When we first started giving allowances to our two boys in Kindergarten, we used three jars – three plastic containers for each of them with their names Sharpied on – to keep their money. We followed the Spend-Save-Share approach and told the kids how much they should allocate to their Spending jar, their Saving jar and their Sharing jar.
ThreeJars takes this same approach, puts it online and adds extra tools to help families track chores too. It’s a visually appealing site for tracking and managing allowances with a lot to offer for both parents and kids. (ThreeJars says it focuses on kids age 5 – 13.)
It was a little buggy, though, when I was using it (on Firefox web browser) and a few times, I couldn’t access what I needed. Weirdly, the site went down last night as I was working on finalizing this review (on both Firefox and Internet Explorer). Later on, when I tried to access the site again, I got a screwed up version of a page with “Welcome Billy” and “Not enough privileges” messages. The site was back up again in a few hours.
ThreeJars costs $30 per year (making it ad free) but you can sign up for a 15-day free trial. You have to provide your credit card details to do this. Unlike some other services, there are no email or site reminders as you get closer to the end of the trial so keep a close eye on those 15 days if you are hesitant about continuing with the service once you’ve tested it.
Like other sites, sign up is easy and you can create log in details for each child so they can access their own virtual bank account.
On the parents’ site, you can set the allowance amount for each child and when it’s paid (daily, monthly or twice a month are the set choices with you choosing the days). You also choose to allocate how the allowance is split between Spending, Saving and Sharing. To make it easier, you have the choice of deciding by percentage (using a fun sliding scale) or by specific dollar amount.
You can only pay interest on the money on the Save jar, not on the Spend or Share jars. This is so that your child is encouraged to save, but it means any money your child keeps in the Spending account or Sharing account misses out on interest.
There’s a kind of parent dashboard page where you can access all the features of the site.
Features for parents include:
- Messages – the ability to send messages to your child and receive replies back all within ThreeJars. Allows them to thank you for the allowance (ThreeJars gives prompts for this) and make requests for cash and allows you to send them reminders about chores or congratulations on making a goal.
- Chore lists – you can create chore lists and these are shown in a calendar accessible from both the parent dashboard and the kid’s page. You can even print out a calendar of chores as an easy reminder.
- Deposit/Withdrawal – only the parent can do this and there’s a description for each deposit or withdrawal so that you can track how the accounts are being used. Just click on the “history” link for each jar to see this.
- Kid’s Page View – there’s also a link to your child’s personalized page so you can check on what they are seeing and doing on ThreeJars
- Resources to educate parents – ThreeJars is great at providing extra information about teaching kids money skills. Jean Chatsky, the well-known personal finance expert, is an advisor to ThreeJars and she has an Ask Jean page as well as a series of videos on ThreeJars covering topics such as how much allowance to pay and whether chores should be linked to an allowance. You can also sign up for weekly blog posts with “smart money moves for your family.” I got the sense that the content wasn’t as fresh and updated as I would expect, though.
The site for kids has flying graphics and text and will likely appeal to kids. It offers a lot too:
- Personalization – kids can pick from a stock photo or upload one of their own and they can pick their own background color (you’ll see I chose a swimming photo and red background below in this test)
- Encouraging messages – as well as update messages about money coming in and out of their account and chore requests from parents, ThreeJars also sends tips on using the site and advice on money management such as “Rule #1 of the smart money manager: more money has to come in than go out. Click on the paw beside your jars to see how you’re doing!”
- Teaching kids about interest – the Saving jar has information for kids on the interest rate they are earning (if parents have decided to give interest), how much interest they have earned in the last month, week and that day and a simple explanation of what interest is.
- Savings goal – the Spend jar has a simple savings goal “genie” which allows kids to put in something they are saving for and how much it costs. The genie then tells them how long it will take them to save for this. Kids can also upload a picture of what they are saving for.
- Introducing ways to Share – ThreeJars has selected several charities to introduce kids to different ideas such as a bicycle ambulance service in remote areas of Africa and wildlife protection projects. Kids can make the request to donate to one of these charities and once the parents have approved, the parents’ credit card is charged and the virtual bank account debited. All donations made through the ThreeJars’ site are tax deductible. If kids want to donate to a different charity or to take out money for church, they can make a request for cash from parents via a “Get Cash” button.
- Reallocate money between jars – kids can decide to move money from one category to another, but this will only happen once their parents approve it.
- Get cash – kids can make a request to parents for money from a specific jar. Again, parents must approve it. Once approved, kids are sent a message telling them to ask their parents for the actual cash.
- Earn money – this is a section which I found a bit confusing. It’s designed to encourage kids to be entrepreneurial. There’s a number of icons representing different projects floating on the screen and kids can click on the ones that are most appealing. For example, you could pick “Vaccum living room floor” and then ThreeJars asks you to say when you will do it by, how much you want to earn and which jar this would go into. Again, parental approval is required, especially of the amount they want to charge.
For access when you are out with your family, ThreeJars does not have a mobile app. Instead, you have to send an email to ThreeJars asking for an account balance.
I really liked the amount of detail on the site about the founders, the management team and the advisory board. The site was founded in September 2009 by Anton Simunovic, a father of six, after he struggled to teach his children about money management.
ThreeJars won’t work for our family as it doesn’t meet our checklist. In particular, I really didn’t like that we could not pay interest on all the accounts and that there wasn’t a mobile app.
While I liked the messaging concept, the delivery was flawed. For example, the deposit message for kids was a bit weird. I entered $2 dollars for T cutting the grass and the message was “Sweet! Mom deposited $2 into your SAVE jar. Mom says: Cut grass.”
And the perky message about a request for cash was a bit off putting “Your $5.00 cash withdrawal has been approved by Mom. Be sure to ask for your money. Congratulations. You rock!” Not sure I want to be so celebratory about T spending money.
Another time, I was pretending to be T and set a Savings Goal for him. ThreeJars sent me an email saying that T was using the Savings Goal, told me what he was saving for and how long it would take him to get there. It ended with an annoying “Delayed gratification is never easy. Consider encouraging your child!”
The chore chart didn’t work for me, either. I couldn’t figure out how a kid would show that the chore was done and I thought that would be important.
Overall, ThreeJars could be an option to consider, especially if you like the Spend-Save-Share approach. For me, it felt like it complicated things, especially with all the parental approvals that were required. This goes against our new approach of giving the kids control of their money. At $30.00, ThreeJars is also the most expensive virtual bank or kids allowance tracker that I looked at, so I would expect them to deliver a better product than I experienced.