Money Management for Kids: Chores, Allowance & Digital Nagging

Part Two of our interview with PAYjr CEO David Jones includes one of the rarely used aspects of PAYjr’s chore and allowance program (only 5% evidently) where parents can set up cell phone reminders for follow-through in cyber-nag style.

Mind you, critics have cried foul that this is outsourcing parenting and discipline to tech gizmos, but frankly, I’m not one of ‘em. Nope. No sirreee. Just another adjunct tool to me.

My 13 year old ‘delegating pro’ can slough off a chore like gum on her shoe, relegating it to any peer passerby in ‘can you do me a favor?’ mode. It’s really quite amazing on the social engineering front; partly since I’m the antithesis who has trouble asking for help even if I’m running on empty. (insert cartoon bubble of dysfunctional body dragging herself up the ER steps, “it’s ok, I’ve got it, I’m fine.”)

Anyway, seems to me any techno tool that can diminish my load is worth at least a look-see, as I’m not keen on repeating myself, and ‘don’t make me tell you again’ gameplay is boring, annoying, and relationship eroding. So a little SMS auto-nag? Fine by me. If it comes to her via text, at least she’ll pay attention to it, eh?

Kids are a prime target for SMS med reminders, from asthma to diabetes; Health 2.0 showcased a plethora of life-saving alerts in the works (like this post on disease detection in remote areas, which I heard a lot about at Health 2.0 this fall).

I rather like the idea of integrating common uses of automated-SMS into family life if it can eliminate some of the nagging, and reinforce a child’s accountability and self-rein.  The How Stuff Works site has a list of handy reasons to use alerts beyond chore reminders, allowance consequences and finance/NSF thresholds. Check it out.

It all may be too Jetsons for a Flintstone-style family, but each home is different, and at media-ground-zero here in Silicon Valley, online and offline blur quite often so I’m game to give it a go. (in fact, cell hiatus is about the ONLY consequence that has ‘clout’ since I happen to have a non-consumerist but VERY social butterfly under this roof)

That said, I also like the ‘unplugged’ notion to break the habit-forming generational ‘co-dependence’ being reported in media lately too…so to each his own. I blend both.

I’m more concerned about whether there’s ‘brandwashing’ going on where kids could ditch the prepaids to ‘accelerate to credit’ cards…but if prepaid folks play their cards right (sorry, couldn’t resist) and focus on a risk/reward platform of intervention (e.g. the ‘dangers of debt’ financial literacy) rather than an entry point to peddle plastic to minors, then there’s a huge potential for positive media here…

Consider this my own ‘beta test’ of the PAYjr and PAYjr Visa Buxx systems, as I’ve just decided to try them firsthand, and with our tween/teen advisors, so will report back post-holiday season once we’ve had a chance to deploy them in my own home.

Shhhhhhhhhh—don’t tell her. I’ll gift her the opportunity to “earn and learn” this Christmas.

I’ve been eager to ‘take it up a notch’ on the responsibility front to encourage follow through, so no time like the present! And she never reads my blog it seems, only her friends do, so this’ll be a test, too! Meanwhile, here’s part two with PAYjr CEO David Jones, sharing HIS family tips for instilling the dangers of debt and rewards of fiscal fitness…

Enjoy! And happy holidays to all!

Shaping Youth: While I understand PAYjr is positioned as a 21st century tool for tracking chores and allowances, how do you address the pay for play/rewards-based ‘entitlement?’

For example, can PAYjr track responsibilities without parents assigning cash to a job? How flexible is the tool for customization? (e.g. In your ABC interview/video demo for example, you set ‘Feed Pet’ at $.50 on MWF, and it booted it out requiring a higher amount…In my house, the pet is ‘reward’ in itself, and a responsibility, not a dollar value)

David Jones: Our system is set up to be a tool for parents, not a statement on how they should be educating their kids around financial responsibility and family values.

I have found that parents fall into two primary camps; parents the feel kids should do chores because they are part of the family without pay and parents that believe chores should come with a financial incentive.  I personally use a mix of the two with my kids.  There are chores in our household that must be done without pay; chores that teach that everyone in the family must pitch in and then my wife and I also provide extra chores that can be done for financial rewards.

My belief is that teaching kids that hard work pays off is an important lesson and I also feel that it is difficult for kids to build a sense of monetary value if there is not a “level of effort” associated with the money.  Simply put, it is hard for kids to appreciate what $5 being spent on a toy means unless they have something to tie that money back to — a task they had to complete to earn the $5.  Think about it, we as adults do the same thing daily, so much that it has become subconscious, kids need this opportunity to develop as well.

Shaping Youth: Is Sterling using this tool, and if so, what are his fees/days, chores to give a feel for the level of customization its capable of, age appropriateness and any anecdotal outcomes pro/con you’re seeing from a first person perspective?

David Jones: I have two kids actually, Taylor (10) and Sterling (9).  They both have the potential to earn up to their age in dollars each week in allowance.  We do use the tool and it has worked in our family.  Both kids have a set of chores they must complete as members of the family — things like feeding the dogs, cleaning their own rooms, emptying the trash, their own laundry, etc. and then we have chores that are age appropriate for each that earns them their $9 or $10 per week.  Things like cleaning the pool, “scoopa da poopa” for the dogs, washing the cars, dishes, sweeping the garage, pulling weeds.

I would say the biggest challenge that my wife and I face with the kids and chores is doing our own part; meaning reviewing the completion, making sure PAYjr moves the money to their cards, etc.  One of the worst things you can do with chores is not hold up the “parent side” of the bargain and I have to be honest that we could do a better job with that.

I would also add (and this is where my wife and I sometimes disagree) that the money they earn should be spent on what they want, when they want.  If they earn it, they should have the opportunity to spend it.  They should also have the opportunity to mess up and “blow it” on something they regret later.

All too often, people don’t learn this lesson until much later in life when the “blow it” is much more expensive of a lesson. I believe that the lessons should start now and as parents, we must let our kids mess up every now and then, even with money.

My wife takes a more protective approach and also likes to set limits on when they can spend, not around the holidays for instance.

Shaping Youth: Do you find kids more rewards-based than prior generations? (If so, do you feel media/mktg. has contributed to this/how? If not, explain)

David Jones: I just don’t know enough to answer this one…sorry.

Shaping Youth: Tell us about the dynamic of ‘cybernagging’ where PAYJr ‘reminds’ kids via texting, e-mails etc. to do their chores. How would you address those that feel this is shifting discipline to technology and creating dependence on reminder tools over personal accountability/independent follow through?

David Jones: I would say that less than 5% of our PAYjr users use these tools but parents asked for them and we added them. The evolution of the product was planned to limit activities if the chores had not been done, for instance not letting kids surf the net or play video games if their chores were not done.

The tools were created to help remind parents that these activities were going. I don’t disagree that parents and families shouldn’t need technology to communicate but it is becoming the reality and I heard recently on NPR a study shows that families actually feel closer to one another because of the technologies. Again, my job is to provide useful products that consumers are asking for, I can’t fix them into being more like the families of yesterday who would sit down at the dinner table every night; I don’t disagree though that more family time is a much needed thing in our culture.

The “cybernagging” is useful however with the Visa Buxx program because the primary use is providing balance information for teens, which in my mind does help with money management.

Shaping Youth: Can you respond to the new studies on OVER-praising and rewards-based overkill? (e.g. Like New York magazine’s cover story, “The Power and Peril of Praising” for example?)

David Jones: I’m sorry but I’m just not educated on the topic.

(Amy’s note: For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia University (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools among 400 fifth-graders discovering the inverse power of praise; fascinating article  by Po Bronson. (link above)

Shaping Youth: How does your product use positive reinforcement to develop real world life skills?

David Jones: I think that completing a chore/activity, that pays you money, that is then accessible for use where teens want to spend the money is positive reinforcement.

The idea that hard work, earns you rewards, and then an ability to access those rewards is important.  The alternatives if any of those components breaks down would be:

“hand outs” without hard work
doing work but not being rewarded
doing the work and being compensated but not having the ability to spend the money on things the teen wants.

The successful progression of the chain of events is the positive reinforcement.

Shaping Youth: Finally, aside from your brand(s) what are YOUR favorite financial literacy sites for kids? Are there other book/game/media recommendations you would share?

Who’s ‘doing it right’ in this arena, ethically and pragmatically for a win-win parent-student teaching tool?

David Jones: I really like Planet Orange; I think ING has done a good job of making the site fun and educational at the same time. I do also think that, sponsored by Visa, offers a great collection of tools. As far as books go, the only one about financial literacy that I have read is Rich Dad, Poor Dad and I loved it.

Amy’s note: (Update 10-16-14 Planet Orange sadly no longer exists, per the creators of this finlit guide)

As I said in the last post, I’d definitely add Minyanland as a tool for kids’ financial literacy using virtual worlds, (in conjunction with NCEE, the National Council on Economic Education—Hoofy and Boo do the ‘bear and bull’ bit quite well and even parents can learn a thing or two!)

I’d also add the new (kids’ online banking platform) which debuted as a finalist at the TechCrunch 50 Conference this fall..and their even newer adjunct financial literacy community, which just launched December 11.

I just checked out the WeProsper blog and signed up for their beta testing of their free online financial literacy software for K-12+ college called iThryv Professor slated for spring 2009.

It’s a whole different beastie involving leveled acumen and bankaccount sims (screenshots and demos here) —I’ll be featuring both in the New Year, to compare and contrast with my own experiences trying out PAYjr and the Visa Buxx card too…

If you’d like to lend a hand, leave a comment below and earn service credit as a Shaping Youth ‘stringer’ volunteer! We’re a nonprofit 501c3 corporation, so we’re seeking feedback for editorial and kids’ usability to help find out ‘what works and what doesn’t’ in this all important sector!

Below are some other financial literacy tips, tools, and resources for students and families to navigate the white water too…

Older teens and urban youth might want to check out Wall Street programs for urban financial literacy teaching tools, using hands-on methods like showing kids how to open ebay stores to earn money for the program itself…

Collegiate youth with student loan consolidation issues might want to check out Generation for breaking news (they have a great link list wrap up this month, including the live-alert clock countdown showing the National Student Loan Debt Clock in action! (wow! $561 billion+ at last reading. yipes!)

All the more reason to get started ‘early and often’ in the chore and allowance money management budgeting ‘game of life.’

Happy Holidays…here’s to healthy habits, and resolutions for many more!

Related Resources

Shaping Youth Interviews PAYjr CEO David Jones, Part ONE: Visa Buxx

Shaping Youth: A Humorous Approach to Student Debt: Credit Cartoons

Shaping Youth: Kids Take Lessons From Financial Debt Binge

Shaping Youth: Virtual Chore Chart Boosts Kids Financially Savvy

Interactive Games/Virtual Worlds/Financial Activities for Kids

Minyanland: Bulls/Bears and virtual critters teach money tips (w/NCEE)

iThryv: Newly launched online banking site: Ages 5-24

Financial (Celebrity Calamity/D2DFund)

My Reward Board ages 5-12; interactive customizable chore & finance tracking tool National Financial Coalition; Reality Check for Kids

Global Stock Market: Free, realistic game simulation

Moneyopolis: Online game; probono effort by Ernst & Young for middle schoolers National Consumers League/high schoolers

Independent Means website & products by Joline Godfrey, including Raising Financially Fit Kids, No More Frogs to Kiss: 9 Ways to Give Economic Power to Girls etc.

Financial Smarts for Students: The JumpStart Coalition

New Moon Money: Book written by girls for girls, from New Moon Publishing

Save for America: School savings curriculum w/online integration

Moon Jar: Award-winning financial literacy toolkit, book, products

Hot Company: “The money game with attitude”

Prosperity4Kids: Financial training products, programs & tools with resource links

Kids.Gov: Official Kids Portal for the U.S. Government on all things ‘money’

Sense & Dollars Online game; middle/high schoolers

Wall Street Urban youth programs, from summer camps to school year financial literacy


Kiplinger’s Money Smart Kids (article compilation)

Financial Literacy for Kids: Money Lessons Should Start Young (Parenthood)

Girls Inc: Economic Literacy (for adults too!)

Creative Wealth International (formerly The Money Camp)



  1. If you like that…I have a digital bridge I want to sell you too :-).

  2. Kids graduate college with no money management skills at all. Glad to see someone being proactive.

  3. @ Bill…now, now, Mr. Cynic, let’s be fair…@ Magali, thanks for the link…will check out the site and book..

  4. Hi, i must say fantastic blog you have, i stumbled across it in Yahoo. Does you get much traffic?

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