You can give a child pocket money, but you cannot make them spend it on books.
Video games overtook books and magazines under lockdown as the top items for children’s pocket money spending, in a sign of their reliance on digital connections to keep up with friends during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a quarterly survey of 24,000 young savers by financial app RoosterMoney, online pursuits in the form of Roblox and Fortnite topped the pocket money spending charts in the three months from April for spenders aged between four and 14.
Roblox, the most popular item in the list, is a gaming platform that allows users to play games created by other users. Fortnite, in the number two slot, is a shooter-style survival game that can be played by individuals or teams.
Will Carmichael, RoosterMoney chief executive, said that the pocket money index gave insights into the family economy as well as mirroring changes “in broader society”.
However, anxious parents have also expressed concern to RoosterMoney about how to manage children’s spending on the gaming apps, where users can make in-app purchases. “You can go and spend a lot of money unwittingly,” said RoosterMoney. “Parents are happy for their kids to be on Roblox or Fortnite . . . but the spending side needs to be monitored.”
Laura Higgins, director of community safety and digital civility at Roblox, said its player surveys had found relationships with online friends improved during the pandemic. “We’ve heard from many parents that teens are especially resilient in times of physical distancing as it’s natural for them to lean into online play to connect with others.”
Epic Games, Fortnite’s owner, declined to comment.
For older children, RoosterMoney offers a preloaded debit card that they can use to spend their weekly or monthly allowance. It noted the recent rise of digital payment systems as hygiene concerns over the use of paper money have turned many shops cashless and quarantine restrictions have pushed shoppers online.
“With the last few months accelerating our move to becoming a cashless society, we can see that reflected not only in our own spending habits, but in that of our children too,” Mr Carmichael said.
Spending on sweets fell from second to fifth place in the survey as children spent more time at home and visited shops less often. But the average amount of money children received remained £4.60 per week or £239 a year. Though books and magazines fell from the top slot down to fourth, Lego remained steady in third place for children’s spending.
Children are also saving record amounts, with the average savings rate at 43.5 per cent, up from 38 per cent in 2019, and an average £104 in “rainy day” money. The savings rate compares with a 5.5 per cent rate for adults.
Mr Carmichael said children’s growing savings habit was “encouraging”. “The last few months have hopefully provided an opportunity for parents to have more conversations with their kids about money.”
It is harder to predict whether video games will retain their top slots as children in the UK return to the classroom and meet their friends in person. “It will be interesting to see how things change as kids head back to school,” Mr Carmichael said.