Who gives their kids pocket money, and how much?
Every Chinese kid knows exactly what to expect from the Spring Festival: those lucky red envelopes stuffed with crisp, clean 100 kuai bills bestowed on them by adoring relatives. However, as China’s economy booms and parents find themselves with increasingly large amounts of disposable income, more and more kids are discovering that they don’t have to wait until February to get hold of a little extra cash. Last year, Chinese parents outdid their Japanese and Korean neighbors and gave their offspring a whopping RMB 60 million in allowance. Since 2000, Chinese children’s income via allowance has doubled, and their spending has almost tripled, a recent survey by global market research company Synovate has found.
The rise in kids’ incomes can be seen as a direct result of the one child policy: China’s increasingly affluent adults are seeking to give their single children all the gifts and treats that they themselves were denied. Twenty-four percent of parents surveyed said they gave their child money whenever they requested it, and a further 26 percent said they gave their child as much money as they could afford to each month. The remaining 50 percent try to stick to giving their children a fixed amount every week, or simply purchase the desired items when their children ask for them.
Local Beijing mother Xue Feng Song doles out a weekly allowance to her 13-year-old son Xue Rong Bai. “I think it’s necessary to give my son pocket money so that he can be in contact with society. He can choose what he wants to buy and save up for things,” she says. Xue also tries to give her son lessons in smart spending. “I tell him to buy stationery for school and also some snacks and things like that. I don’t want him to be hungry when he’s out of the house.” Unlike their Western counterparts, Chinese parents don’t usually monitor what their kids spend their pocket money on. “I don’t keep track of his money, I think it’s his business,” reports Xue. “Some people also think children should do chores in exchange for money, but they are already so busy with school work I don’t think they should have to.” That doesn’t stop Rong Bai from feeling a little aggrieved, however: “I still don’t think I get enough,” he complains.
Western families living in China can encounter a number of problems associated with allowance. For instance, what seems like a reasonable amount of money back home might be unreasonably generous when converted into RMB. To deal with this, Australian mom Mandy Jensen gives her daughter Ruby (9) and son Max (7) RMB 20 and RMB 10 a week, respectively. “I know this wouldn’t seem like a lot of money in Australia, but I think it’s plenty for them here,” says Mandy. While Mom might think this is fair, Ruby and Max – just like Rong Bai – think they are getting a rough deal. “I think I should get 90 kuai because I’m 9 and Max should get 70 kuai because he’s 7,” Ruby suggests.
Ruby and Max are working on saving: So far, Ruby’s hoarded RMB 600 with the goal of buying an iPod; Max, eager as he is, has been slightly less successful, managing to squirrel away just RMB 13 thanks to an addiction to Pokemon cards. Mandy says that ideally she’d stop giving the kids an allowance as soon as they got their first part-time jobs, “but because we live in China, it’s not really possible for them to get a job at McDonald’s, so I will continue to give them an allowance.”
The question of when to end this financial arrangement with their children is also an interesting one for Chinese parents. Notorious for doting on their kids, most Chinese parents continue to give their children an allowance up until they begin their first serious, full-time job. Sixteen-year-old Han Gao started receiving pocket money when she was in first grade, and her mother Jie Chen doesn’t see a reason to put an end to this practice until Gao’s fully self-sufficient. “Children need money to be able to buy little treats for themselves. It’s natural that we give our daughter money until she can support herself. Everything is so competitive, so [kids]will need as much help as they can get.”