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Paying Your Kids To Do Chores, Homework? There's An App For That

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- On paper, allowances should be easy. But if you've ever tried to motivate a kid to study or do chores or forgot to pay off when they did, you know otherwise.

So now a Minnesota start-up is introducing a high-tech solution: It's a new app to help families manage allowances without the nagging or haggling.

When Ally Lacek starts working on math homework, it's hard to get her to stop. But that wasn't always the case. Two years ago, Ally was struggling with her multiplication tables.  And her mother was struggling to motivate her.

"So we worked a deal that every 20-30 minutes spend online playing math games we'd reward her with an iTunes song for her iPod," said Susan Lacek. "And she was thrilled with that."

It worked so well that Ally mastered her math facts, and a business idea was born.

"I said to my husband, 'this is great, I don't have to nag her anymore,'" said Susan.  "She wants to do it, she wants to get the songs, and that's when we thought we could really have something here."

With two kids at home and a dog that needs walking, the Lacek's know a bit about chores.  And Mark Lacek knows a bit about rewards.  He helped create Northwest Airlines' WorldPerks program.  So, they mixed it all together and came up with FamDoo, an app to help parents manage their kids tasks and pay out allowances.

"That was an exciting moment," said Susan, "figuring out it's a frequent flyer program, but for kids."

Michelle Swenson and her 11-year-old son have been using the app for seven months as a test family. They love the way it works.

"It's nice," she said. "I can be at work, Christian can be home, and I can be assigning some chores."

Michelle puts in the tasks, either chores or studying, and assigns points worth a penny apiece.  Christian receives a message whenever a new task is added, and then notifies his mom when he's done.  But the points aren't added to his account until she clicks "complete."

"It's easier than a chore chart," said Christian, "Because you can just tap done when you're finished, and you get the points for doing it."

Christian can save those points, spend them at retailers like Amazon and Target or contribute them to participating charities. It's motivation to do things like clean the bathroom, read or practice the trombone.  But his favorite assignment is shoveling, because that's often worth the most points.

"100 points," he said. "Sometimes 150 if I'm lucky."

"To do allowance well, you need to have a conversation beyond 'feed the dog and I'll give you a buck,'" said Carol Bruess, who teaches Family Communication at the University of St. Thomas.

Bruess, who's been using the app with her own daughter, says she likes the way Famdoo leverages the devices that are already in most kids' hands, uses them to get rid of the nagging and hopefully start more meaningful conversations.

"When you can remove that from the family dinner table," she said, "You're more likely to have meaningful conversations about things like what they did at school today."

The app is free, and parents can assign "zero points" to things that kids are expected to do as part of being the family.  But to keep the app free of ads, the company charges extra for points.  So, 1,000 points costs $10, plus a $2 service fee.

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