- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

Most children do not know the value of a dollar, let alone how federal income tax is calculated or what a pension plans is.
Now that Nina Benton has entered the virtual world, her mission has become to help teach children and teen-agers fiscal responsibility.
"Money drives everything, the more information you have about it, the smarter you're going to be," she said.
Ms. Benton, chief executive officer of D.C.-based BigChange Networks Inc. started Allowancenet.com just a year ago.
Allowancenet.com is only the first phase of Ms. Benton's vision. Ultimately, she wants to create an on-line bank for children.
This site helps children manage their allowances and chores as if they were managing their own small business, she said.
When kids earn money, they become better consumers, and they spend it more wisely, Ms. Benton said.
Twenty thousand children are already using the free site to organize their household chores in a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule. The site identifies 112 chores from eating healthy snacks, having a good attitude, reading the newspaper to keeping in touch with relatives. The site attaches values to each job so parents can establish and invoice for their children.
Seven-year-old Linnea Picciano of Oakton, is one virtual entrepreneur using the site. Though, she is not familiar with taxes or retirement, she does know the value of each of her $6 of weekly allowance.
In fact, she learned that it would take hard work over time to earn enough to buy a key chain she really wanted over the Internet.
"I have to feed my cat, play with my cat, feed my fish, set the table and clean my cat's litter," Linnea said.
Wilson Duggan, 10, another virtual entrepreneur, has been using the site to help save $10 to $15 per week to buy a cell phone.
"It's forming habits. That's what I really like about it," said his mother Juanita Duggan, laughing about how Wilson and her 14-year-old son Lawler don't leave wet towels on the floor anymore and do chores without being asked repeatedly.
"Now when I ask one of our children to take out the garbage, nobody says 'In a minute mom,' " she said. "That to me was worth it."
If children do not know the going rate for washing the dishes, for example, the site allows them to see what other children earn for the same jobs across the United States and around the world.
"You learn about economics," Ms. Benton said. "Kids in Greenwich probably get more for washing their parents' Mercedes than kids in Iowa City, who wash their parents' Fords."
"It serves as a good stimulus for the kids to get things done rather than just nag," Linnea's father, Mitch Picciano, said.
He said the site has transformed the way his 13-year-old son, Alex, thinks about money.
"In the past year he hasn't once asked us for money," Mr. Picciano said.
He said Alex behaves in a more self-sufficient manner, mowing the lawn, cleaning the garage or keeping his room clean when he needs extra money.
"He's learning that you don't get anything for nothing," he said.
Some parents might be getting something for nothing. Children can actually opt to get paid in the company's virtual currency, "Diditz" instead of real dollars from their parents. Diditz can be exchanged for goods in Allowancenet.com's virtual store like Linnea's key chain.
Those items are donated by sponsors that advertise on the site. So far, the only revenue stream for the company comes from advertising.
But teaching children how to manage money and helping prevent fiscal problems for these future adults is more the immediate goal for Ms. Benton.
Learning early about money is critical to success in life, Ms. Benton said.
She believes that lack of financial knowledge is the root of many social and economic problems later in life like excessive debt and divorce.
"You don't give kids a driver's license without giving them driver's education, yet you can walk into college and get a credit card on the first day. You can get 5 credit cards," Ms. Benton said.
Educating children is especially important because they have a significant impact on consumer spending. Teens spend about $153 billion annually, according to a 1999 study by Teenage Research Unlimited, a Northbrook, Ill. research company.
Because of the healthy economy and the nearly 2 percent teen population growth between 1998 and 1999, their spending power is increasing.
"Obviously every year they're spending more money," said Dara Duguay, executive director of Jumpstart, a nonprofit coalition working to promote financial education for youth. "What's scary is, they don't understand just spending without education can be very dangerous."

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