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We Pay For My Kid's A's, And It Works

Can you put a price on your child’s academic success? For us, the answer is yes.

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Graphic of open notebook with letter A on it
Meiko Takechi Arquillos
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It’s embarrassing to even admit. When my son comes home waving a report card showing a big fat A, his reward isn’t a hug, or a pat on the back, or an extra scoop of ice-cream after dinner. It’s cold, hard cash. Years ago, if you had told me that I’d end up forking over money as an incentive for good grades, I would have roared with indignation. “No way! We’re not going to raise a spoiled, entitled kid!”

But that was then. We didn’t pay for A’s until my son started his freshman year in high school. He’s a pretty conscientious kid with a history of earning good grades. But he’s also a pretty typical teenager — which means his priorities and attention are constantly shifting. When we saw his grades take a dip after fall semester began, we decided to try something new.

Opening our wallet has its risks. Sometimes I worry: Will the promise of cash dull his motivation, sense of responsibility, or ambition? Will he ever learn the joy of sheer satisfaction in a job well done?

Still, we figured that school (and sports) is his full-time job. And in the real world, you get paid for your work — and rewarded with bonuses, recognition and advancement. We just dangled the carrot a little earlier. (And for the record, no we don’t pay for chores on top of paying for grades.) We’re not the only ones. A 2012 survey for the American Institute of CPAs found that 48 percent — nearly half — of parents paid for grades.

Just like lost teeth, top grades have their own going rate in every family. For every A my son gets in his required core classes, we pony up $100. Half goes into his bank account to spend how he pleases, and the other half goes into savings. The accounts are linked to our own so we see where the money goes and how it grows.

We know — and we hope he knows — that even without the money he would work hard in school. He does take pride in succeeding. But this way, he earns a little cash in the process, saving for the car we know he’ll want to buy some day.

Monetary motivation might not be right for every family or work for every kid. We’re not even sure we’ll do it with our younger children (and if we did it wouldn’t be until high school). After all, parenthood — especially with your oldest kid — is an experiment, trying new things and figuring it out as we go along.