Chapter 5- Token Economies


Need practical ways to motivate young as well as older children.

Dimick Dollars

            Simple reward systems and token economies work very well for young children, but obviously as children grow and mature more is expected of them more complex systems may be warranted.  One of the most effective and long-lasting token economies that my family used was Dimick Dollars.  Dimick Dollars grew directly out of the ticket system (see explanation of the ticket system in chapter 4).  As the children earned a multitude of tickets and as prizes became more valuable counting tickets became unwieldy.  When my children began to save up hundreds of tickets I decided that I needed bills with various denominations to make things a little simpler for all of us.  With this thought in mind I minted my own “Dimick Dollars.”  My bills looked similar to monopoly money with a different color for each denomination.  When my children were young I put their names on the back of the bills to avoid lost or traded bills, but as they got older I allowed them to buy, sell and trade bills with each other.  This system lasted well into my children’s teen years, however the way it was implemented was not always the same.  As my children’s and our family’s needs changed the system changed.  What follows are idea on how this system can be implemented in a family.  You can reproduce the included Dimick Dollars (see appendix M), or you can customize your own cash!  Some families have produced their own money with such names as Feist Francs, Powell Pesos or Carter Cash.  If you mint your own cash do be sure not to use a copy machine to copy real dollar bills.  The treasury department does not take reproduction of actual dollar bills lightly.

  • Dimick Dollar Distribution– Dimick Dollars should be awarded for good behavior and completing chores.  The plan is to make this a reward only system, so I did not generally take Dimick Dollars already earned away.  In our family each child was eligible to earn a certain number of Dimick Dollars each day.  Dimick Dollars could be earned for completing chores (more for more difficult chores, and more for completing chores on time), treating brothers and sisters kindly and obeying parents.  I started out distributing Dimick Dollars daily as I had tickets, but as my children grew I found this to be time consuming.  Now that they were older they could understand the delayed gratification of earning their tokens once a week, but it was necessary to find a way to keep track of Dimick Dollars earned throughout the week.  Sometimes I tried to rely on my memory, but this was never very successful.  More successful methods included keeping a tally sheet (which was very portable), writing notes on a wall or desk calendar or using a chart.  (See chapter 6 for more on charts.)  Make sure you work a time to pass out the Dimick Dollars into your weekly schedule.  For our family we found that Sundays were the best as we were already spending this day as a family.  It is important that you make it real clear to the kids exactly why they are earning their Dimick Dollars.  As you pass out the Dimick Dollars use your tally sheet, calendar or chart to explain how much is earned for each item and why.
  • Dimick Dollar Redemption– As children age they need to have rewards that continue to stimulate and interest them.  In the early days of Dimick Dollars rewards were no different than the ticket rewards for our family, but soon the kids became tired of the little carnival toys and small pieces of candy.  When our children started school they would often bring home book order forms from their teachers and want to order books.  We found this to be a great item to spend their Dimick Dollars on and so we came up with a cash value for Dimick Dollars.  Dimick Dollars were originally worth one penny each, and later two pennies each, toward the purchase of books from school orders, book fairs or book stores.  Later I would allow my children to trade in their Dimick Dollars for cash, but only for items that I approved.  They were never allowed to use cash from Dimick Dollars for candy or other edible items, however they could purchase clothing, school supplies, gifts or admission to attractions with their friends.  Other non-tangible items can also be a good incentive such as a night out to dinner, extra time playing a video game or watching TV or a later bedtime on a weekend night.
  • Dimick Dollar Storage– I experimented with many different ways for the kids to keep track of their Dimick Dollars.  From the beginning I wanted them to be responsible for their own cash stores.  I felt that this helped them learn to take care of and manage money, as well as count money and make change.  When I would pass out new Dimick Dollars I would ask the kids if anyone wanted to trade small bills in for larger ones.  The younger kids often wanted to hang on to the small bills as it looked like more, but when I ran out of small bills they were forced to trade up or receive no payments.  When the children traded in small bills for larger ones I had them count their own money to help them learn how to count money.  We used a lot of different storage devices; including plastic containers, envelopes, wallets or just letting the kids figure out their own system; but the best method we found to keep Dimick Dollars was with the use of a magnetic clip.  Dimick Dollars were held together with the clip and stuck on the refrigerator.  This kept them in a central location where children could count and keep track of their own, yet Mom would always know where they were.

Our family used Dimick Dollars as a token economy for many years, however we didn’t always use the actual paper money.  Sometimes when we were tired of this system we would switch to a chart version.  Point charts are a very useful and versatile tool that can be used for a variety of purposes.  Children can receive points, or whatever type of token you choose to use, and can use the points as currency or be required to earn a set amount to use for family privileges.  Advantages of a chart system include ease of administration (no paper money or tickets to hand out), organization of children’s daily responsibilities (they must read the chart to see what they need to do) and children take responsibility for their own tasks (they must keep track of what they accomplish and their points, not you).  This method does require that the child is old enough to understand a chart, however reading is not required as a picture chart can be developed. 

A chart can be developed on the computer and printed out daily or weekly.  Charts can also be produced on a laminated poster or on a whiteboard.  A computer version has the advantage of being easily reproduced and edited, however it has the disadvantage of being easily lost.  When I used this method I clipped each child’s chart to a large artist’s clipboard.  This gave us a specific place to keep the chart and made it accessible by all.  A laminated poster can make a good chart if tasks do not change much for your child.  You can draw the chart and tasks on the poster, then laminate it and have the child mark off tasks with a dry erase marker.  You can make a similar chart that is easier to change with a whiteboard.  Use a wet erase marker to draw the chart and write the tasks, then allow your child to mark off what he completes with a dry erase marker.  You can erase your child’s marks with an eraser, but your marks will need to be removed with a wet cloth which makes them more permanent.

Using a chart system does not preclude you from using actual tokens for your token economy, however it does allow you to award tokens or points only on paper if you would like.  If you decide to use a chart system as a token economy you can allow your children to purchase items just as they would with any other token economy, however you mark purchases on the paper and keep a running total on the chart.  Another option with a chart system is to allow children to use family privileges based on points earned.  You can either require that a certain number of points are required to access a privilege (such as you must earn 10 points each day in order to watch TV) or you can allow your children to use the points as needed for privileges (such as ½ hour of TV consumes 2 points).

Clothing Points

            Another token economy that my family used, usually in conjunction with other token economies, was Clothing Points.  This system was developed after I went school shopping with my children for several years in a row and found that some children were perfectly happy with one inexpensive pair of shoes, while another wanted every color of the most popular brand.  Clothing Points were born to help my children learn to use our family resources more wisely, to help me distribute our resources equitably and to gauge what items my children wanted to purchase the most.  If a child had a limited amount to spend on their clothing then they could choose to purchase one pair of designer jeans, or several pair of the store brand.  I also found that my children appreciated and took care of their clothing better as they understood their value.  Below are some of the principles we used to implement this system.

  • Before you begin the system you must decide how much clothing points will be worth and the general rules of use.  Our clothing points were worth ten cents each.  Children could buy any clothing article that Mom or Dad approved of with their clothing points, and they did not have to be responsible for sales tax.  That made it much easier for them to estimate how much they could buy.  Children were to buy all necessary parts of their wardrobe, including socks, shoes and underwear with their clothing points.
  • Children were usually given a large chunk of clothing points once a year when a large clothing shopping would normally be done for the family (right before school started for the year, for instance).  They would be given clothing points that equaled the amount of money I had budgeted for each child to spend.
  • Clothing points were also earned throughout the year by helping with laundry.  Children helped with laundry based on their age and ability and my time constraints.  Laundry duties could include helping to sort, starting loads of wash, changing clothes to the dryer, folding or putting away.  It could also include doing all of their own laundry.  Some of my children learned early on that they could earn a lot more clothing points if did their own laundry and opted to take that responsibility on themselves.
  • There were times that I would allow my children to owe me for clothing points.  If new clothing items were necessary, because they had holes in their socks or they had outgrown their clothes in a short period of time, then I would make an exception.  Generally the kids were required to save up for clothes they needed or wanted.

Once guidelines are developed for Clothing Points you will need to decided how to track them, when they will be distributed and how you will keep track of points that are spent.  I used various methods to keep track of clothing points.  The first method I used was a clothing point chart (see sample in Appendix A).  This worked well when I gave out clothing points with other token economies.  Later I found it was successful to keep track of my children’s clothing points in my desk calendar or planner.  I had begun to keep track of allowances here, so it was a logical choice.  This way I could keep track of when I distributed clothing points and figure out allowances at the same time.  I kept track of spent points by keeping my receipts after clothing purchases and writing on them “who” spent “what.”  I could then place the receipts in my calendar and deduct used Clothing Points when I next calculated the points.  The problem with both of these methods was that I did not have quick access to each child’s accumulated points, or allowance available, when I was away from home.  The solution to this is a portable tracking chart (see Appendix K).  This chart can be used for tracking clothing points, or any other type of token economy that your children are allowed to use for purchases outside the home.  With this method you will need to write starting amounts on the chart for each child before you leave home.  However, the chart folds up nicely to fit in your purse or pocket so that purchases can be quickly and easily tracked.  Clothing points were a token system that worked well, was fairly easy to implement and lasted well into my children’s teen years.

Other Token Economies

At times my family found it necessary to implement some type of specialty token economy for special needs, occasions or days.  We tried a very simple token economy to help our children stay in bed at night.  We found it very difficult to implement a positive reward system for young children to stay in bed and go to sleep.  The goal was to get the child to sleep, but once she was asleep we were unable to give an immediate reward.  By the morning, the effect of a quick and immediate reward had worn off.  For this token system we created happy faces from frozen juice cans lids.  Cans with metal lids that are removed with a plastic seal make great tokens for young children as they are smooth and large enough for small hands, do not pose a choking hazard and are free if you normally buy frozen juice.  Many lids are plain silver, so you can decorate them with permanent markers.  If the lid has a logo or design you can decorate your lids with stickers or by gluing a circle of construction paper over the logo.  The construction paper can be protected with a circle of clear contact paper.  We made several happy faces for this bedtime system, and each child was given three before bed.  The children were told that each time they got out of bed they would have to give up one happy face.  In the morning if they had any happy faces left they would get a prize. 

Another system that we developed using juice lids was the peace sign system.  Our family designated Sundays as a family day.  We went to church together, had a big meal together and planned other family activities.  We also limited our use of TV and other media and outside interruptions on that day.  Sundays were generally very nice days and the children often would play with games or toys that they didn’t ordinarily use, but sometimes all of that togetherness brought on fighting and contention.  We decided that since Sunday was a different sort of day, it called for a different sort of reward system.  Since peace was what we desired for the day, we used a peace sign as the token for that day.  Peace signs were made from juice lids and we drew a peace sign symbol on the front of each lid.  Each child began the day with three peace signs, and could earn more or lose the ones they had based on behavior and activities completed.  The peace signs were placed along a shelf in age order of the children so that I could easily add or take away peace signs and the children could easily see their progress.  Juice lids nest together nicely, so it was easy for the children to see their pile grow or shrink.  They received additional peace signs for appropriate behavior at home and at church. They also received them for participating in quiet and desirable activities on that day such are reading, journal writing or for participating in musical activities such as listening to quiet music, playing an instrument or singing songs.  Children lost peace signs for calling names, hurting a sibling or for not following other family rules.  This was one day that we made a special effort to give immediate feedback by giving out or taking away peace signs right after an appropriate or inappropriate action.  When you use this type of a system make it clear that the child’s behavior is the cause of the number of peace signs earned, not your mood or choice.  “You are really helping to make our day peaceful by sharing with your sister, so you earned another peace sign!” you can say as you place a new peace sign in your child’s pile. 

Peace signs could be redeemed for various things at various times (we often let the children trade them in for tokens or points from our daily system or let them “buy” privileges back- see chapter 9 for more on this), but the thing that made this system a little different than the others was that we introduced a bit of competition in this system.  At the end of the day I would choose a peacemaker of the week.  It wasn’t always the child with the most peace signs, but that was considered.  I usually chose the child who had worked especially hard to bring peace to the family, and no one could be the peacemaker of the week two weeks in a row.  The peacemaker of the week was recognized on Monday evening.  I would set a special place at the dinner table for the peacemaker of the week with a pretty placemat, a crystal glass and usually a small gift (such as a new pencil or a bookmark).  The thing that made the peacemaker of the week the most coveted title was the fact that the peacemaker did not have to help with the dishes.  This was a system that worked for many years for our family with only a few changes.  It was probably so long lasting because it was only used one day a week so it kept its novelty.

Another specialty system which we found helpful on family vacations was travel dimes.  This was especially helpful to encourage the children to get along on extended trips.  The way this system worked was that each child began the day with $1.00 in dimes (we didn’t actually use physical dimes, we wrote the accounting on a piece of paper and then awarded the actually cash at the end of the day).  Each time that a child would do something inappropriate for a car trip or bother a sibling she would lose a dime.  I kept track of this in a small notebook while my husband drove.  Dimes could be earned back or added to the $1.00 for improved or especially good behavior.  At the end of the day each child received any cash they still had left, and there was also a bonus available.  Anyone who had not lost any dimes throughout the day could receive a $2.00 bonus!  This gave a really good incentive for perfect behavior.  This system helped the children behave better, and it had the added bonus of giving the kids spending money so they didn’t have to beg for a treat or a souvenir at each stop.  With this system children with money could purchase these items and those without could not.  If you use this system be sure to budget into your trip expenses the maximum each child can earn per day and bring along a stack of one dollar bills and a roll or two of dimes.

Want copies of the forms mentioned or Dimick Dollars you can copy? Click on the forms section on my blog.

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