Is Your Child Allowed to Use Allowance to Buy Junk Food?

It seems like most families have some sort of rule about the consumption of candy, such as allowing the eating of sweets only once a week, or no more than a certain amount per day, or maybe taking an Ellyn Satter approach and giving kids free reign so long as candy-eating doesn’t interfere with meals.

In the TLT household, as I told you once before, we effectively managed the influx of candy for a long time by using our beloved Treat Basket, a place where lollipops from the bank teller and booty from the Valentine’s Day party could reside until such time as a “special treat” was warranted.  That worked really well — until my kids got older and realized that, as with the Roach Motel, most of what was going into the Treat Basket was never coming out.

These days, with a savvy 8- and 11-year-old, things are a lot more ad hoc.  Sometimes my kids gobble up candy as soon as they receive it (as my daughter does every single Tuesday and Thursday afternoon when a certain unnamed teacher at our school hands out treats – grrr) but other times we still make them fork it over for later consumption, especially when they get tons of junk all at once, like after a classroom party.  And no matter what, I’m not a big fan of candy being stored in my kids’ rooms.  (If you’ve seen the size of Houston bugs, you understand.  Seriously, people, they’re large enough to be kept as pets.)

Further complicating the issue is the fact that a few years ago we started giving our kids a nominal allowance — just a few dollars each month, of which a portion goes to charity and a portion to savings.  With the little bit of pocket money left over, my kids used to indulge mostly in toys from Target’s Dollar Spot and/or sugarless gum.

Lately, however, both kids are asking more often if they can spend their money on candy, candy which they want to keep in their rooms and eat at will.  The Control Freak part of me is not at all happy with this idea, and as you’ve figured out by now, I’m about 65% Control Freak.  But I recognize that my kids are getting older and deserve (and would benefit from) more freedom in managing both their finances and their sweet-eating.  (In fact, one child will be heading off to middle school next year and soon a little contraband candy in the nightstand drawer could be the least of my problems.)

So, just out of curiosity, for those of you who give an allowance, do your kids have carte blanche to spend it on sweets or other junk you wouldn’t normally buy for them?  If so, do you put any restrictions at all on those purchases, like when and where they can be eaten?

Take my reader poll and I’ll share the results in tomorrow’s Friday Buffet.



  1. says

    disclaimer – have no children and take this for my $0.02

    I would probably allow them to spend their money on candy. Ultimately they need to learn to make good choices for themselves, if candy is always a huge forbidden fruit it will just look more attractive.

    Perhaps you could create small nudges like, if you spend no more than $x on _any_ additional food outside the home, then I will deposit and extra $y into your savings account each month?

  2. says

    Well, you are obviously much more organized than we are with the money issue (putting some in savings!) –our daughter (10 yrs) does get a small weekly allowance, but she has never chosen to spend it on candy. This may be because treats are pretty freely available at home, and also because she has the peanut/tree-nut allergy, which precludes eating almost all candy bars. She self-regulates with sweets pretty well (I still have to assert some control, but she accepts “no, not right now” without any difficulty, since she knows about balance). She is usually saving her allowance up to purchase larger things –a necklace, or stuffed animal.

    I have to agree with you about food in the bedroom though –we don’t have Houston sized bugs, but I just don’t think food ever belongs in the bedroom, for any of us. Mice would be our physical problem, but I think eating should be a social activity, so that is probably going to be one of those rules I won’t give up easily. :-)

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Renee – the only reason why we’re organized with the allowance is this bank, which is genius. (You can get one where the charity side says “giving,” or, if you’re Jewish, “tzedakah,” you can personalize it with kids’ names, and if the kids want to they can use a dry erase marker to keep track of what they have.) As for sweets, as I mentioned to Kate above, I actually do think my kids have little stashes of candy they’ve accumulated from somewhere that they keep in their rooms. Until such time as I see bugs, I’m trying to turn a blind eye since they’re otherwise pretty obedient kids and I feel like a little safe rebellion shouldn’t be quashed! Glad to hear this isn’t a big issue with your daughter – sounds like you’re doing it right.

  3. says

    Hey, people do keep them as pets. Go visit Mr. H’s 2nd grade class (unless you’re as creeped out by cockroaches as I am and refuse to look). :)

    As to your question, both boys get an allowance but neither have asked to buy sweets with their cash, ever. Weird when I come to think of it, because when I was their age, my friends and I would hoard up ever penny we had until we could run off to the general store and buy all the candy in sight. Maybe we “treat” the boys too often ourselves. Hmm, I might have to stop that.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Tari – NO!!! I had no idea. I will stay far, far away from Mr. H’s room from now on. (I am totally roach-phobic, so of course I find myself in the Roach Capital of America, where they FLY no less . . . .) Interesting that your boys have never asked to buy candy. My kids certainly seem to get their fair share of sweets and junk (although they probably would say they deserve more!), but it seemed to suddenly dawn on them that they could use their cash for candy.

  4. Kate says

    As someone who was not a kid very long ago (a current college student), the policy in my house growing up was that I could use money to buy sweets, but they were NOT allowed to be kept in my room. The two reasons for this were: 1-my mom did not want to attract bugs & 2- my mom wanted the sweets to be a treat eaten after we had had a proper meal. If treats stayed in our room, my brother and I would eat them in place of nutritious foods when we were hungry.

    I think the system worked pretty well. Whenever we ate the sweets, we knew our mom was aware of it, because they stored in the kitchen (her domain). This automatically made us refrain from gorging ourselves. Also, before we ate them, my mom tried her best to make sure we weren’t hungry and using the sweets as a replacement for something healthier.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Kate – this is pretty much what we’re doing now, but I suspect that both kids have a little “stash” somewhere, and I purposely turn a blind eye on the theory that a little rebellion is a good thing! :-) Thanks for commenting here. Please come back and continue to share your thoughts.

  5. Stephanie says

    I couldn’t really name how we do it, so my I asked my 11-year-old daughter what she thinks the rules are, and her answer is pretty correct: they can use their money on what they want as long as it doesn’t have the Bad Three: HFCS, food dyes, or trans fats. (I ban many other things, like preservatives, when I shop for household food, but only ask them to look for those three things on labels to keep it simple.)

  6. says

    i can relate here bettina. the control freak in me wants to say “no junky candy ever no matter where it comes from” but I know that doesn’t teach my kids to think about their discretionary money and what they want to use it for, nor does it teach my kids to think for themselves about whether or not they should be consuming chemicalized candy regardless of where the money comes from. both of these are life-skills they need 1) how to spend money responsibly and 2) how to eat responsibly.

    I chose, “absolutely” in your poll. with the caveat that i will do my best to steer them toward the choice i would like them to make, but by illustrating why they should choose like me, vs mandating that they chose like me.

    side note – i used all my spending money for candy as a kid. and look at me now. i’m back on the real food bandwagon, but i did spend a decade with IBS due to poor eating habits.

  7. says

    We’ve let them buy candy with the spending portion of their allowance, but they typically have some other goal they’re saving for (legos, silly bandz, iPod, etc), so that moderates consumption because the candy expenditures delay the gratification on their larger goals. (It helps to remind them of that fact regularly too 😉

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Yes, that’s true of my daughter, too, who is more of a hoarder than spender. But my son does need to be reminded of the benefits of saving! :-)

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