Giving children an allowance always seems like a good idea at first. But just try following through in practice.
You need to remember to get exact change each week. You have to remember to hand over the money to the child on the designated day. You need someplace to put the money.
Using a few separate jars is a fine idea, but if children can get into them, they might reallocate money from the Saving jar to the Spending jar, or just take from the Spending jar without letting you know.
All of this hassle has given rise over the years to websites that track chores, allowance, savings and spending. One of the newest to enter the fray is Tykoon, whose two founders are themselves fathers with executive-level experience at companies like LendingTree and Bank of America. And while it is early days for the service, they seem to have their priorities in order in understanding that their efforts will succeed only if the product inspires the right kind of questions with the right kind of frequency.
"This is not a pill, or three weeks at a gym or a 10-DVD set," said Mark Bruinooge, the co-founder and a veteran of Bank of America's digital operations. "It's a multiyear conversation about how your family uses money. We want it to be part of the family routine."
The idea for Tykoon came from the other co-founder, Doug Lebda, the founder of LendingTree. While he ran into the usual chores and allowance hassles as a father, the big frustration for him was watching his eldest daughter spend real amounts of time in virtual online worlds using real money to buy fake things. With Tykoon, he wanted everything to be real.
While the site, which is aimed primarily at 7- to 10-year-olds, is not a bank and does not tap into parents' checking accounts, it's supposed to mimic a bank in some respects. Parents can set an allowance level and automatically "deposit" virtual dollars into three categories, Save, Give and Spend.
None of the above is particularly unique. Things get more interesting, however, when children want to cash out. They can make a request to their parents to use money from their "Spend" account in Tykoon's Amazon.com store or take money from their "Give" account for a charity. Parents then pay with their own credit cards and Tykoon subtracts the virtual money from the proper categories.
Tykoon handpicks products and nonprofit groups for children to choose from, which is annoying if your children want something that Tykoon hasn't preapproved or are fond of a cause that the site does not list. The upside, however, is that children don't end up in the sex toy aisle at Amazon. In fact, children can't do a single thing -- move money, mark a chore as complete or buy anything -- without a parent approving or confirming it.
To me, the biggest mark against sites like this is that they make money less visceral. Children ought to learn to handle it and count it and watch it grow slowly over time in piles inside a see-through storage container.
They need to resist (or give in to) the temptation to take it out and blow it all or lose it by accident. At least, they ought to do all of this for a couple of years after starting to receive an allowance.
And as much as I love automating my own financial life, one reason sites like Tykoon haven't quite set the world on fire yet may be that plenty of parents want to keep their children away from screens if the real-world alternative, like a jar, is a reasonable one.
Ron Lieber is the Your Money columnist for the New York Times. Reach him on Twitter @ronlieber.