Continuing our series of reviews looking at online allowance tracking sites or virtual family banks, today we’re looking at the new kid on the block.
Moneytrail was launched in 2010 by Pam and Frank Whitlock. As parents of four children, including two teenagers, they had experienced first hand the struggle to keep on top of allowances, loans and who had paid for what. Out of their frustration came the inspiration for Moneytrail, which is focused on providing money management for teens.
I should disclose up front that I have become Twitter buddies with Pam in recent months so I have a bias towards wanting to see her succeed. She’s doing an amazing job of marketing Moneytrail and inspiring parents to teach their teens money management skills. I really admire how she is venturing down new paths and we’ve also giggled together over the exploits of our children.
Moneytrail is free. As is clearly laid out in the explanation pages on the site, Moneytrail makes its money from The Moneytrail Market. This allows teens to create wishlists on Amazon of items they wish to purchase. Once they have enough to buy what they want, you click through to Amazon and buy it there. Moneytrail gets a commission from each purchase. There is no mark up – you pay the normal price on Amazon.
As with other sites, kids can have their own username and password to log on and check their accounts. It’s easy to set this up. You can:
- Choose whether you want to have the Spend-Save-Share approach or just a basic allowance approach (which is what I set up). Alternatively, if you don’t pay an allowance but want to keep track of your child’s money (e.g. money earned by working, cash gifts from Grandma, gift cards from aunts and uncles), you can set up a “No Allowance” plan.
- Name your bank – we called ours The Bank of My Parents but I’m sure you could be much more imaginative!
- Set up how much allowance is paid and have it paid automatically weekly (you choose the day) or monthly (you choose the date).
Moneytrail tries to plan for every eventuality in how kids and parents might be handling money together. And it’s here that I start to struggle with the site because it becomes a little too complicated for me. Here’s the summary for the set up I used for T:
The Credit account tracks what Moneytrail calls the IOUs between parents and kids. This is where the allowance is automatically entered and you can also make withdrawals (for when your child asks for money from their allowance) and deposits (for when they earn money from you). No cash is actually exchanged (as with all online allowance trackers or virtual family banks) until the child requests money. The parent then pays the money and adjusts the balance accordingly.
The Cash account tracks the actual cash that a child has in real life, for example in a piggybank in their bedroom. The Check Balance is where you track any uncashed checks and the Gift Card balance is where you track unused gift cards.
For me, this feels unnecessarily complicated and extra work. If the teen spends some of the cash they have in hand, they have to go into Moneytrail and update the Cash Balance. If the teen decides to cash a check, then there are a series of steps they take to move the amount from the Check Balance to the Cash Balance.
I can see what Moneytrail is trying to do with this: account for all the money that a teen has. As Pam and Frank are parents of teenagers, they are likely dealing with more complicated situations than I do as a mom of 9 and 6 year olds. And, you don’t have to use all these features. You could set it up the way I have and ignore the other accounts until you need them.
Helping kids acquire the savings habit is another key feature for online allowance trackers and Moneytrail plans for this as well. You can add another account to your child’s options, name it as the item he or she is saving for, e.g. Nintendo DS and then track the savings in that. However, Moneytrail doesn’t have an option which tells kids how long until they will have reached their savings goal.
Moneytrail doesn’t have a mobile app but they have been smart and made sure that their site is optimized for the mobile web. You can access your account details and enter transactions on your iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry or Nintendo DSi.
The website design is very clean and simple. No whizzing graphics, just the line items. There are also handy hints placed all over the site which you can click on for explanations of how to make something happen.
Ultimately, Moneytrail does not meet our checklist of criteria and I found the options too confusing. It felt like Moneytrail would add work to my life rather than simplifying it. It may be, though, that I’m not the target market for this as I’m not the mother of teens.
This is part of a series of reviews about online allowance trackers and virtual family banks. You can also check out reviews of FamZoo, Zefty, ThreeJars and FamilyMint. Here’s what started the search and the guidelines I’m following.
What is it like teaching a teen to manage money? Only a few more years before we’re in the thick of it, so I’d love to hear your experiences.