Personal Finance

This 'American Ninja Warrior' contestant pays his kids for physical fitness

Key Points
  • Morgan "Moose" Wright is one of 100 competitors in the national finals for "American Ninja Warrior."
  • Wright offers his kids an allowance for physical activity, and often pays out $50 to $60 per week.
Morgan "Moose" Wright competing in the Kansas CIty finals of NBCU's "American Ninja Warrior."
Fernando Leon | NBC

As a physical education (P.E.) teacher and a two-time contestant on the challenging obstacle-course competition "American Ninja Warrior," Morgan "Moose" Wright is, of course, teaching his children to be physically fit.

And he's melding those lessons with financial fitness, as well.

Wright, a 43-year-old elementary school teacher from North Fort Myers, Florida, made it to this season's "American Ninja Warrior" finals in Las Vegas. The first night of the finals airs Sept. 4, at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. (NBC and CNBC are both units of NBCUniversal.)

In a contestant video that aired ahead of his Kansas City finals run in mid-August, Wright, a retired U.S. Army first lieutenant, dug into a topic that's a hot-button issue for parents: Allowances.

He and his wife, Lisa, pay their kids — Josalyn, 12, and Jaxon, 9 — for physical activity rather than chores. The idea took off.

"My kids are like, this is an unlimited money-making potential," Wright said in the video. He noted that the weekly bill for the athletic duo can run $50 to $60 from all those planks, push-ups and mile runs.

"But what better investment, than on the physical fitness of my children?" he said. "And I pay it out with a smile."

American Ninja Warrior contestant Morgan "Moose" Wright, with his children Jaxon (left) and Josalyn (right).
Provided by Morgan Wright

Wright told CNBC that the idea stemmed from wanting his kids to be able to earn and manage their own money, yet maintain typical household tasks as a family responsibility. He recalled the sting of getting 50 cents instead of $1 for poorly completed chores as a kid, and doesn't want to have to police his children the same way.

(Josalyn and Jaxon have to be done with their chores and homework before they can earn any fitness money.)

"My kids do their chores, because that's just what they do," Wright said, later joking, "I feed them dinner. I keep them safe from bears. They should take out the trash."

Making allowance work

Like Wright, plenty of parents grapple with the idea of an allowance: Give it, or not? For what kind of chores or behaviors? How much?

Studies on allowances offer mixed takeaways, said Beth Kobliner, author of "Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You're Not)." Some have found giving kids a set amount (not tied to chores) makes them more responsible; others found it increases entitlement.

"The bottom line is, giving allowance is not the holy grail of teaching your kid to be a money genius," she said.

Money lessons for kids
Money lessons for kids

With the right parameters, an allowance can be a great teaching tool, said Paul Golden, a spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education. The "best" solution depends on your family, but it's worth hashing out.

"The whole idea of an allowance and why we give it is that it's one of the most effective money management tools," he said.

Here's what to consider to find a system that works for you:

Make it age appropriate. The allowance conversation usually comes into play when kids are old enough to distinguish needs vs. wants and start asking for more of the latter, Golden said — at about age 5.

(But you can definitely start talking about money much earlier.)

Prepare your own budget. Wright said he has occasionally been surprised by how much his kids earn in a given week. To head off problems, he and his wife set up a dedicated savings account that they fund each month, in order to make sure they have cash on hand for the kids' paydays.

But what better investment, than on the physical fitness of my children? And I pay it out with a smile.
Morgan "Moose" Wright
"American Ninja Warrior" contestant

Set expectations... Be clear about what "wants" the money is for, Koblinger said. If you're asking your kids to cover say, all of their own entertainment for the week or their after-school snacks, the amount of the allowance offered should reflect that.

…But give free choice. Let your kids buy what they want to buy with their allowance, Kobliner said. It's OK to set a few parameters, she said — no candy or violent video games, for example. But it's that free rein that gives kids the opportunity to set priorities and budget.

Allow for mistakes. Go ahead, let your kid blow his whole allowance on the day he gets it. That's a valuable teaching moment, Golden said — and one it's better for your child to have early, with a small amount of money at stake.

When missteps happen, be prepared to stick with the money limits and rules you've set out, Kobliner said. Don't bail out your child with extra money or an advance on next week's payout.

"Otherwise, that number becomes meaningless," she said.

Pay consistently. Treat allowance like a payday, Golden said, offering it at regular intervals (ideally, once a week or every other week). Consistency helps kids better budget and save, while creating gaps that allow for them to make and recover from small spending missteps.

Morgan "Moose" Wright competing in the Kansas CIty finals of NBCU's "American Ninja Warrior."
Fernando Leon | NBC

Give cash. There are plenty of ways to go high-tech with allowance, from prepaid cards to apps. But the experts agree: Cash is king for young kids. It helps them better grasp that there's a finite amount of cash — and that they'll have to put that item back if they don't have enough at the register, Golden said.

Be careful with incentives. Offering to pay kids for good grades, exercise or another positive behavior can backfire, Kobliner said. That may not work if your child isn't already motivated to do those things without you dangling a financial carrot.

Scale payments to ability. If you opt to try Wright's fitness-for-finance route, he suggests starting small and scaling payouts as the kids get fitter. For example, Josalyn currently gets a quarter per rope climb; as she improves, it'll become five climbs for $1. He also pays out bonuses each time his kids hit a milestone.

"Be honest with your assessment of your child's physical ability as well," Wright said.

Be present. Allowances can spark plenty of money questions from your kids, said Wright. It's an opportunity to lead by example and impart money lessons, especially if you've involved with your kids. While the kids keep their own tallies, Wright supervises to check their form — and they often exercise together.

"It's such a positive way to spend a lot of time with your kids," Wright said. "I love the life I live."