Here’s a glimpse into parenting in a post-cash economy: Your kid loses a tooth, leaves it under her pillow for the tooth fairy and falls blissfully asleep. You, the tooth fairy’s surrogate, grab a your wallet and suddenly realize you don’t even remember what dollars smell like. You end up running down to the all-night pharmacy and buying gum with your card so you can get cash, then begging the cashier for singles.
Then, more often than not, your kid walks around with a rolled-up dollar in her Snow White purse and loses it in the street right after she throws a fit at the fact that gum now costs more than a dollar.
We live in an increasingly cashless society. Teaching literal-minded tots about money is pretty difficult when you don’t have that very physical representation of legal tender to roll up and carry around. We used to see dollars go out, change come back. They see a card beep and beg to push the green button. Money may as well be magic.
A New Zealand bank with a long history of kid-friendly bank efforts, ASB, has developed a possible remedy for this dough disconnect: A smart piggybank. It’s actually an elephantbank, but the concept is the same: Rather than dropping coins into the slot of a porcelain animal, parents direct tooth-fairy money, birthday bonuses and weekly allowances electronically, via an app, from their personal bank accounts into the child’s account, displayed on the elephant’s tummy.
It’s essentially a high-tech passbook. Kids watch their accounts grow; to access their nest eggs, they go to the bank and make a cash withdrawal, then run to Walgreens for a My Little Pony before the bills can get lost.
Cute, but will it work? Brett Graff, editor of TheHomeEconomist.com, says it’s a good tool if you follow through. “Money is magic,” she says, “and not just to kids. It only has value because we’ve decided, collectively, that it’s valuable. You can look at an electronic app, and it’s probably even more real than a pile of cash because you see the numbers go up.”
We are, she agrees, increasingly living in a cashless society, but following through on money management — physical money or electronic — is what’s key. Have your child handle the money when she decides what to spend it on; follow the three-buckets rule, in which you spend a third, save a third and give a third to charity; talk about the costs of things that you put in the shopping cart, even as you count the boxes of mac and cheese. The elephantbank itself won’t demystify money.
Right now, this particular product is only available in New Zealand, though the developer hopes at some point to bring it stateside. There are a few similar products on the market. Porkfolio, for instance, connects to the Wink app and keeps a running tally of physical coins dropped into it. A Kickstarter hopeful, Ernit, calls itself a digital piggybank that allows a kid to set a goal, then connects to credit cards, banks or bitcoin wallets via an app to accept money toward that goal.
We’ll see which one actually hits the U.S. market first. For now, take my advice: Stop by the bank for some crisp new singles and stow them in your jewelry box. You never know when one of those little stinkers is going to lose a tooth.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.