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Family Finances

Dear Sasha and Malia

With all due respect, I'd like to suggest that the Obama kids need a fiscal stimulus.

Can we talk about your allowance? I understand that each of you gets $1 a week. If you think that's a little low, I'd have to agree with you.

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To their credit, your parents are probably holding the line because they don't want to spoil you. But sometimes it's just as bad to get too little as it is to get too much. You don't have a chance to make decisions about how to spend your money. Even in a recession (your father knows that word well), the cost of living for a 7-year-old and a 10-year-old is more than $1 a week.

With all due respect, I'd like to suggest that the Obama kids need a fiscal stimulus (your father will know what that means, too). I'd recommend that you get weekly allowances equal to half your age -- that's $3.50 for Sasha and $5 for Malia.

That might sound like a big raise, but in return I'd expect you to take on extra responsibilities with your money. For example, your parents might ask you to pay for your own tickets or popcorn when you go to the movies with your new friends from school. Or you could buy treats and toys for the new puppy your parents promised you. Or bring your own money for souvenirs when you go on trips with Mom and Dad.

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You wouldn't have to spend all your money at once -- you could save up for something special. Your parents might even ask you to set aside 10% of your allowance every week (doing the math will help you learn percentages). Put the money in a piggy bank and watch it grow. And when you have enough, your parents could help you open your own savings accounts in a real bank -- one that won't go out of business. (Note to Dad: Think of the boost in confidence it would give the banking system.)

Or you could put some of your cash in the collection plate at church, or give it to a charity that needs your money more than you do. The point is, you get to decide how to use your own money, and that feels good.

Helping out around the House

I read that you're expected to make your beds but that your mom is satisfied if you "just throw a sheet over them." Sounds easy enough. Here's a suggestion you're probably not going to like: I don't think you should get paid for doing such chores. Kids should pitch in because their parents need help around the house -- even when it's the White House.

If you'd like to earn more money, you can always get paid for doing jobs that Mom and Dad consider extra -- maybe helping to clear snow back in Chicago or bathing the dog (but not for scooping poop from the White House lawn).

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Simple reminders

One problem you seem to have is that your dad sometimes forgets to give you your allowance. No surprise. All parents are forgetful at one time or another. What you need is a simple system for reminding him.

Maybe he can program it into his BlackBerry. Or maybe you can set aside a certain time and place -- say, every Sunday night in the Lincoln bedroom. One family I know worked out a simple system by making a booklet of construction-paper coupons that the kids could tear off and exchange for their allowance each week.

Wise choices

Why am I bothering to tell you all this? Because, at ages 7 and 10, you could be the poster children for learning to manage your own money and set an example for other kids.

You could learn how to divvy up your allowance money and make wise choices about how to spend it. You could learn how to be patient and save your money for something you want. You could use your own money to buy things instead of someone else's.

In short, you could take on more personal responsibility -- something your father talked about in his inaugural address. If more grown-ups had done those things, we wouldn't be faced with such a big mess to clean up.