Whether it’s a traditional fat little porcelain piggy or a decked out electronic coin sorting gadget-gizmo-thing, a piggy bank of some kind is pretty standard fare when it comes to getting kids learning about money, saving and budgeting. In some households, taking money back from a kid’s piggy bank is no big deal. In others, it’s plain despicable. The arguments are strong on both sides:
Some parents who raid their kids’ piggy banks justify the behavior by saying that, because they have the power to give the money, they also have the power to take it back. They claim that this shows the child that parents are still in authority, which is a good thing.
Another point these individuals make is that, sometimes, no matter how well-meaning a parent is when he gives money to a child, life happens. If you’re short on cash for the week and your child’s saved $20 will get some groceries, then so be it. Under this view, you’re just doing what you need to get yourself and your family by.
In some households, the mantra about taking money from a child’s piggy bank is that, at least when the kids are really little, they won’t even know the difference from before you took the money to after. A one-year-old, for example, doesn’t really have a grasp of less and more, let alone a specific number sequence that would allow him to count what’s in the piggy bank. If he can’t even tell you’ve taken the money, why not?
Those who support taking money from a child’s piggy bank also sometimes say that family helps family. They assert that, essentially, the child should be willing to lend the money anyway, just as parents are often willing to lend money to their kids. By “borrowing” now and then, kids learn a more communal system of looking out for each other and seeing beyond “mine.”
One of the biggest arguments people make against raiding a child’s piggy bank is that, essentially, it’s stealing. What else, they argue, would you call it when you take something that isn’t yours without asking? If your child sees you do this even once, it can send the message that it’s okay to just take without consideration for anyone else, that “looking out for #1” is all important. This is bad news considering that the majority of jurisdictions around the world have regulations related to stealing that can result in fines, jail or other punishments.
Consistency is also a big concern. In order to plan and budget money, kids need to have some routine with their funds, such as getting allowance on the same day each week. When money disappears without warning or consent, children have a much harder time sticking to the plans they make, because it’s almost impossible to say whether the money involved in the plans actually will materialize and stay real. In the worst case scenario, this can lead to kids giving up on money planning and budgeting altogether, because they won’t necessarily see the point of setting goals and working things out if they can’t actually follow through.
Third, taking money from a kid’s piggy bank doesn’t really represent the real world. The closest comparison probably is a government taking out taxes or getting sued—people usually don’t get a say about whether this money goes bye-bye or not—but in almost every other circumstance, once money is earned, it belongs to the earner. An employer, for example, doesn’t ask for a few paychecks back when the company sees revenue and profits are down for the quarter. Some people argue that much of the money kids get is a parental gift and therefore doesn’t have the same rules, but even in this context, it’s generally considered really poor etiquette to take back a gift for personal reasons once a person has presented it.
In some cases, people argue that other methods of borrowing are available other than a kid’s piggy bank. Others say that a little better planning can prevent the situations that require dipping into the bank in the first place. Still others say that taking the money without asking teaches kids to sweep money problems under the rug, not talking about them as a family.
The Bottom Line
No one says kids can’t help out family, but they should do it in a way that is realistic. If you want or need to take money from your child’s piggy bank, treat it like a real loan, giving it back with interest, and make sure your child knows what you’re doing and why. If he denies the loan even after you’ve explained your situation, it’s best to respect him just as you would a bank and find another solution.