New tools to teach kids about money


(MoneyWatch) From the time my kids were little I was determined to teach them the value of a dollar. Surrounded by kids that seemed to get whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, I wanted my kids to know that when something cost money, it required time and effort to earn the means to pay for it.

So when they were relatively young, I gave them chores and an allowance. If they didn't do their chores, they didn't get their allowance. And if they didn't have money, they couldn't buy stuff. Kind of like real life.

There was only one problem -- me.

I'd forget to check whether they'd completed their chores. And then, when they occasionally would want to buy something that they couldn't quite afford, I would sometimes let them borrow from the next week's allowance. (I know. Bad habit...I was weak.) But then I'd forget how much they'd borrowed and we'd end up arguing about just how much I owed them. In short, I was a miserable banker.

Apparently I'm not alone -- both in wanting to teach my kids fiscal responsibility and in needing help. Now some technologically savvy parents are coming to the rescue.

Gregg Murset, a financial planner from Arizona who has six kids of his own, created MyJobChart -- a web site that helps you keep track of the jobs your kids are doing and determine how much they're owed.

You can set up the reward system and record their required chores. The kids can sign in and record when they've completed their work, triggering a message to you that allows you to pay them. The site also teaches them basic financial lessons about saving, sharing and spending and helps them set financial goals. (I have to admit this is a touch more sophisticated than the job chart I tacked to the refrigerator.) In just over two years of operation, MyJobchart already has 380,000 members.

A former Apple Corp. engineer recently launched a similar site called Allowance Manager, for parents who want to track their kid's payments, but who may not necessarily tie allowances to chores.

MyJobChart is completely free; Allowance Manager has a free option and a "pro" option that costs about $6 a month and comes with a debit card.

Both are colorful, interactive and made me feel a bit inadequate considering the unsophisticated and inconsistent way I attempted to teach my kids about money. On the bright side, if my experience is any indication, it may not matter whether you have a cool tool -- or even if you're completely consistent.

My 22-year-old daughter recently explained how her ample emergency fund, built up by saving financial gifts and working during school, allowed her to live independently while finding her first post-college position. My 20-year-old son mentioned that while working part-time at school, he'd set up automatic monthly deposits to fund his investment account.

So perhaps the thing to remember is that kids learn about handling money from their parents. Save, spend responsibly and try to explain why and they just might just end up getting the message -- no matter how cleverly you deliver it.