I Tried an Allowance App With My Pre-Teen and Here's What Happened

My son started junior high school this year and I've been anticipating the need for The Talk. No, not that talk — the one about budgeting his money. There are birthday gifts for friends, computer games that I'm not going to purchase, really cool shoes that aren't quite necessary: I'm seeing the future and it's a kid who doesn't understand how money works. In short, there's a clear need for some personal finance education.

We've done an allowance in the past but, truthfully, I was less-than-spectacular about consistency. A week would go by, two weeks, and I'd be trying to figure out how much was owed. Or we'd be standing in Target, negotiating about whether he had the funds for a purchase, and I'd be wracking my brain, trying to remember just how much he did have in his piggy bank.

Introducing an app into the conversation seemed like a great opportunity to resolve these issues. After reviewing some options, I settled on Three Jars. I chose this one for a few reasons. First, the setup was quick, easy, and didn't require me to enter any sensitive information like financial data. The app is more of a ledger than a bank, keeping track of the money accrued for future parental distribution. Second, it features separate logins for parents and kids, so my son can independently check his balance from his computer or his phone. And finally, the app is built on the idea of saving, spending, and sharing -- I liked the inclusion of charitable giving as part of his financial awareness.

Image Credit: Madeleine Deliee

I liked the app's consideration of how to calculate an appropriate allowance. I've frankly struggled with this at several points, as we live in an area that tends to both cost more and reward more — kids often get way more than seems appropriate to me, but then I wonder if I'm out of touch on what's appropriate. Three Jars asked what I'd been paid at his age and how many years have passed since then. It stated what the actual amount would be with inflation factored in, but then suggested less than the direct correlation. The app also presented several options for division between the "jars," based on whether there were specific saving goals, spending needs, more generous charitable intentions, or other, personal financial considerations.

My son was enthusiastic about the idea of getting allowance without having to remind or nag me about payment. Not surprisingly, he was less thrilled about the idea of being more accountable for keeping track of his own money: It's way easier when that's Mom's job. But I repeated the whole "with great financial independence comes great responsibility" line and he seemed to be willing to try it.

So, how did it go? Not perfectly. I appreciated the weekly reminders of when allowance was going into the tally, but I did have to remind myself of the status of the balance. I also had to nudge my son to check for himself when he had a financial want (rather than relying on me to tell him what was available). Overall, though, it's prompted some meaningful discussion of money, budgeting, and fiscal priorities. I'd recommend that parents try this or a similar app, at least as an experiment in financial learning.