When you were a kid, your parents probably stuffed a wrinkled $5 bill in your hand once a week. And if you were like most kids, you could occasionally trick your parents into giving you your allowance twice by telling them they had forgotten.
Today's parents -- and their kids -- are a lot savvier when it comes to allowances. Arguments over whether you paid the appropriate amount already, or whether your kid has enough cash saved to buy a video game can be resolved quickly if you have established an online money management system for your family.
There are a variety of websites and smartphone apps available to help you track your kids and their money. While some are free and some charge a fee, the concepts behind each are similar: to provide a simple method to keep track of the how much your kids get and spend, and to teach them some money management lessons along the way.
Tools for Every Allowance Management Style
The sites give parents control over the allowance system and lets them choose if they want to provide a simple recurring allowance or tie the funds to chores.
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ThreeJars.com, a free website, uses an IOU system to track kids' allowance. No money actually transfers through this site -- it simply functions as a bookkeeping system.
You can set up an account shared with your child so you can each see a running total of what your kid is earning. If the allowance is tied to chores, you can set up an email reminder system and deduct money from your kid's balance if the chores aren't completed. You can add a list of projects and payments so your child can earn extra allowance.
When your child wants to actually spend some of what he or she has earned, you'll get an email requesting it and then you'll have to pony up the cash and adjust the balance in the account accordingly. The "three jars" name comes from the ability to separate the virtual allowance into spending, saving and sharing "jars" on the site.
AllowanceManager.com offers a "basic" version of its trackable IOU system that is accessible on its website and via an iPhone app, and includes items such as a printable chore chart.
Parents can enter a weekly or monthly allowance into the account, as well as gifts from relatives and money from other sources, and deduct money as punishment for skipping chores or bad behavior.
The "pro" version, which costs $6.75 per month plus a setup fee, or $69 per year with no added fee, adds another level to the system: a prepaid debit card that can be loaded with funds so that kids can get hands-on experience in handling their money. Parents can get text or email alerts when the debit card balance dips below any threshold they choose.
FamilyMint.com offers three different money management options for families, all of which involve virtual money rather than actual online transactions. Parents will need to provide actual cash to their kids when they want to spend some of their allowance.
The free version offers basic allowance tracking with an IOU system and the ability to set goals. For $24.99 annually, the premium version, which is also available via smartphone browsers, adds the ability to automate allowance payments, set up interest payments and matching deposits from the parents, and offers the option for the kids to set up a savings plan with their funds split into several trackable accounts.
For $29.99, parents can get the premium bundle, which includes a lifetime subscription to the premium version of the program and a two-month "money management certification program" workbook, suitable for kids 10 and older, that teaches a variety of financial skills to prepare students for the future.
VirtualPiggy.com is free and functions as both an allowance site and a shopping site.
Parents can create accounts for their kids and set spending limits and establish which stores are approved for their kids. The kids can buy whatever they want with just their username and password, as long as what they buy comes from an approved merchant and is within their spending limit.
Kids can create wish lists for themselves that can be viewed by the parents and shared with relatives and friends. At the same time, parents can set up an allowance and establish savings goals for their kids. The kids can transfer money back and forth between their spending and savings accounts, give money to charity from the site, and buy gifts for their friends.
Online money management systems not only eliminate the guesswork from your family's allowance system and reduce family friction, but they can be a valuable tool to teach your kids how to handle their own money. You can use these tech tools to establish savings goals and to give your kids some hands-on experience with their finances.