF?? Seriously people. School is not that much different than going to work.  

bentren
bentren

"How to best inspire children to learn and maintain good grades (understanding that the two are not always mutually exclusive) ..." I would think that the general assumption would be that these are mutually inclusive, not exclusive.

TruthinSF
TruthinSF

Cash is simply a reward for doing good.  anything to motivate kids to study more is good.  Plus they learn the value of hard work and money.  Nothing wrong with that.   The author can live a Socialist bubble if she wants to, but spare the rest of us such drivel.

davee44
davee44

Cash for A's?...what about "You do well in school or you have to get a job!"  

JustJenna
JustJenna

She tried to be objective, but the author's position on this subject is pretty obvious. Maybe next time tone down the language, if you really want to convey an objective article. 

Higher_Ground
Higher_Ground

If you are paying for A's on a paper then you're doing it wrong.  You only pay for report card grades.  I only got paid when I had straight A's, and even then it was only $20.

Jim
Jim

Where the world is heading why don't people understand that  money can buy everything but it can also spoil the future of your kid. I am really not in favor of that if my kids got poor grades then i will ask them to work hard and get good marks instead of buying the grades..

Karabis
Karabis

IMO, basing allowance on academic performance makes more sense than paying kids for doing chores. It more accurately reflects real life... You get paid for going to work (school is a child's "job"), and you take care of things at home because they are the basic responsibilities of adulthood. I know *I* don't get paid for taking out the trash or putting my laundry away, so what lesson am I giving my kid on the value of taking care of one's home when they get paid for housework and I don't? If anything, I think paying fr chores demotivates kids to pitch in, because they'll think it's not worth doing unless they get paid for it, thus leaving the work for the schmucks who do it for free (mom and dad).

With school and grades, though, there is room for improvement by setting goals to get better grades, and thus learning to work harder and develop problem-solving skills to achieve the desired outcome... Just like in the working world. If your child is very bright and gets As easily then this system may not have the same impact, but you can still give an allowance based on grades and then offer non-monetary "bonuses" for a job particularly well done. Smart kids need challenges to rise to as much as kids in the average range, if not more so.

bd927
bd927

I always wonder when you stop too? And what happens when one child works hard and gets a B and another who gets an A with little work, who deserves the money? More money? Motivate kids by getting them excited about learning. Or let them know that they cannot watch tv, play video games, go out until work is done.

Wanda Thibodeaux
Wanda Thibodeaux

I agree that paying for grades isn't going to work 100 percent of the time. But I think if you choose to do it, you have to accept the responsibility of teaching your child how to manage the funds he acquires. This doesn't have to be old-fashioned--for instance, a great site called http://www.bankaroo.com lets kids set goals and track funds with parents, and you can access it on mobile devices pretty easily. What we do, like the article stated, should be long-lasting.

J.E. Mathewson
J.E. Mathewson like.author.displayName 1 Like

I'm trying the "pay for grades" this year. My son is very smart but not motivated at all and hates going to school. I don't pay him for regular chores because I believe all members of the family have to help out, but I do pay him for extra chores and he mows lawns for extra money. I don't know that resorting to paying him for his grades is going to work but I do know that he is VERY motivated by  money and my other children are motivated for personal achievement. 

ruraynor
ruraynor

@J.E. Mathewson This is pretty much the same situation I was in growing up. My mum paid me £10 per A grade in my last mandatory year of school to encourage me to keep studying the subjects I had no interest in but were compulsory- she knew I could get a high grade but I didn't want to study for them because they didn't seem relevant to me and felt like a waste of time. Without the financial incentive, I probably would have settled for a lower grade because I didn't care. 

Kirkwzo
Kirkwzo

like Willie answered I cant believe that some one able to earn $6672 in four weeks on the network. did you look this(Click on menu Home)